SI Vault
John Underwood
October 12, 1981
Miami Coach Don Shula is up to old tricks, molding a bunch of unknowns into the only unbeaten team in the AFC
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October 12, 1981

New Names But Still No Names

Miami Coach Don Shula is up to old tricks, molding a bunch of unknowns into the only unbeaten team in the AFC

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Q.: "What do you read?"

A.: "Books."

Over the last seven games of the 1980 season, the Dolphins averaged more than 330 yards a game in total offense—a figure camouflaged by the fact that they still finished 26th in the league in yardage. In the off-season, Shula completed the transformation, altering the offense by "about 10%" to include more "Woodleys": rollouts, sprintouts, etc. Of course, whenever Woodley is in there, the 10% magnifies to 30% or more, because those are the tools peculiar to his ability; in the hands of a drop-back, stationary quarterback like Strock, Woodleys are of little use.

Shula himself calls the plays for Woodley, something he hasn't done since he used to have fun with Tom Matte, a converted halfback, subbing at quarterback for John Unitas and Earl Morrall in Baltimore in the '60s. Woodley doesn't mind—he thinks his time will come, but "it's a long way down the road." He also thinks the play-calling is in especially good hands because Griese is up there in the press box with Offensive Coach Wally English, phoning down suggestions for Shula to pick through. If you can remember how smart Griese was at field level at a modest 6'1", says Dolphin Publicist Bob Kearney, you can imagine how much smarter he is "now that he's 55 feet tall."

The week before the Jets game, Woodley had his best day as a professional: passing for 309 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 victory over the Colts. It was doubly sweet for Shula because the week before that he had had to yank an ineffective Woodley in favor of Strock in the second half against Houston. "The best thing about it was David didn't sulk," says Shula. "He just went to work." "Going to work" is a Shula antidote for just about everything that ails anything. The reason the Dolphins are doing so well now, says Shula, is that all 45 of them "went to work," contributing, "taking up the slack for each other."

There was considerable slack to be taken up against the Jets because the Dolphins had to tool up for the game with parts strewn all over the garage. Vigorito, a 197-pound whiz kid from Virginia—who, Guard Bob Kuechenberg says, "has the fastest white feet I ever saw"—was subbing for Tony Nathan; Franklin, the "best blocking back to come out of the 1981 draft," according to a Dolphin personnel man, had taken over at fullback for Woody Bennett. Vigorito said it wasn't hard to fit right in because with Shula "you gain confidence quickly. You don't feel he's above you so much as he's with you." He said that he looked up at mass one morning and there was Shula, being "with him." In the flesh? Of course.

Franklin, meanwhile, had run for 76 yards against the Colts and Shula was beginning to liken him to Csonka. Except that Franklin is shorter than Csonka. And smaller. And faster. And much darker. Then why does he remind Shula of Csonka? Well, for one thing, at 5'10", 225 pounds he hurts the people who try to tackle him; for another, in four years at Nebraska he fumbled a grand total of three times. For Shula, that made him a three-time All-America. Shula hates fumblers.

The game plan for the Jets revolved around Woodley (who else?) and was predicated on his being able to neutralize the pass rush of defensive ends Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko. The Dolphins had got a snootful of those two before; Shula said one was the best, and the other was better, and please don't ask which is which. Gastineau, in particular, had haunted Miami Tackle Eric Laakso, one of Shula's "quiet" developments in the last couple of years. Last season when the Dolphins met the Jets, Gastineau treated Laakso like an open window. "It wasn't so bad the second time," Laakso said, "but it wasn't so good, either."

The first quarter was 15 minutes of hell for the Dolphin defense. The Jets averaged 14.3 yards per play the first 10 times they snapped the ball, and in two possessions Quarterback Richard Todd completed six of six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. In between, however, the Dolphins got a fumble recovery, and on first down at the Jets' 28 Woodley sprang the option, running right. "We'll use it early," he had said beforehand, "and if they don't pick it up we'll use it again." For Gastineau and Greg Buttle, the linebacker on that side, the play must have looked as if it was drawn up on Mars, because by the time they reacted Woodley was by them on his way to the Jets' three, a 25-yard gain and the longest Dolphin run of the day. Franklin scored from one yard out two plays later to tie it at 7-7.

But later in the period, with the Dolphins trailing 14-7, Gastineau and Klecko put their act together—and Woodley out of the game. Arriving at the corners of his anatomy simultaneously, just as he released a pass, they made an impact that could be heard to the 40th row. Shula was still screaming at the officials—charging a late hit—when Woodley was helped from the field. Locker-room X rays showed nothing broken, but he was too badly bruised to return.

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