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The Miami Dolphins, a slightly unreal football team made up of a quarterback named Bob Griese, a linebacker named Nick Buoniconti, a wide receiver named Paul Warfield and a lot of people called Who's That?, beat the Baltimore Colts 20-13 before a multitude in the Orange Bowl last Saturday night. It was an exhibition game, but it was played for blood by both the Dolphins and the Colts, and for good reason.
The Colts, who are probably a better team than the Dolphins, wanted to beat their old coach, Don Shula, who deserted Baltimore for warmer weather and more money back in February. Shula, who now owns a piece of the Dolphins as part of his recompense for breaching a 5-year contract with Baltimore, naturally wanted to increase the value of his investment. He did.
The Dolphins in the pre-Shula era were about as sparkling as a spotted grouper. Since Shula took over and instituted a crash program they have suddenly become the toast of Miami. The young ladies who haunt the bars on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach offering their company for the evening in exchange for cash were offering their favors for tickets to the game Friday night. There were no takers.
This was the fourth straight preseason victory for the Dolphins, who had never won more than two games in a row in their four-year history. Miami's win streak is reminiscent of the preseason achievement of Tom Fears with the New Orleans Saints in their first year—they won five in a row after dropping the first, then lost 11 of 14 regular-season games. Shula, of course, was faced with the same problem as Fears; although the Dolphins aren't a brand-new team, they have been a spectacularly unsuccessful one, and Shula had to adopt heroic methods to create fans.
Shula came to the Dolphins almost by accident. After the draft meetings in January, Bill Braucher and Edwin Pope, two Miami sportswriters, were talking to Joe Robbie, the Dolphins' owner, trying to get him to commit himself on whether he was going to fire Head Coach George Wilson. Rumor had it that Wilson was through, but Robbie hadn't made any formal statement.
Robbie asked the scribes—as sports-writers are often termed in the South—who he could get to replace Wilson. Braucher, who attended John Carroll University with Shula, brought his name up, half in jest. Robbie, who isn't known for having one of the world's great senses of humor, suggested that Braucher contact Shula to see if he would be interested. Not long after that, Shula called Robbie.
The deal was worked out in a matter of two or three weeks, but Colt Owner Carroll Rosenbloom knew nothing about it until St. Valentine's Day, when he was in Hawaii on his way home from a tour of the Orient.
"I had forgotten to disconnect my phone and it rang about 8 a.m.," Rosenbloom said the other day. "It was Don, and I had no idea what he wanted until he told me he had an opportunity to go to Miami and acquire a percentage of the club. I reminded him that he had a five-year contract with me, but I told him, too, we had a policy of not keeping people who didn't want to be with us. He told me about the deal he had with Miami and I think he was offering me a chance to match it, but I didn't."
Actually, Rosenbloom wasn't very disturbed at losing Shula. After their conversation he went back to sleep. He had been somewhat disenchanted with Shula ever since the Colts lost to the Jets in the Super Bowl.
"We didn't play well last year," Rosenbloom said. "We had only a couple of good games—against bad teams. We didn't even look good winning. If Robbie had come to me and asked for Shula I wouldn't have objected strenuously."