The '72 team set an NFL single-season record with 2,960 rushing yards, as the rugged Csonka and slashing halfback Eugene (Mercury) Morris became the first teammates to hit the 1,000-yard plateau in the same year. The team's other halfback, Jim Kiick, was a punishing blocker and gifted receiver who ran for 521 yards. Wideout Paul Warfield was a superstar, later elected to the Hall of Fame, but he and possession receiver Howard Twilley were both underused. Even after Griese went down in the fifth game with a broken right ankle—he shocked even himself by returning to play in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl—his 38-year-old backup, Earl Morrall, was a resplendent replacement, averaging 9.1 yards per pass.
Csonka, a 6'3", 237-pound moose of a man, set the tone for Miami's ball-control attack. For those of you too young to remember him as anything but a ham-it-up American Gladiators co-host, think of every old-school clich� in the book, then add piss and vinegar. "True story," says Shula. "We're in Buffalo, and Csonka's running toward the sideline when a guy runs over from the secondary. Zonk throws a forearm and knocks him cartwheeling back. The official throws a flag and calls unnecessary roughness on him. I said, 'What, for hitting the poor tackier too hard?' "
Though not overpowering, the Dolphins were plenty tough on the other side of the ball as well. Under coordinator Bill Arnsparger, the No-Name Defense—a term coined before Super Bowl VI when Dallas coach Tom Landry described the Miami defenders as Buoniconti and a bunch of no names—allowed just 171 points and a league-low 235.5 yards per game. In addition to standouts like Buoniconti and defensive tackle Manny Fernandez, the unit boasted one of the great safety tandems in history in Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
Oddly enough it was placekicker Yepremian who produced the most memorable play of the perfect season. With 2:07 remaining in Super Bowl VII, Yepremian, an immigrant from Cyprus who had learned football on the fly, lined up for a 42-yard field goal. The Dolphins had dominated the Redskins all day, and the kick, fittingly, could have made the final score 17-0. But Yepremian, whose 51-yarder at Minnesota in Week 3 had helped Miami survive its closest call, had his low kick blocked right back to him, and his subsequent attempt to pass the ball resembled a sea lion trying to shotput a half-melted block of ice. Defensive back Mike Bass intercepted the pass and went 49 yards for Washington's only score.
After his retirement in 1981, Yepremian launched a second career as a motivational speaker. The fact that the gaffe became so famous—and that Yepremian has made light of it in his speeches—still enrages some Dolphins, most notably Kuechenberg, who says, "It was an act of cowardice." Says Morris, laughing, "Garo says, I know Kuechenberg doesn't like me.' I tell him, 'Garo, it's not that he doesn't like you. He wants to kill you.' "
Every family has its strife, and the Dolphins are no exception. Teammates say that Scott, the MVP of Super Bowl VII, remains bitter toward Shula for the '76 trade that sent him to the Redskins. Other than the two deceased team members, linebacker Bob Matheson and offensive tackle Wayne Moore, Scott is the only one not expected to participate in reunion events, which will culminate on Dec. 9 with a halftime ceremony during Miami's Monday night home game against the Chicago Bears. Mostly, though, the Dolphins' bonds have remained strong. Several extended financial assistance to wideout Marlin Briscoe, who after leaving football in the late '70s became addicted to crack cocaine—L.A. dealers nicknamed him 17 and 0—and once was kidnapped by Crips because of a drug debt. He now works for the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club. Morris, the team's loquacious breakaway threat, also had his troubles with cocaine, spending 3� years in prison before his drug-trafficking conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in '86. (He later avoided any additional jail time by agreeing to plead no contest to a lesser charge.) Now an executive vice president for a talent-management company, Morris says he was touched by his teammates' support; he tears up when recalling the visit Little paid him in a Florida prison in '85. Another rallying point has been the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, initiated by Buoniconti after his son, Marc, broke his neck while playing football for The Citadel in 1985 and became a quadriplegic. Nick Buoniconti says his family and teammates have helped raise more than $100 million.
Buoniconti and his teammates chafe at having been supplanted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls from the '74 through '79 seasons, as the team of that decade. The Dolphins believe their five-year run from '70 through '74 was comparably dominant, and they may have a point: When Miami (15-2) mauled the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII, it was the team's 32nd victory in 34 games. The Dolphins had a shot at reaching their fourth consecutive Super Bowl in '74, but they lost their playoff opener to the Oakland Raiders on the so-called Sea of Hands catch—Clarence Davis's improbable, last-minute touchdown grab. Then Csonka, Kiick and Warfield left Miami for the riches promised by the World Football League's Memphis Southmen, and that was the end of the Dolphins' run.
When NFL Films staged a computer-generated mock tournament involving the greatest teams of all time, the '72 Dolphins dropped a 21-20 decision to the '78 Steelers in the title game. "That's why Shula hates Steve Sabol," Kiick says. "He called up Sabol and reamed him out." Explains Shula, "I don't see how there could be a program that would cause a computer not to pick our team." Detractors point out that in the regular season Miami played only two teams that finished with winning records, and both went 8-6.
The men who produced the perfect season believe the numbers 17 and 0 should end all debate. Thirty years later, they are still a team: undefeated, untied and unbowed. In '85, when the 12-0 Bears traveled to Miami for a Monday night game, Csonka, at Shula's behest, gave a stirring pregame speech. Then Csonka and many of his former teammates stood on the sideline. The Dolphins won 38-24, and Chicago finished 18-1.
Showing support for their old team was one thing, but the Miami players' blatant joy over other teams' failures took on gauche overtones. After the 11-0 Redskins lost in '91, Anderson and Buoniconti initiated an annual champagne toast that accompanies the demise of the league's last remaining undefeated team. The strongest rhetoric emerged during the Broncos' assault on the record in '98—Denver lost its 14th game to the New York Giants, eight days before dropping a Monday night showdown to the Dolphins in Miami—including Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe's boast that if his team could somehow meet the '72 champions, "We'd beat the brakes off 'em.... They wouldn't stand a chance."