The official Miami word was that New England was a vastly improved football team. Plunkett had a great day and, as Paul Warfield mentioned, "We've got to realize that every one of our games is a Super Bowl."
Privately, a guy in the Dolphin organization inched a little closer to the truth: "We used to have an offensive line that went out and did the job. Now we have experts. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing wrong."
Two games hardly sum up a season, but the loss to the Patriots and the less-than-impressive verdict over Buffalo give everybody a chance to play psychiatrist. Miami has some poststrike bitterness. Don Shula and Owner Joe Robbie don't really like each other, and Shula may be going to Tampa next year, right? After you've won two Super Bowls in a row, you tend to get bored with winning. Everybody is rich and lazy. Larry Little makes more money than Bob Kuechenberg. Csonka, Jim Kiick and Warfield are headed for the WFL, and so, maybe, is Kuechenberg. Everybody remembers last Super Bowl when the Dolphins were talking about how much more money they were going to demand before they took off their jerseys and slipped into their suedes and Rolls-Royces.
"I don't think any of that is true," said Saban, who had the unenviable task of facing the Dolphins when they were expected to come roaring back to rescue their pride. "If the New England game had lasted a little longer, I think Miami would have won."
Probably so, At least by 1977.
As amusing as anything was the way the literary set reacted to Miami's awful opener. Prodded for a hint of trouble in paradise, one fellow said, "As William Randolph Hearst told his man in Havana, 'You supply the news, I'll supply the war.' " Another said, "Why don't you ask these questions about Oakland? They lost to Buffalo." That might have been good advice, except nobody can remember Oakland winning any Super Bowls.
In Buffalo before the game the only topic of conversation was The Great Miami Mystery. John Brodie, in town to work the telecast for NBC, called on his thousand years of quarterbacking experience to wonder about one of football's favorite words, "motivation."
"This will be Shula's toughest coaching job," Brodie said. "How do you give a bunch of guys a goal to accomplish when they've done it all? When they've done it twice? They may tell themselves they're just as dedicated, but Miami's success has been the ability to coordinate together. If one or two guys aren't really with it, these aren't the real Dolphins. Their beauty has been the team, not individuals.
"Nobody's going to know whether anything is seriously wrong with the Dolphins until they lose again, early on. If that happens, they might start blaming each other. Still, they're lucky in one respect. In Shula they have the best guy in the business to whip 'em into shape."
Football coaches don't like to deal with emotion these days. They prefer to think they win or lose because of personnel and—that other terrific football word—"execution." You can only see coaches by appointment. They speak into squawk boxes and talk about 3-4 defenses that take away the sweep—unless Mercury Morris is healthy (he was healthy enough in Buffalo to gain 88 yards in 13 carries and score a touchdown). Their ideal team would be composed entirely of deaf mutes who can pass rush and play zone. No troublesome quotes that way.