It bodes well for the Miami Dolphins' assault on pro football history that Larry Csonka, a sensitive soul who could moonlight as a trucking-company safe, is a better power runner than a power prognosticator. Were the reverse true, the Dolphins would not now be ready to repeat as Super Bowl champions in Houston, where, with all the frenzy that a man exhibits over the prospect of his morning shave, they will participate in the game for the third time in three years.
As expected, Miami qualified to meet Minnesota with a 27-10 win over the Oakland Raiders last Sunday in the Orange Bowl. Before 75,105 hanky-wavers, the Dolphins inexorably won their third straight AFC championship in a way Csonka said wouldn't happen—with telling, early muscle that never weakened. Csonka himself loused up his prediction by scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 117 yards over the infamous PolyTurf, teammate Larry Little and various Raider rib cages.
"I believe that no matter how this game starts, even if the opening kickoff is returned for a touchdown, it won't be a factor in the game," Csonka said two days beforehand. "The score at the end of the first quarter could change around before the half. Both teams are experienced and can dig in and grind it out. If that sort of thing happened to a new team it would tend to be deflated, but that won't happen Sunday. Both of us can come back."
The reality was that the Dolphins took the kickoff and rammed the ball into the strength of the Oakland defense for nine plays, Csonka lumbering the final 11 yards for a touchdown, and Oakland never really came back. During the drive the Raiders suffered a defensive holding penalty—the sort of mistake, like the pass Fred Biletnikoff dropped on the Miami 10—that hurt the Western Division champions all afternoon. But the Raiders were stung worse when Quarterback Bob Griese, in peril of being sacked, scrambled for 27 yards to set up Csonka's touchdown.
Oakland, which had scored a 12-7 victory over Miami when the teams met during the regular season at Berkeley, had played for the conference title four times before its most recent try, and on every occasion but one it demonstrated a perverse tendency to beat itself. Against the Dolphins, however, the Raiders were a team committing suicide by pestilence, with Csonka the lethal carrier who snuffed them out. The predisposing cause was Miami's explosive offensive-line charge led by the awesome blocking of Little, an All-Pro guard. Thus Griese sent Csonka straight ahead, wide, delaying and slanting back against the flow of the play for huge yardage or, for a change of pace, went to Mercury Morris, who darted for 86 yards. The Dolphins rolled up 266 yards on the ground, so Griese had to throw but six times—he completed three—a record low. In the entire second half he passed only once.
"I'm not at all happy with myself," said Raider Defensive Tackle Otis Sistrunk, whose fate it was to line up across from Little. "I didn't think they could do that to us. Csonka is just a hard man to run down. Sometimes they were double-teaming and other times they were running the draw, but they just kept running at us all day."
"They were a different ball club out there," said Oakland Linebacker Phil Villapiano. "In the first game they were nonchalant. They didn't seem to want it. Maybe we were lulled to sleep by that first game. I knew they were going to be tough, but geezus, I didn't think they'd be able to do that to us. We don't get beat that way. No one runs on us like that."
Miami's ground game also consumed time the Raiders could ill afford to lose. The Dolphins' second scoring march, which closed with Csonka banging in from the two-yard line behind Little 17 seconds before the first half ended, used up almost eight full minutes. Csonka scored a playoff-record-breaking third touchdown on another two-yard burst in the fourth quarter, and Garo Yepremian did his bit by kicking field goals of 42 and 26 yards.
While the Raiders might have made a game of it if their defense had buckled down, Coach John Madden had no need to apologize for his offense, only for the limited time it had to operate. Quarterback Ken Stabler comported himself with the Pride and Poise that is his club's slogan, belying the fact that it was his first starting appearance in a championship game. With Stabler winging his darts under the Miami zone and to receivers curling back at him, the Raiders pulled to within 17-10 by dominating the third quarter. Oakland's only touchdown came at the end of a crisp 11-play, 79-yard drive, Stabler passing 25 yards to Mike Siani, who was all by his lonesome in the end zone as a result of a mix-up in the Dolphin secondary. All told, Stabler completed 15 of 23 passes for 129 yards, but to no avail. While Griese is in Houston, Stabler will be taking out his aggressions on the waterways of Foley, Ala. in a 16-foot speedboat that has a dashboard plate reading, GET IN, SIT DOWN, SHUT UP and HOLD ON. "Four or five of my friends have the same kind of boat," he says affectionately. "We terrorize those lakes and rivers back home."
Miami's victory Sunday was its 24th straight in the Orange Bowl, and even Shula, who can afford the feeling, may agree that the home-field advantage is too big a factor when teams are playing for high stakes. This season the top seven clubs in the NFL (excluding the Raiders, who lost twice in the Oakland Coliseum) won 47 of 49 games at home, a fact that should argue in favor of neutral sites for the postseason. Against this is an equally powerful argument that fans should be allowed to see their team at home as often as they can.