If anyone is still buying the myth that Super Bowl VII is to be a confrontation of youth and age and that along about the fourth quarter Washington's celebrated Over-the-Hill-Gang is going to get chewed up by the ravenous young Miami Dolphins, then he must have been looking at the wrong hill. In fact, the Redskins are on top of the hill, not over it, and the chances are that on Sunday in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum they will be doing some chewing themselves—even if it is with false teeth.
Actually, age has very little to do with this game. At those positions where the years make no real difference or where youthfulness is an asset, the Redskins come off about even, while in those areas where experience is an advantage, they may have a slight edge.
The place on the field where youth counts the most is with the men who handle the ball. Running backs require speed and agility; wide receivers need the same assets, as well as good hand-and-eye coordination. An examination of these departments shows both teams well fixed with explosive young stars.
In Paul Warfield, Miami has a wide receiver who may be the best in the business, a man with marvelously fluid moves and with speed and hands to match. If you wanted to argue about Warfield's preeminence, an obvious alternative would be Charley Taylor, who more or less does for the Redskins what Warfield does for the Dolphins. In addition to catching the ball, both can block. Taylor may have a slight edge here but he and Warfield are generally accepted as the two best blockers among wide receivers in the league.
Against stronger competition, Taylor caught 49 passes this season to rank fourth in his conference. Warfield, who was hurt for several games, caught only 29 but for longer average yardage (20.9 per catch against Taylor's 13.7). Earl Morrall, the Miami quarterback for most of the season, regularly went to War-field in desperate situations. By contrast, under similar circumstances, Billy Kilmer, the Redskin quarterback for most of the year, was just as inclined to look for Roy Jefferson as for Taylor. Jefferson caught 35 passes during the season and also is a fine blocker, giving the Redskins such strength at that position that Clifton McNeil, who led the league in pass receiving only four years ago, hardly played all season.
The Dolphins also have a former conference leader, Marlin Briscoe, sitting on the bench. He and second-year man Otto Stowe play behind Warfield and Howard Twilley, who has exceptional hands and who catches the short pass well but lacks the speed to be a deep threat. Twilley and Jefferson are both 29, Warfield is 30 and Taylor is the gray-beard of the group at 31.
At tight end the Dolphins start Marv Fleming, 31, who catches the ball better than most scouting reports suggest and is especially adept at hanging on to the tough pass over the middle on difficult third-down plays. Jerry Smith of the Redskins, 29, is an outstanding receiver among tight ends, with the ability to break open for a long gain. Mack Alston, a determined blocker, is only 25 and now alternates with Smith.
But if both teams' receivers are right on top of the hill, the age differential among running backs is equally negligible. Along with Larry Csonka, probably the best tough short-yardage gainer in the league, the Dolphins have Mercury Morris, always a long threat, and Jim Kiick, a slashing runner who gets better the closer he comes to the goal line. But though they comprise the best set of three backs in the NFL, Larry Brown, the 5'11", 200-pound Redskin wonder, is definitely the best one.
Oh, yes, age. All four of the above are in their mid-20s. Charley Harraway, slightly older at 28, is the other Redskin starter, but he confines most of his endeavors to clearing linebackers from Brown's path. The Redskins also have a baby back, Herb Mul-Key, who is 23 and perhaps faster than Morris.
Since both teams have good offensive lines in their primes, it becomes apparent that the age controversy really involves only the defenses, and it is here that most of George Allen's elderly Redskin troops are found. Elderly—but hardly decrepit. And it is along the defensive line, particularly, where experience often means more than peak physique. Since he came to Washington last season Ron McDole, the 33-year-old left end, has played as well as he ever has. His cohorts range down from Verlon Biggs (29) and Diron Talbert (28) to Bill Brundige (24). In comparison, the Miami front four is much younger—Manny Fernandez being the old man at 26—but it is the Redskins' venerable vandals who should now be at the height of their abilities as pro linemen.