Dallas running back Calvin Hill leaps over the Miami defense.
January 16, 1972
When the telephone rang at 1:30 a.m. in Don Shula's Miami Lakes, Fla., home on January 3, 1972, the coach of the Miami Dolphins was watching a videotape of the American Football Conference championship game in which Miami had defeated Baltimore, 21-0.
"Must be some nut calling at this hour," mused Shula, accustomed to interruptions at unconventional hours.
"The President is calling . . ." announced the voice on the other end of the line, bringing Shula to quick attention.
Relating the conversation later, Shula noted, "The President wanted to talk about our Super Bowl game with Dallas. He said that he's a Washington Redskins fan, but that he also has an interest in the Dolphins as a part-time resident of Florida (Key Biscayne).
"Mr. Nixon alerted me that the Cowboys are a real strong team, but he told me, 'I still think you can hit (Paul) Warfield on that down-and-in pattern.'"
President Richard M. Nixon's affection for football was well known and deep-rooted, stemming from his days as an enthusiastic bench-warmer at Whittier College. As a Redskins fan, he had appeared at a practice session before a playoff game to deliver a pep talk. He also recommended to Coach George Allen a flanker reverse play that produced a 13-yard loss.
Mr. Nixon's affinity for the Dolphins failed to ruffle the Cowboys. "Actually," said Coach Tom Landry, "the President gave them a play they run every week."
Landry thought that the President's suggested play had "a real possibility" of success. If the play succeeds, he should get a thrill out of it," said Landry. "If it's intercepted, I'll get a thrill out of it."
The Cowboys were not without support in high places. Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Nixon's predecessor in the White House, assured Landry by telegram, "My prayers and my presence will be with you in New Orleans, although I don't plan to send in any plays."
The Cowboys' route to their second consecutive Super Bowl was similar to their path of the previous year. With Landry calling the plays, Roger Staubach and Craig Morton alternated at quarterback for the first seven games, three of them losses.
Once Landry settled on Staubach as his field general, things improved dramatically and the Cowboys won their last eight games, including playoff victories over Minnesota, 20-12, and San Francisco, 14-3.
Their leading ball carrier was Duane Thomas, who gained 793 yards in 175 carries during a turbulent season that began when Thomas, reacting to management's refusal to tear up the last two years of his three-year contract, missed a practice and was fined.
Thomas was traded to New England, but his career with the Patriots terminated abruptly. He was returned to the Cowboys, labeled as "uncooperative."
Thomas immediately adopted a vow of silence in his relations with the news media.
When a reporter attempted to interview him, the dialogue went something like this:
Reporter - "You were great last year, Duane. You were bright, lively, funny and talkative."
Thomas - "I don't feel like being bothered now."
Reporter - "Did someone misquote you? Is that what caused you to clam up?"
Thomas - "What time is it?"
Taking that as a signal it was time to move on, the journalist took his leave.
Asked to analyze his teammate, Calvin Hill responded: "It would be unfair to analyze Duane because I've never considered him unusual or untalkative. I have found him cordial and warm. We've even discussed history and philosophy. That's more than you usually get in a discussion with a football player, most of whom prefer to discuss games or girls. I have never considered him a loner, but close to a lot of the guys."
Staubach expressed a similar opinion of the 6-1, 205-pound running back. "Duane is quiet, but he's intelligent and bright," the quarterback said. "He knows our plays, our formations and all of his routines perfectly. Once in a while he'll goof up a pass pattern and I chew him out just like anybody else. He knows right away when he's made a mistake."
Thomas rejoined his old mates after the third game of the season and stepped into his old role without a hitch. His return occurred at a propitious time for the Cowboys because Hill injured a knee in the fourth game and missed six weeks of action.
Hill's misfortune did not compare with that of Ralph Neely, long-time Dallas offensive tackle whose leg was fractured in a motorcycle accident prior to the start of the season. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Tony Liscio, newly retired and now a real estate executive, was just a phone call away. With only two days notice, Liscio came back as though he'd never been away.
The Dolphins, in their second season under Shula, opened the schedule with a 10-10 tie with Denver, then defeated Buffalo, lost to the Jets and ran off eight consecutive victories before suffering defeats by New England and Baltimore. In the playoffs, the Dolphins defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24, in a double overtime classic that has been called the finest football game ever played, and wrapped up the conference title with a 21-0 victory over the Colts.
The Dolphins were young and wide-eyed, with 32 of their 44 players between the ages of 24 and 26. Their ground attack revolved around "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," otherwise known as Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka. The pair, somebody thought, bore resemblances to the leading characters in a then-popular movie.
"We're two of a kind," conceded Kiick. "We enjoy running over people. We like to hit. Larry really runs over people. I feel sorry for those defensive backs who have to stop him. He destroys them. I can't really run over them because of my size.
"I get as much satisfaction when Larry has a good game running with the ball as I do myself. If he's running well it means I'm blocking well. Because Larry's so big, people get the idea that he's slow, but just watch him when he runs to the outside."
Csonka's opinion on "Butch and Sundance" was: "Jim and I are of the same mold. We're just a couple of beer drinkers who enjoy a good time. Statistics come second to us. There's only one way to gauge a runner and that's by how many yards he gains. After every season I like to feel that I've gotten every inch I possibly could get.
"The fact that Dallas resembles Kansas City doesn't make me feel too good. They have those tackles, Jethro Pugh and Bob Lilly. Lilly is so quick some people say the best thing is to run right at him, that he's so quick he sometimes jumps out of his position. The team plays great defense, but Lilly's name always comes up first when we talk about Dallas. His speed and pursuit symbolizes the entire Dallas defense."
For the season, Csonka gained 1,051 yards in 195 carries, Kiick 738 yards in 162 carries.
The Miami quarterback was Bob Griese, at 27 three years younger than Staubach. The two were alike in many respects. They were products of Ohio River towns, Griese of Evansville, Ind., Staubach of Cincinnati. Griese was named All-America in his junior year at Purdue, Staubach in his junior year at the United States Naval Academy. Both were football, baseball and basketball stars in high school, were rejected as football players at Notre Dame and were married to nurses.
One noticeable difference was in their field conduct. Staubach was perfectly willing to scramble when conditions were right, Griese was not.
The acquisition of wide receiver Warfield from Cleveland two years earlier had opened new horizons for Griese.
"Warfield changed me as a passer," Griese explained. "When he came to Miami he brought defenses with him. I had been taught not to throw into double coverage. But Warfield always gets double coverage and he showed me he could beat it. I didn't know much about Paul at the time he joined us. I thought maybe there was something physically wrong with him or that he was over the hill and that's why he was traded."
Warfield enjoyed a remarkable 1971 season, catching 43 passes for 996 yards, an average of 23.2 yards per catch, and 11 touchdowns.
Preparing for his second Super Bowl in four years, former Colts coach Shula observed, "We have to overcome our lack of experience with aggressiveness. The important thing is how our young people react to their offense. We don't want our aggressiveness taken away by indecision."
Shula and his aides stressed to the Dolphins that through the years the Cowboys had boasted the best running attack in pro football. Inasmuch as the Dolphins featured a crushing attack, Shula wisely determined that his running game would have to go outside, complemented by a passing attack to exploit the chief Dallas weakness.
"We designed the game plan to pass on first down because the Cowboys stack their defense against the run on first down," explained Shula.
Landry said the Dolphins "are somewhat of a mystery to us. We haven't played them and I've seen them only a couple of times on television. I know they have excellent personnel and we know Warfield for having played against him with Cleveland. He's probably the best wide receiver in the league.
"I know nothing at all about their defense except that I do know Shula and we expect a lot of the same thing as when he was coaching Baltimore.
"If we are going to run the ball we must get somebody to block Nick Buoniconti. He has freedom back there (as middle linebacker) and he's not guessing. We don't give freedom to anybody. Buoniconti is the real key to their defense. He has the ability to read plays and get to the ball."
Landry assumed a relaxed attitude toward his players and the late-hour attractions of New Orleans. During the early part of the week he imposed no curfew, feeling that the veteran players, in their second Super Bowl in as many years, could be relied upon to exercise mature judgment.
"We've been here before, we're not quite as nervous in preparation and we have more of a matter-of-fact approach," said Landry, who set a midnight curfew as Super Sunday drew near.
Recalling the evil results of his picnic atmosphere three years earlier when he coached Baltimore, Shula was all business, devoting evenings to reviewing films with his players and establishing an 11 p.m. curfew.
Dallas cornerback Herb Adderley, on his fourth Super Bowl squad in six years, expressed doubt that the Dolphins could cope with pressure on their first venture into the big show.
"I don't know if they're prepared for what's been happening all week, the interviews with the writers, everything that's concerned with the game," said the onetime Green Bay star. "Many people don't realize this, but a lot of guys are trying to concentrate all week on what they're going to be doing during the game. Just talking to sports writers bothers some players and breaks their concentration. Whoever withstands the pressure will play good football."
While conditions were proceeding at a fairly normal pace in New Orleans, the natives were growing restless, perhaps even a bit mutinous in Miami.
Ten thousand Super Bowl tickets were scheduled to go on sale at the Orange Bowl on Friday morning, two days before the game. In accordance with universal custom before a major sports event, thousands of fans spent the previous night camped outside the stadium.
At 8 a.m. the gates opened, at 8:28 the gates closed and a mighty roar of protest filled the morning air.
Into the Dolphins' office on Biscayne Boulevard they stormed, expressing their towering rage as best they could. The fact that owner Joe Robbie was telephoning other clubs seeking tickets for his personal use was of little solace to the insurgents. After six hours the dissidents departed, leaving behind a harvest of half-consumed edibles and snack bar debris that caused one harried receptionist to exclaim:
"At 5 o'clock I'm going out and have a nervous breakdown."
Even if the malcontents had been able to buy tickets, it is doubtful that they would have been able to obtain housing in New Orleans, where rooms were in shorter supply than game tickets. When available, a room was going for $100 a night. Rather than battle the hotel crunch, the American Society of Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers postponed its convention until the following week.
A touch of acrimony was injected into the week's proceedings when former Dolphins coach George Wilson asserted in Miami that "Joe Doakes could have taken this Miami team to the Super Bowl."
Wilson, released as Miami coach to make way for Shula, compared the Dolphin situation to that in Green Bay some years earlier.
"Ray McLean started building the Packers the year before Vince Lombardi arrived," declared Wilson. "McLean made a halfback out of Paul Hornung and developed the offensive line and made most of the moves that Lombardi got credit for.
"I brought Don (Shula) to Detroit as an assistant when I coached the Lions," reminded Wilson. "When I was unable to accept a five-year coaching contract at Baltimore, I recommended Don for the job and helped him work out the details of his three-year revolving contract. You'd think it would have been common courtesy for Don to tell me he was being offered the Dolphins' job."
Robbie, normally of an explosive temperament, remained composed when asked about Wilson's statements. "It doesn't sound like George," he said. "We've always considered George a part of the Dolphins. We always give George season tickets for himself and his family and if he wants to see the Super Bowl he can come as our guest."
Wilson did not accept the offer.
Shula also retained his cool demeanor. When he was introduced at a press conference, he quipped, "Just call me Joe Doakes."
Soberly, he continued: "I learned a lot under George Wilson, particularly in the art of handling men. There was no better psychologist in the business. If Joe Doakes could have taken this team to the Super Bowl, well and good.
"I'm very proud of what we have accomplished and I don't think I've ever stepped forward to claim any credit."
For the 81,023 who sat in 39-degree temperature at Tulane Stadium on January 16, the NFL programmed a gigantic pre-game spectacle with a military flavor.
There were the Tyler, Tex., marching band and the famed Apache Belles, who performed to a Dixieland tempo. The Marine Corps was represented by the Silent Drill Team from Washington. The Coast Guard and the Navy sent 20 picked personnel who formed ranks as Army men and presented a 29-by-40-foot flag from the Fifth Army garrison at San Antonio.
The 81-voice Air Force Academy chorus sang the National Anthem as 20,000 balloons were released from eight spots on the field and eight F-4 Phantom jets streaked over the stadium.
When one jet peeled off in the "Missing Man" formation, spectators were reminded of missing servicemen in Vietnam.
"You've gotta give people something fantastic these days," said Bob Cochran, in charge of entertainment for the NFL.
When the teams lined up for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff, the Cowboys were rated five-point favorites.
The first break of the contest occurred on the Dolphins' second possession when Csonka, who had not fumbled previously all season (235 rushes, 13 receptions), dropped a handoff from Griese and linebacker Chuck Howley recovered for Dallas on his own 46-yard line.
"I was reading the defense before the snap, Csonka reported. "I was a little higher than usual for the handoff and I think I hit it with my knee. If I hadn't fumbled, it would have been an easy 20- or 30-yard gain. Both tackles were stunting and we got a good block on their linebacker. That play could have given us momentum, but it gave it all to Dallas instead. I was hoping the defense would stop them but the damage was already done."
"My eyes twinged in disgust," said Shula of the fumble. "The exchange was poor. What hurt was that Griese and Csonka had executed the handoff all season with their eyes practically closed. Csonka never really had full control of the ball. The timing was just a split second off. Our tightness was beginning to show."
The Cowboys did not squander the opportunity, moving downfield so that Mike Clark could kick a nine-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Failing to penetrate the Dallas defense on the ground, Griese launched an air offensive with even more embarrassing consequences than the Csonka mishap.
On one dropback, Griese was pursued savagely by defensive tackle Lilly. Across the field they zigzagged until Lilly finally overtook the quarterback 29 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It was, maintained some, the game's finest piece of broken field running.
The Dolphins tried the Nixon play late in the period, with Warfield running diagonally across the field pursued by Mel Renfro and Cliff Harris. When the pass arrived, Renfro flicked it aside neatly and Harris quipped, "Nixon's a great strategist, isn't he?"
The Cowboys increased their lead to 10-0 late in the second quarter. With Thomas and Hill reeling off huge gains through gaping holes, the Cowboys marched 76 yards in eight plays, Staubach culminating the drive with a seven-yard pass to Lance Alworth with 1:15 remaining and Clark converting.
On the sideline, Landry was enjoying what he was seeing. His game plan was paying off. Miami's middle linebacker, Buoniconti, was reacting so quickly that Dallas blockers could shield him off, permitting Hill and Thomas to cut back against the flow of the play.
Although only 75 seconds remained before halftime, it was enough for the Dolphins to get on the scoreboard. With one eye on the clock, Griese passed the Dolphins to the 23-yard line and Garo Yepremian, the soccer-style Cypriot kicker, booted a 31-yard field goal with only four seconds to go.
As the capacity throng was being entertained by a halftime tribute to Louis Armstrong, featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Channing and Al Hirt, Shula was reflecting an air of confidence in the Miami clubhouse.
"I still felt that we could come back," he said. "Our defense had controlled Staubach. We applied good pressure on him. He had trouble trying to read the coverage and variations that we were using. Our whole idea was to hold the Cowboys after the second-half kickoff and then get our offense going."
But the Dolphins were unable to measure up to Shula's expectations. Taking the second-half kickoff, the Cowboys slashed 71 yards in eight plays. Thomas gained 37 of the yards, including 23 on an end sweep, and Bob Hayes picked up 16 on a flanker reverse. Thomas ran for the last three yards.
"That drive killed us," Shula noted.
Early in the game, facing a third and medium yardage situation, Griese had tossed a flare pass to Kiick. However, in the fourth quarter, in a similar situation on his own 49-yard line, Griese attempted the stratagem again with disastrous results. Howley leaped in front of the intended receiver, intercepted the ball and took off for the Miami goal line.
When he reached the 9-yard line, Howley stumbled and fell. Three plays later Staubach passed to tight end Mike Ditka for the last touchdown of the game.
Embarrassed by his failure to go all the way, Howley said, "Imagine, nobody touched me. I just fell. I guess I was just amazed to have three blockers in front of me and no one between them and the goal."
After 12 years of trying and failing to capture a world championship, the Cowboys were now kings of professional football. Forgotten was the frustration created by losses to Green Bay in 1966 and '67 NFL title games, losses to the Cleveland Browns in 1968 and '69 playoff games and the Super Bowl setback by Baltimore the previous year.
"This is the successful conclusion of our 12-year plan," declared Cowboys owner Clint Murchison.
"I feel as though I've lost two years off my age. I feel like I'm 29 again," beamed Lilly.
Even Landry shed his customary stoicism. "We were all determined nobody would stop us," announced the title-winning coach. "We ran extremely well and I've always felt that if you can run on a team you can beat that team. This is especially true when you have the great defense that we have, which we proved again today."
Landry excused himself to accept a phone call. Returning to his interviewers, he was asked about the call.
"It was from President Nixon," he replied.
"What did he say?"
"He praised our offensive line."
Staubach, the game's outstanding player, also thought well of the line that permitted him time to complete 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards and opened gaping holes that contributed to an overall gain of 252 yards.
Ignoring bruised ribs, the former Naval officer pointed out that the temporary discomfort would not interfere with the championship exhilaration. "I have a long time to recover," he noted. Half in jest, he added, "I'm going to study films more than ever. But it probably will be hard to convince Coach Landry to let me call the plays after we won 10 in a row with him calling them."
The only somber moment in the Dallas locker room was supplied by Thomas, whose 95 yards in 19 carries more than doubled the combined yards of Csonka and Kiick (40 apiece).
In the company of Jim Brown, former Cleveland Browns great and now a movie actor, Thomas was asked if he was happy.
"Never said I was mad," replied the crotchety Cowboy.
The most dejected individual among the Dolphins was Buoniconti, whom the Cowboys had to neutralize if their running game was to succeed.
"A lot of our success," said Landry, "came as a result of handling Buoniconti. You either block Nick or you don't run. I was surprised with the yards we got. In the second half they came out with three men and a linebacker in a spot where we had opened holes in the first half, so we went the other way."
John Niland and Jack Manders of the Dallas offensive line did their jobs so effectively that when Buoniconti was removed from the game in the fourth quarter, he shuffled to the bench where he asked Bob Matheson, "Is the score still 10-3?" The score at the time was 24-3.
"Everything went foggy," revealed Buoniconti. "I don't remember how or when they scored.
"We weren't staying in our pursuit lanes. They just cut us off. I don't think they smashed us physically. They did a fine job of finessing us. I guess I was calling our defensive signals okay. Everything is still very hard to remember.
"I guess it didn't matter if I got zonked. The Cowboys were just great."
"We just took turns popping him," reported Niland.
"He took a terrific blow to the head," added Matheson.
Shula's greatest disappointment, the coach said, "was that we never really challenged. They completely dominated. We have a very fine football team, but we never really got untracked.
"We didn't make any positive plays that would have helped us win. Going into the game we thought only of stopping the Dallas run and that's what we were unable to do. We had good pressure on Staubach, especially early in the game, and we had his receivers covered. The run is what broke it open.
"It's unfortunate that our season had to end this way. I had hoped that there would be bigger and better things in store. The Cowboys played a near-perfect game," concluded the first coach to lose two Super
"Maybe I shouldn't say this because it sounds like sour grapes," offered Csonka, "but I'd rather play Dallas any day than Kansas City. The Chiefs have the best linebackers I've ever played against."
According to Dallas linebacker Dave Edwards, "The Dolphins were too young to win. Their youth kept them from being very versatile. On certain plays they ran certain formations and it was too late in the year for them to make a change. We studied every film we could get our hands on and we knew pretty well what they were going to do."
Warfield, held to four catches, only one of which -- a 23-yarder -- did any damage, was surprised at the double coverage he received from Cornell Green and Renfro.
"Green would just lay back and sit there waiting for the slant," he said. "I expected that once in a while, but I didn't think I'd get inside-outside coverage throughout the game."
At the height of the Cowboys' celebration, player-coach Dan Reeves spotted Tex Schramm making no particular effort to hide.
"C'mon, you're next," Reeves ordered the team's president-general manager. Schramm, suffering from the flu for a week, put up no resistance and, fully clothed, followed Reeves into the shower for his championship baptism.
After toweling off and slipping into dry clothes, Schramm received bad news. A window of his Dallas home had been jimmied, and $100 and a color television set had been stolen. Furthermore, while making a getaway in Schramm's new car, the thief had collided with another one of Schramm's cars.
Everything considered, however, it might not have been too much to pay for a world football championship.