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It is still too early to know for sure, but it now appears that the city of Miami will be saved by Bob Griese's four eyes—and not by legalized gambling or nude beaches or Anita Bryant. A Dolphin promotion called "Explo '77," a campaign that sounds as if it was the brainstorm of the same ad guy who sent Lucky Strike green to war, was launched last Sunday afternoon when the Houston Oilers visited the Orange Bowl, and the National Football League's first bespectacled quarterback exploded all over the place in the first 15 minutes to lead the utterly surprising Dolphins to a quick 21-0 lead and start them on the way to a 27-7 victory, the third straight for the undefeated Miamians.
Because Miami had slumped to a 6-8 record last season and had not won its first three games since the Super Bowl year of 1972 (17 straight), one has to assume that Griese's eyeglasses have had as much to do with the comeback as all of Coach Don Shula's rebuilding efforts. Griese was nothing short of deadly against the Oilers, who were just as unbeaten as the Dolphins entering the game. When Griese put those 21 points on the board in the first quarter, it was the first time the Dolphins had done such a thing in seven years. He hit seven of his first eight passes, and did not throw a bad ball on the one he missed. One of the seven went for a touchdown to Duriel Harris, who did some of the spectacular things that Nat Moore had done for Miami the previous Sunday against San Francisco.
The Houston game, however, was not really over until the early moments of the fourth quarter when the Miami defense, not Griese, held the Oilers for five downs after Houston had moved to a first-and-goal at the Dolphin three-yard line. A touchdown would have brought the Oilers to within seven points of the Dolphins at 21-14. But employing some of the most curious play selection since the hideout and the flying wedge, Houston tried to hammer the ball into Miami's end zone on basically straight-ahead ground attacks, and when it was all over, the Oilers were still at the three-yard line—and Miami had the football.
Houston had scored its touchdown in the second quarter when Dan Pastorini, executing a fake handoff on which he almost had his right arm removed from his shoulder, trotted around left end more or less unnoticed. That was about it for Pastorini. This was Griese's day. Even when he suffered his first interception in 54 pass attempts this season, it came after the ball hit his tight end, Andre Tillman, in the chest.
Before the game Griese was leading the AFC's passers with a "rating" of 94.1, whatever that means. No one understands the system except a computer. But Griese probably did not do too much damage to his stats by completing 13 out of 20 for 195 yards. These are relatively new Dolphins, of course, and Griese has had to become more of a thrower than he was during the championship days when his most agonizing decision was whether he should hand the ball to Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris or Jim Kiick after Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Little. Norm Evans and Jim Langer knocked everybody down. During that era, Griese was generally regarded as a mechanic rather than a Johnny Unitas. He was Shula's Bart Starr.
Now Griese is in charge of the "Explo" Dolphins, the big-play team that the normally conservative-minded Shula has been forced to develop since the breakup—through injuries, retirements and defections—of the crew that dominated pro football in the early '70s. Miami has gone from a grind-it-out team to a "get the ball into the hands of Nat Moore or Duriel Harris or Freddie Solomon if you don't mind" type of franchise. And Griese, who is still a good mechanic, has had to keep his arm limber. Strangely, this change has come about at the same time as Griese's need for glasses.
"I've always had a weak eye and a strong one," Griese said after accepting the game ball last Sunday. "Last season I started to notice some double-vision and dizziness. I figured, well, I'd go to contacts. For me, though, contacts weren't the answer because of the prisms. I just had to put on glasses."
Griese tried contact lenses during an exhibition game in mid-August, but after missing an extra-point kick in his role as replacement for the injured Garo Yepremian, he switched to regular glasses for the second half and booted two extra points. He has worn the glasses since that time.
You would think that glasses beneath a helmet and behind a face mask would have some effect on a quarterback's ability to gaze around the field for his receivers. Harris and Moore and Solomon, for example, are not exactly turtles when it comes to running patterns. And Griese certainly could see them just fine against Houston. He connected with six different receivers, but for some reason did not throw to Moore, who had begun to look like his favorite. Moore had done everything but inflate the ball in the 49ers game, catching three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This time Griese displayed a distinct partiality for Harris, who was frequently running free in the Oilers' secondary. Harris caught five, including one that he dived for and snagged on the right edge of the end zone for Miami's second touchdown.
"I just don't think they're going to bother me," Griese said of the glasses. "They haven't fogged up yet. Even in Buffalo in the rain, although I had to keep cleaning them, I was never unable to see. Sometimes I had to throw through the bubbles, but I could see."