The sun has never shone brighter for the World Champion Miami Dolphins. And as long as it keeps beating down, they will continue to be undefeated—at least on their home Poly-Turf in the Orange Bowl. The Dolphins extended their win streak to 18 games last Sunday, scoring 15 points on the dehydrated San Francisco 49ers in the fourth period for a 21-13 victory. The temperature at game time was a seasonable 86�, but it was more than 100� on the floor of the Orange Bowl and maybe 120� inside the football helmets. The Dolphins are used to it. The 49ers, fresh from the cool climes of Northern California, stood the heat for three quarters, then slowly melted into the plastic sod.
This is not to suggest that the Dolphins are merely warm-weather fiends. They had a passel of problems of their own. Much of their defensive line was injured or sick; Paul Warfield, the best wide receiver in pro football, was favoring a bruised thigh; Jim Kiick was suffering from a bad back; and Howard Twilley, another dandy wide receiver, missed the game with a sore foot.
When Coach Don Shula has his team entirely fit, it is probably a bit better than the one which won Super Bowl VII. Unfortunately, he has seldom been able to field his first choices on offense and defense during the exhausting seven-game exhibition schedule. No less than 26 Dolphins missed one or more games this summer. And Shula's methodical preparation was all loused up.
"The All-Star game disrupts your practice," he said last week. "Normally, I would start the veterans slowly during the preseason, letting them play a quarter in the first couple of games, a couple of quarters after that, then three, and have them ready to go a whole game just before the season starts. This year we had to have them ready to play 60 minutes against the All-Stars in July. We played our first-liners almost the whole way in that game. Then I had to slack off, rest them and try to bring them up again for the opener."
For most of three quarters on Sunday the Dolphin regulars looked as if they were still a game or two away from their peak. The 49ers, a sound, tough and, on this day, particularly determined club, whipsawed the ailing Dolphin defense under the canny direction of veteran Quarterback John Brodie.
With a paucity of defensive linemen, Shula had to use his famous 53 defense much of the time, since in this alignment there are only three linemen. It is a most effective defense against the pass, but leaves a lot to be desired against a strong running attack. Luckily for Shula the San Francisco running attack consists of Vic Washington.
Washington was all the 49ers needed during the first half. He did not exactly run wild, but on occasion he found gaps in Miami's thin aqua line. When the Dolphins shifted to a four-man front, Brodie prospered by going to the air. This combination of brilliant passing and pedestrian running produced a 79-yard drive that put the 49ers ahead 10-6 at the half.
In that march Brodie threw three times to Tight End Ted Kwalick, the last pass bringing the ball to the Miami 15. From there Washington swept left end for five, caught another Brodie pass for seven and plunged over right tackle for the touchdown.
At this point, it appeared that San Francisco had taken control of the game. As the half ended the 49ers were threatening once more, but rookie Henry Stuckey managed to block a 43-yard field goal attempt by Bruce Gossett.
Paradoxically, the 49ers' touchdown drive contributed to their downfall. When they came out for the second half, Brodie was on the bench holding an ice pack to the back of his neck and Steve Spurrier was on the field playing quarterback. Other 49ers who wilted in the intense heat were Running Back Larry Schreiber, John Watson, a reserve tackle who snaps the ball for punts, Guard Woody Peoples, Center Forrest Blue and Safety Mike Simpson. The last two were hospitalized for treatment of heat prostration. "I felt like someone had pulled the plug out when I went into the locker room at the half," Brodie said later. "I was weak and sick and I didn't care about football. I could barely stand up. I thought maybe if I stayed on the sideline and rested a while it would get better, but it didn't."