Swinging around end in their bright new blue-and-white uniforms laced with orange trim, the Miami Dolphins actually did give an impression of tropical water surging around a reef—which was highly gratifying to the owners of the American Football League's newest team, because they had hoped for some such effect out of the color scheme. Then, suddenly, a tall linebacker wearing the number 50 on his shirt lowered his shoulder and barged directly into the current. Down went blockers, defenders, the ballcarrier, an equipment manager and an assistant coach, and in an instant all that blue-white-and-orange wave looked like a collapsed Howard Johnson's. The sight of several tons of humanity being violently redistributed around the playing field would have been alarming except that most of the observers happened to have a personal interest in the Miami Dolphins, which made the spectacle absolutely entrancing. Since coaches attempt to restrain themselves during the first week of preseason scrimmage, no one quite broke into a cheer, but it took a considerable amount of face screwing to maintain a posture of professional boredom.
No. 50, the man responsible for putting the Dolphin coaches in this predicament, was Thomas Franklin Emanuel (see cover), former linebacker for the University of Tennessee, All-America and a 230-pound draft pick who had cost the Miami owners considerable time, worry, energy and cash—something near $400,000. Naturally, certain things were expected in return. Hence the inner exaltation the other day when Emanuel gave strong indications that he can help bring Miami into the AFL with a dolphin-size splash.
The Dolphins will need him, for Miami is a city that believes in spectaculars. It has a history of yawning in the face of all but the most incredible feats of showmanship, press agentry and professional pizzazz, and while the idea of a big league football team is interesting, the town is fully prepared to head for the beaches instead of the bleachers if the Dolphins show signs of sinking toward the bottom of the AFL.
Well aware of this, the Dolphins not only spent a fortune for Emanuel, they went after every other big name in sight. They signed the man they considered to be the best college quarterback last year, Rick Norton of Kentucky, who has been known to deliver a football to a receiver 70 yards downfield. They also got the most productive end college football has ever produced in Howard Twilley. At 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds Twilley looks like a student manager pressed into uniform, but he caught 134 passes last year and set eight NCAA records.
Equally important, the Dolphins got more than just baitfish in their draft of players from other AFL teams. The league did not want a football version of the Mets in Miami and arranged things so that the Dolphins ended up with a chance at 19 starters from other teams. They got Dave Kocourek, the San Diego Chargers' tight end. Buffalo sent Bo Roberson, a very swift and able flanker, and Billy Joe, a 235-pound fullback. And from the Boston Patriots came Billy Neighbors, who was an AFL All-Star.
The very existence of the Miami Dolphins is something of an accident. Joseph Robbie, attorney, father of 11, former state senator from South Dakota and a man who can squeeze more words into a split second than a tape recorder set on super fast, was in Miami by pure chance a year ago February when he received a call from a client asking if he would make preliminary inquiries about getting an AFL franchise—in Philadelphia. As Robbie was a close friend of Joe Foss, then the AFL commissioner, he was qualified for the assignment. However, Foss told Robbie that Philly was out. "If you want a franchise," said the commissioner, "make it Miami." Robbie got the message, but it presented a problem. The client said you don't spell Philadelphia with an M, and forget it. Still, Robbie was intrigued. If Foss said, "Try Miami," why not? The problem was money, so Robbie called an old friend who had lots of it, Actor and TV Producer Danny Thomas. The question was put bluntly. "Danny, are you interested in owning an AFL football team in Miami?" "Yes," said Thomas, who has not packaged million-dollar productions like the Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith shows by dawdling over decisions.
From then on, events moved quickly—if not smoothly. Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the charter members of the AFL, told Robbie that other cities were ahead of Miami and gave some solid reasons why. As a resort area, Hunt argued, there would be little civic enthusiasm for pro football, and the Orange Bowl did not have a reputation for being receptive to overtures by pro teams.
Robbie listened to Hunt respectfully, disagreed and went after some facts to bolster his case. The biggest one he found was that the Orange Bowl averaged 31,000 people for pro football exhibitions and was willing to lower its rent for a Miami team.
Then Robbie got lucky. Atlanta, first in the hearts of the AFL expansion committee, was stolen away by the NFL, and New Orleans had a problem with the treatment of Negroes during the AFL All-Star Game. So, last August, Miami was voted in.
Robbie went to Miami, where he now was president of a football team, had a $7 million franchise, a tiny two-room office in the Dupont Plaza, a battery of telephones and nothing else. His first move was to hire a girl to answer the calls from people seeking such modest posts as that of head coach. Among the applicants was a hotel clerk with "a gift for organization," a trash collector from Pittsburgh who had not missed a Steelers game in seven years and an unaffiliated evangelist who explained how he knew from past experience that the pure of heart never lose.