- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It is an unfair and unfortunate fact that a team is remembered by its last big game, and the lingering off-season memory of the MIAMI DOLPHINS is not of their magnificent 14-2 record or the way the Marino-Duper-Clayton pass-catch fireworks lit up the football world. No, it's of the Super Bowl: Dan Marino coming unglued under the heavy 49er rush, the Dolphins' defense crumbling under a steady Joe Montana barrage and, saddest of all, Miami's puny ground game.
San Francisco held the Dolphin rushers to 25 yards in Palo Alto, the fewest ever for a Don Shula team. Miami's defense, which had been a problem all year, allowed the 49ers 537 yards, including 211 on the ground. Running the ball and playing the tough D eluded the Dolphins that day—all year, actually—and it has been sticking in Shula's throat for the last eight months.
Roll back the clock. It's October 1984, the Dolphins are in the middle of their 11-game winning streak, and someone asks Shula, "Is this really the kind of team you want, all this flash and no substance?" He bristles. "We're winning, aren't we? I'd be crazy getting away from what's successful."
O.K., the Dolphins will be successful again this year. They can't help it. A schedule quirk gives them only three opponents that made the playoffs in '84 (the 49ers will face six). Marino and Mark Duper and Mark Clayton will run up a lot of yards and maybe break some more records, but come Super Bowl week, someone will ask Shula, "What about your running game? What about your defense?" And what will he say?
He could say, "We tried." His hunt for a big back in the Larry Csonka mold has turned up some exotic specimens, people he wouldn't give a second look in the old days: Pete Johnson, who cost the Dolphins a second-round draft pick a year ago. Shula spent a lot of time trying to convince people Johnson was the goal-line fullback he needed, and at last word Johnson, his poundage up to 286, was refusing to report because the club wanted to put a weight restriction on him.
So Miami's big back again appears to be Woody Bennett, unless 225-pound rookie Ron Davenport (sixth round) comes on strong. The top selection was halfback Lorenzo Hampton, but he's of the glitter rather than the muscle variety.
The defense, again minus injured inside linebacker A.J. Duhe, the glue that once held it together, got more bad news when middle guard Bob Baumhower flunked his physical (postoperative knee). Defense coach Chuck Studley says his unit will be less cerebral but more physical, and with a year of experience, the young inside linebackers, Mark Brown and Jay Brophy, will show more smarts than they did in the Super Bowl, when the 49ers ate them up.
One final note: When Marino was staging his training camp holdout, The Miami Herald ran a survey to find out whom the fans supported, Marino or owner Joe Robbie. Robbie beat Marino 1,087 to 524. Who would have guessed it, an owner more popular than his QB?
When you're playing in the same division as Miami you'd better have corner-backs and you'd better have pass rushers. The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS have one of each, Raymond Clayborn at the right corner and Andre Tippett rushing from the left side. The trouble is that Tippett is a linebacker (he led all LBs in sacks last year), and the people with the 70s and 80s and 90s on their backs didn't do much. The guys at the left corner, Ernie Gibson and Ron Lippett, were targets, but hey, it's tough to defend when the quarterback has time to stand back there and sip tea.
That's the big problem. Defensive end Ken Sims has yet to play like the monster the Patriots expected him to be when they made him the top pick in the whole '82 draft. The other guys are just guys. No. 2 '85 draft pick Garin Veris is a speed-type pass rusher who needs to beef up. The linebacking corps is great, with Tippett and Don Blackmon, Larry McGrew and Steve Nelson, but they have to do too much.