"When I was fired," says Burr, "it was the culmination of a situation that began the day I got there. My contract said I was to be a senior executive. Well, I had the responsibility, but not the authority. I couldn't make the decisions. They all were made by Robbie while he was in Minnesota and we were on the scene in Miami. We never had any money. I couldn't even write a check for a pencil sharpener. Even the paychecks were made out in Minneapolis. It was so bad that at one stage I had to dip into my own bank account to put the club on the road. I had to come up with about $11,000 for the players. Others connected with the club put up their money at times, too. I was in charge of business operations, but there was no money to run the business."
Nothing, according to Joe Robbie's opposition, has changed much since those days in St. Petersburg. The players do not like their inferior seating on plane trips, on which stockholders and others receive the best seats; once, Robbie ordered a curtain hung between the players in back and he and his pals up front. Recently, the players literally mooed like cattle as they filed toward the plane. Joe Thomas, director of player personnel, is not happy, either. "He's disgusted and he's said so," says one Miami writer. "He's only getting $8 per diem, excluding hotel, to do his job, which in big part consists of entertaining coaches and contacts. Few clubs go beneath a $100,000 scouting budget, but Joe's was only $42,000 last year. Then he gets a memo from Robbie saying he had a lousy draft in 1969." Recently, there was another memo. Henceforth, Robbie wrote, all exchanges used by coaches on outgoing calls must be recorded and turned in for feasibility study.
Robbie's response to critical charges, on the sports pages or elsewhere, is unfailing. "That's actionable," he usually says. Then, shaking his head, he expresses bewilderment over what he calls a "morbid preoccupation with the club's finances." He is also not fond of the attention given to his behavior in his own offices or his handling of employees. He has had lour business managers, it is often noted, and has tired numerous secretaries, some of whom he suspected were leaking information to O'Neil's underground resistance movement. Often, his office conduct is used to illustrate his tyranny, but much of it is petty and irrelevant. Yet, the question persists: How is it that an owner, responsible for millions, is the target of such small-beer complaints and rumors? It suggests that Robbie has exposed himself too much on one flank.
"When I was there," says Marsha Bierman, the valuable assistant to the coaches who was fired by Robbie, "he even had his nose in the paper clips. For a big man he's very small. Nobody thinks much of him, especially those like lawyers and partners who are no longer under his hand."
Robbie dismisses such prattle, but he says he does not take self-preservation lightly. He is, to say the least, a master at preserving himself. One of his former partners, Bud Keland, would agree with that. Keland, whom Robbie got to buy Danny Thomas out when Danny tired of running kickoffs back, assumed that he was buying total control of the Dolphins, and that, especially in a deal with Robbie, was his first mistake. "When we bought out Thomas," says Keland, "Joe didn't come up with the money to buy his half, so I figured I was in control. But it didn't work out that way, and then, when Joe wanted to do some refinancing, he needed me to do it. I said, 'Look, you haven't done your part in this thing." That's when we decided to let Rozelle handle the matter."
Keland remains mute about what happened in the meeting with Commissioner Pete Rozelle, but this much is certain: Keland, who was the majority stockholder, was eliminated from the scene. "I bear Joe no ill will," says Keland. "He's all right. I learned a lesson from him. If you're going to run with sharp operators, you've got to be smart. He came up with a group of five from Miami to buy me out, and I guess he's got them doing the same thing for him, supplying the money so he can run the club. When I was there, that club and office were run like a bunch of school kids."
Quite abrasive in his relations with the press and others, Robbie appears to be learning how to use the knife more deftly against his critics. For example, this article he wrote in the Dolphin program in which he plays a journalist covering the newspapers:
The first thing I did was call Ed Pope, sports editor of the Herald, and tell him I was covering the newspapers.
"Strange," said Ed, "nobody has ever done that before."
"It's long overdue," I agreed. "How is the public to know whether you people are doing an accurate job or not if no one watches over you?"