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Take yourself back, back in time: 10 years and two weeks, to be exact. Same city, Los Angeles (Pasadenans have their pride, but it's L.A. to the rest of us). Same teams, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. On that day, Jan. 14, 1973, in Super Bowl VII, the Dolphins made a dream complete. With 11 defenders best known for the fact that nobody knew their names, the Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7, thereby completing a perfect season, 17-0. It was the first time that a team had gone undefeated and untied in NFL history—and the last.
While a perfect season may never happen again, if it should, who can say that it won't be accomplished by the new version of the Dolphin defense? The faces have changed, but not much else. Nobody knows these players' names, either. And as it was with the great No-Name Defense of a decade ago, no one—not the fans, not the guys in the blimp, not even the Redskins, for all the miles of game films they're studying this week—will know exactly how or from which direction this Miami defense will be attacking. Although it may seem an exaggeration to say that the Miami Dolphins have revolutionized the art of defensive football, the way the Dolphins go about it, defense develops into something far more destructive than just stopping the other team's offense.
Don Coryell was the first to put his finger on it. Two weeks ago the Dolphins coldcocked his San Diego Chargers, possessors of what many football people were saying was the first truly unstoppable attack the game has known, 34-13. Coryell came to this conclusion about what he had just witnessed: "Their defense is really an extension of their offense. Quite extraordinary. It was almost as though our offense was on the defensive against them." It had been the Chargers' mission all season to prove that the best defense is indeed a good offense, but the Dolphins skewed that old bromide. The best offense for them is a good defense. As Wes Chandler, the Chargers' nonpareil pass receiver, said after being limited to just two catches, "They took away our bread and butter time after time after time. They jammed us at the line, took away the short routes, destroyed our quarterback's timing completely." That man, Dan Fouts, suffered what was easily his worst performance in three years—a mere 15 completions, five interceptions, three sacks. Said Fouts, "Miami gave us nothing."
Richard Todd was similarly flummoxed Sunday as Linebacker A.J. Duhe and his mates shut down the Jets in the AFC championship game.
"We never knew where they were coming from," said Jets Center Joe Fields. "We play against a lot of 3-4 defenses, but Duhe adds an extra dimension to Miami's. He lines up outside, he lines up inside. Sometimes both inside linebackers would be on the right or the left instead of in front of you. You get picked off by guys you don't even see." Configurations of ever-changing cross-blocking opened up holes in the lines of scrimmage—isn't the offense supposed to do that?—and blitzing linebackers burst through the gaps. As for the sleight-of-hand pass coverage: "Richard could only guess where to throw the ball to," said Wide Receiver Wesley Walker.
How do the Dolphins do it? What sets their defense apart from, say, that of the Redskins, the only team to allow its opponents fewer points this season than Miami? It can be put into two words. Bill Arnsparger. The 56-year-old Kentuckian has run Don Shula's defenses for 17½ years, interrupted by a 2½-year stint (1974-76) as head coach of the New York Giants. Shula considers him to be the greatest defensive football mind in the game.
Arnsparger will talk all day about his defense to anyone. But if that person doesn't carry a Dolphin playbook, it's uncanny how many different ways Arnsparger has of saying nothing and revealing less.
"What were you doing out there, Bill?"
"Well, our job was to stop their offense from scoring and get the ball for our offense so that it could score."
"But what did you do, specifically?"