The Miami Dolphin’s 17-0 perfect season in 1972 is also a look back at what professional football was about in the early 1970’s – running the ball and defense. Bob Griese was a cerebral quarterback but he did not put up gaudy stats. In fact, most of the season Griese was on the sideline injured while a 37 year old Earl Morrall lead the team, or at least managed the game by handing off to Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick.
Isn’t it truly amazing that he Miami Dolphins went undefeated with a backup quarterback at the helm most of the season? In today’s NFL that would almost certainly be impossible.
Griese’s retelling of that 1972 team is an interesting inside look at historically one of the best teams in football. The only drawback to the book is that it really doesn’t have a lot of new material in it. Much of these stories have been told in other places through various medium. Nevertheless it is still an entertaining look back a great team.
There were a few key themes in the book that I found particularly interesting. First was the fact the running game with Larry Csonka smashing people and the No Name Defense lead by linebacker Nick Buoniconti were really the heart and soul of the team and the reason for the undefeated season?. Running the ball and defense wins championships. Where did that go in today’s NFL? Unfortunately, for players like defensive tackle Manny Fernandez, who definitely should have been the MVP of Super Bowl VII and in the Hall of Fame, suffered because nobody really paid attention to the individuals and they didn’t get as much public credit for their efforts as they deserved. The middle linebacker position was already a glamour position because of players like Sam Huff and Dick Butkus so Buoniconti became the face of the defense.
Second was team unity. Griese recounts that Marv Fleming, a tight end from Green Bay, came to the team and noticed the segregation between black and white players. There was not racial tension on the team, but that was alien to Fleming in Green Bay. He took charge of making sure the players integrated the locker room and to some degree their social lives, which likely helped team chemistry. In other places Griese talks about team unity and its importance to their accomplishments.
A third theme is a reminder of just how crazy and brutal the game was in the 1970’s even though players were not making all that much money at the time. Getting out of hospital beds to go play in a game, playing with injuries that would keep some players today on the sideline for weeks, and the pain pills and other pills to get players though the game. While Griese does not go into excruciating detail on this, he clearly acknowledges it.
As mentioned earlier another very important point is just how vital it was to play together as a team. That is what makes championship football. Jim Kiick wasn’t happy about getting demoted so Don Shula could get the speedier Mercury Morris on the field, but when he got his chances he made the most out of them. And when Earl Morrall was taken out of a game in the playoffs and then Griese handed the starting job going forward, he might not have liked it but he took it well and Griese acknowledges how much that meant to him and the team at the time. And of course on the field, a tight knit group of players who played well together as units.
This book is full of great stories about the players taking us through the season a week at a time, with certain larger points being made in each chapter. And clearly going 17-0 wasn’t easy. The Dolphins had some close calls in a few games. But they achieved perfection, and cling tenaciously to their legacy to this day.
Perfection: The Inside Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season