Nottingham, who claims to be 5'9�" tall, weighs 215 pounds, speaks in a squeaky voice and answers to the name "Bowling Ball" because of his similar proportions, gallantly insists that "With Boo and me the Dolphins will not be hurt at the position."
Working out with Griese in training camp Nottingham ran into an unexpected problem. "Zonk's five or six inches taller than me," he said, "so his pocket for a hand-off is five or six inches higher than mine. Once Griese handed the ball off to my windpipe. Now we're working at it." Bulaich's problem is that he usually spends a great part of each season on the injured list because of recurring hamstring and muscle pulls.
On Miami's first play against Cincinnati, Griese totally stunned the 58,017 Dol-fans by throwing deep over the middle to Tight End Jim Mandich. Forget that the pass was broken up by Cincinnati Safetyman Tommy Casanova. Griese passing on first down was like George Allen trading for a draft choice. On the next play, though, Nottingham went over the left side on a delay for 11 yards and a first down, knocking off tacklers like Csonka, and on the sideline Shula began to scratch his chin. Pass goes incomplete. Guy in Csonka's position runs for 11 yards. Hmmm. Snap decision. The Dolphins had 25 more first-down plays the rest of the game, and despite Shula's prediction that they would pass 50%,' of the time, they ran the ball 20 times and passed only five.
What was different, however, was Miami's strategy on third-down plays, particularly those for short yardage. In the old days, like last year, Csonka invariably ran 18 or 19 straight for a first down when the Dolphins needed one. Against Cincinnati, Miami was confronted with 10 third-down plays. Eight times the Dolphins tried to pass for the first down—and eight times they failed. Twice they ran for the first down—and twice they made it. In all they tried 34 rushes and 19 passes.
The Bengals halted Miami drives by intercepting Griese twice in the first half—once in the end zone, once at the 10—when Baker slipped while running his patterns. Baker also dropped two perfect passes while in the clear. Then, in the fourth quarter with the Dolphins trailing 3-0, Shula called on 41-year-old Earl Morrall for quick relief. Seven plays and 58 yards later Morrall flipped a 10-yard touchdown strike to Nat Moore just inside the sideline of the end zone, and after Garo Yepremian's kick, Miami led 7-3.
As the clock ticked away, Malone and Nottingham maintained ball control with strong running up the middle, and on Miami's final series Nottingham went 19 straight for 12 yards, followed quickly by 18 straight for 15 yards and the gun exploded.
In the dressing room Shula studied the statistics: Nottingham, 78 yards in 12 carries; Malone, 71 yards in 13 carries; Miami, 177 yards on the ground and 86 through the air. "I guess it looks as though we're going to be a running team again this year," he said.