What happened was 1) what Buffalo Coach Lou Saban said earlier was going to have a tremendous influence on pro football and 2) another Buffalo mistake. Saban had said, "The most significant rules change this year is having to kick off from the 35 instead of the 40. People are getting the ball on their own 30 and 35 and even out to the 40. They don't have to start out in the hole. They can do more things. Somehow, that extra five yards makes a difference."
So, just when Buffalo needed to get Miami in the hole, the Dolphins returned that kickoff to their 37, and when the Bills' Dwight Harrison drew a personal foul penalty, worth 15 more yards, the whole thing added up to Miami conveniently being on Buffalo's 48. That kind of good fortune was all the Dolphins needed, even if they were playing with their money clips in their hands. Griese hit two short passes, put Csonka to work, and pretty soon the Dolphins' Cypriot tie-maker, Garo Yepremian, came in to kick the 22-yard field goal that guaranteed Miami's victory and preserved its pride.
Looking back on it, it seems allowable to say that the only other American institution starting off as slowly as the Dolphins is O. J. Simpson. Granted, he is not healthy. He flashed his running brilliance twice on Sunday, but he has gained only 141 yards in two games, he has sprained an ankle and last week he fumbled for both sides. O.J. fumbled at the end of a 22-yard run that produced one of Buffalo's scores, and the ball surely was going to squirt through the end zone for a Miami touchback if Rashad hadn't dived under several dozen Dolphins and clutched it to his bosom for six points.
Which prompted Lou Saban to say dryly, "How do you practice not fumbling?"
It was too bad the spectacle in Buffalo wasn't more revealing because all week long there were hordes of puzzled human beings scattered from Boca Raton to Lackawanna trying to figure out why Shula, the supernatural, mystical guru of coaches, had let that terrible thing happen to the wonderful Dolphins on the first game day of the season. Miami lost to New England 34-24, and that did not make any sense. New England was not supposed to score 34 points against Miami in four years, let alone three hours.
The only way that result could be tolerated was if it could be proved, or at least gossiped, that perhaps the Dolphins were in deep emotional trouble. It was true that such injured Miami heroes as Mercury Morris and Nick Buoniconti and Tim Foley did not play against New England, but that was not supposed to matter. With Shula's coaching genius, the Dolphins could fill in with Charlie Callahan and Beano Cook from their publicity office and Edwin Pope from the Miami Herald, and everything would still be marvelous.
But it wasn't marvelous and what was worse even than the score was the way Miami went about losing. The Dolphins simply did not look ready to play. They gave up 10 easy points to the Patriots on an interception and a fumble, and the defense leaked throughout the day.
Well, they missed Buoniconti, somebody said. Oh, really? Mike Kolen made seven unassisted tackles and played pretty well. Well, they missed Morris. Of course. Except that Morris doesn't play defense. Twice the Patriots scored over Manny Fernandez. Yes, but....
"Upon examination," said a loyal Florida sportswriter, "you could tell that Manny was rolling outside off his initial blocks."
Swell. That excuses it.