Larry Csonka ran for 145 yards on 33 carries, good for two touchdowns and MVP honors.

Who's the Greatest?
January 13, 1974

The major subject among the Miami Dolphins was women -- their women.

The chief topic of dialogue among the Minnesota Vikings was training facilities -- their own -- as the champions of the American and National Football Conferences prepared for Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston.

The Dolphins were disturbed by club policy for transporting their womenfolk from Miami to Houston. Single players maintained that if Owner Joe Robbie paid wives' air fare from Miami to Houston, then he also should pay for the mothers of single players.

"They suggested a one-man, one-woman rule," reported Coach Don Shula. "I presented the players' views to Robbie, but he held firm and said he would pay only for wives.

"I told the players of Robbie's decision and thought that was the end of it. But, as usual at the Super Bowl, subjects such as this are frequently blown out of proportion. A few of the players discussed the subject with the press."

The matter consumed large chunks of time during Shula's early interviews, but policy prevailed. If mothers or sisters or girl friends were to attend the game, it would not be at the Dolphins' expense.

The Minnesota matter was of a more sinister nature, with the usually stoic Bud Grant firing verbal blasts at Commissioner Pete Rozelle and fellow functionaries of the NFL.

As related in "Tarkenton", Jim Klobuchar's book: "The first tremors developed on the opening practice day. Grant's team arrived at the prescribed training field quarters at Delmar School to find a locker room apparently designed for the East Dry Gulch Groundhogs. It was the first record-breaking statistic of Super Bowl week, the first locker room in Super Bowl history without a locker.

"Of the 15 shower heads in the bathing section, three revealed signs of activity. The others were arid. Two of them atoned for their derelictions by serving as a nesting grounds for a pair of sparrows.

'Men,' declared Jim Marshall, 'consider yourself honored. It is the first time we have ever showered in an aviary.'

"Although the room was rude and claustrophobic, it did have a certain democratic charm. The coaches had to undress right in there with the kickoff return serfs. This created no dignity gap for Grant, a distant man but never a ceremonial one. He did stalk out of the dressing room, however, with the sternly set jaw of a Norseman who has just been shafted in the fjord."

Not once, but twice, Grant stepped out of character to express his opinion of those who had reduced the Vikings to the class of galley slaves.

"This is a Super Bowl game, not a pickup game, Grant grumbled. "The league is responsible and Pete Rozelle runs the league.

"I don't think our players have seen something like this since junior high school.

"Miami can walk from its hotel to its field, but we have a 20-minute bus ride. And we don't have any blocking sleds . . ., and the Dolphins do."

As the home team, the Dolphins were assigned the more pretentious facility, the practice field and dressing quarters of the Houston Oilers.

For his unprofessional behavior, Grant was fined $1,500.

Besides the female flight fare issue, Shula encountered another disrupting matter. A rumor infiltrated the Miami ranks that defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger was headed for the New York Giants as head coach. Arnsparger's concentration was shattered daily by queries on the story, which later proved true.

Arnsparger had molded a formidable Miami defense that had limited opponents to 176 points in 16 games, including playoff victories over Cincinnati, 34-16, and Oakland, 27-10. In three consecutive games late in the regular season, the Dolphins had allowed only one touchdown, shutting out Baltimore, 44-0, and Buffalo, 17-0, before defeating Dallas, 14-7.

The Dolphins had scored 404 points while winning 14 games and losing two, to Oakland, 12-7, and Baltimore, 16-3.

The Vikings opened their season with nine consecutive victories, dropped a 20-14 decision to Atlanta, directed by their former coach, Norm Van Brocklin, then won five of their last six times, with only a 27-0 shutout by Cincinnati to mar the streak.

As in the two previous Super Bowls, Miami's ground attack featured Larry Csonka, who gained 1,003 yards in 219 carries. Mercury Morris was only slightly less devastating, gaining 965 yards in 149 rushes, an average of 6.4 yards per carry.

The Minnesota ground attack revolved around rookie Chuck Foreman, who carried 182 times for 801 yards although missing three games because of a leg injury.

The freshman out of the University of Miami also caught 37 passes for 362 yards, the second-best record in the Viking passing attack that netted 2,294 yards.

Miami gained 1,685 yards by air, with Paul Warfield accounting for 514 yards on 29 receptions.

As the countdown to Super Sunday progressed, however, Warfield suffered a pulled hamstring during a workout and was a doubtful starter against the Vikings.

The other Miami question marks were pronounced fit. Offensive guard Bob Kuechenberg, who suffered a broken arm in the next to last regular-season game and wore a cast in the playoff games, and defensive tackle Manny Fernandez, handicapped by a torn leg muscle, were reported ready for kickoff.

Because of the Dolphins' powerful running game, quarterback Bob Griese was required to do comparatively little passing in the playoff games. In the AFC championship game against Oakland, Griese passed only six times, completing three for 34 yards.

Griese's Minnesota counterpart was Fran Tarkenton, who had begun his professional career with the expansion Vikings of 1961 and later spent five seasons with the New York Giants before returning to the Vikings in 1972.

Tarkenton had played 13 years without post-season recognition. He had, however, been a spectator at New Orleans when the Vikings lost to Kansas City in Super Bowl IV.

"I went to that one because my people, the Vikings, whom I'd played with years ago, were in it," he explained. "But it was so frustrating, just sitting there."

In 1973, Tarkenton had been in Los Angeles the day before Super Sunday, but "took a 1 a.m. flight to Atlanta, because I didn't want to be there unless I was in the game myself."

Tarkenton was not only a pinpoint passer, but an accomplished runner as well, a "scrambler" in the truest sense of the word. With his receivers covered and a ray of daylight ahead, he frequently ran for crucial yardage. In the regular season Tark carried the ball 41 times for 202 yards, a 4.9-yard average, the best among six Viking ball carriers.

Because he had flouted the quarterbacks-should-not-run doctrine, Tarkenton originally was branded a loser. When Roger Staubach of Dallas and others followed in his footsteps and made significant contributions to championships, however, the football fraternity revised its views of scrambling.

"It was the greatest lie ever perpetrated on the pro football public," Tarkenton asserted.

Tarkenton enjoyed high esteem among the Dolphins. "He's a marvel, he has a sixth sense," declared Miami linebacker Nick Buoniconti. "He seems to know where the pressure is and he moves away from it so fast that he never takes a shot from the blind side.

"He does everything by instinct so that we never know where he'll be. So the whole thing has to start with our defensive ends, Bill Stanfill and Vein Den Herder. They've got to control Tarkenton. If they let him roll outside, it's going to be a long afternoon.

"Who knows what the Vikings will do? The Vikings used to have a lot of tendencies on offense. You pretty much knew when and where they'd pass and run. Now, they have no tendencies at all. Tarkenton is a great pass caller in that respect."

Declaring that he had "never been so hungry and never with a team that I thought was so ready," Tarkenton predicted a more wide-open Super Bowl "than you've seen in several years. Our team isn't afraid to gamble. I don't mean that we'll be a scatter-gun team. The team has more backfield speed than we've had before. I'll throw the ball on first down and feel I can throw deep against a zone defense."

Tarkenton anticipated little difficulty with the Dolphins' 53 defense, in which Miami substituted a linebacker for a defensive tackle. (The defense was named for Bob Matheson's uniform number.)

"The '53' is a little bit different," Tarkenton acknowledged, "but all that means to me is that it has to be approached a little bit different. Some teams defy it. They think they can run their own stuff against it. I think you've got to prepare for the 53 defense, you've got to make it so the Dolphins don't know what to expect. I'm sure we'll prepare a little bit different."

In the 1972 season, the Vikings had solved the 53 defense for a 14-6 fourth-quarter lead, only to lose, 16-14, when Garo Yepremian kicked a 51-yard field goal.

The Vikings do not play scared, Tarkenton added. Too frequently, he said, when a team plays an important game, "it's so worried about making mistakes that it doesn't play as well as it can. It doesn't take any chances because it feels it's good enough to win if it doesn't make any mistakes.

"If passing from our end zone seems to be the thing to do, we'll do that. If taking fourth-down chances seems right, we'll do that, too. The tempo of the game often dictates different strategy. In the Dallas (playoff) game, when we went for two fourth-down plays, it was obvious that our offense was moving the ball well. If we hadn't, we might have played it differently. You don't go for a fourth-down play just for the heck of it."

One of the more fascinating confrontations of the forthcoming game featured Tarkenton and Jake Scott, Miami safety-man.

Although Tarkenton was five years Scott's senior, they shared a common denominator -- Athens, Ga.

"When I was in seventh and eighth grades," Scott recalled, "Fran was the big hero on the high school football team. He was just like he is now, a real leader. I knew his two brothers, the whole family. Years later Fran recruited me for the University of Georgia."

Tarkenton remembered: "His mother taught me a course in educational psychology in college. She was a brilliant woman. I remember Jake from the kid football programs that the 'Y' conducted. I always thought that when it came to playing free safety, Willie Wood of the Green Bay Packers was the best. He set the standard. Now I consider Jake to be the equal of Willie. I can think of no higher praise."

Scott was equally lavish in his praise of Tarkenton, asserting, "Fran can turn a bad play into a good play just like that. You can't predict what he'll do. That will make it tough on me. He has so many wrinkles, he is so tough to defense."

While football fever was rising in Houston and most other sections of the country, Miami players found it difficult to get into the emotional mainstream.

"This isn't like it was the first two years," said Csonka. "I wouldn't say that we're bored, but it's just not the same exciting adventure it was in the other years.

"I came here to talk about the Super Bowl, but I have so little conversation about it, I really don't know what to say anymore. People want to hear me talk about faith and morals. That's fine, but I'm a football player. It's a livelihood and I love the game.

"I'm not worried about whether our team is the greatest of all time. That may sound funny. The object is to get to the Super Bowl. How history judges the Dolphins of the 1970s is something I don't worry about."

Super Bowl VIII, played before 68,142 on a murky, humid afternoon, was televised by the Columbia Broadcasting System to an audience estimated at 60 million. One-minute commercials sold for $210,000, an increase of $10,000 over the 1973 rate.

Pre-game entertainment featured the release of 17,000 balloons that cost $3,000 and required 40 blowers five hours with 25 tanks of helium to inflate.

When referee Ben Dreith called the captains to midfield, the Dolphins, as was their custom, called the coin toss correctly and chose to receive the opening kickoff. The coin flip was an omen of things to come for the Vikings.

Starting on his own 38-yard line, Griese alternated runs by Morris and Csonka with his own passes to Jim Mandich and Marlin Briscoe in masterful, mechanical fashion. In 10 plays consuming five minutes and 27 seconds, Griese guided the Dolphins across 62 yards, Csonka smashing the final five yards over right guard for the touchdown.

It was a textbook demonstration at the expense of "The Purple People Eaters," the resolute defense that generated inordinate pride in the Viking family.

Three plays, two on the ground, one in the air, represented the Vikings' first possession before Mike Eischeid punted and the Dolphins resumed their relentless style from their own 34.

Four first downs, two each by rushes and passes, moved the ball to the 1-yard line, from where Jim Kiick plunged for his first touchdown of the season.

The drive consumed 5:46. In the first 13 minutes and 36 seconds, the Dolphins ran off 20 plays for 120 yards.

The Vikings failed to register a first down until the final play of the quarter when Tarkenton completed a nine-yard pass to Doug Kingsriter, moving the ball to the Minnesota 27.

That drive stalled on the 36 and the next drive, which started on the 27, came to grief when Tarkenton was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

Seven plays later the Dolphins were on the scoreboard again. Aided by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against linebacker Wally Hilgenberg, and with Csonka carrying five times, the Dolphins marched from the 35 to the Minnesota 21. Yepremian kicked a 28-yard field goal that put the Dolphins ahead, 17-0.

With 5:56 remaining in the half, the Vikes unleashed their longest drive of the day, moving from their own 20 to the Miami 6 as Tarkenton completed passes of 17 and 14 yards to Stu Voigt and of 30 yards to John Gilliam.

Facing a fourth-and-one situation and trailing by 17 points, the Vikings shunned the field goal, choosing instead a running play by Oscar Reed, who fumbled on the 6, where Scott recovered.

Should the Vikings have tried for the three points considering the score at that time? "No," insisted Tarkenton. "We had the first down, we just fumbled."

The second half provided no solace for the Vikings as the Dolphins, starting on the Minnesota 43, punched out a third touchdown. A Griese-to-Warfield pass gulped 27 yards before Csonka charged across from the 2 on a busted play.

"I confused everybody on the play," confessed Csonka. "Griese led the team out of the huddle, then forgot the count. He asked me what the count was. He'd forgotten it. He doesn't do that very often, but I guess he was trying to figure out something about the defense. Anyway he turned around and said, 'Hey, what's the count?'

"I said, 'It's on two, isn't it?'

"Kiick heard all this and said, 'No, no, it's on one.'

"Griese glared at both of us for a second, but he believed me. He decided it was on two. He shouldn't have done that. Kiick was paying attention. The count was one."

Center Jim Langer had not heard the conversation and, to Griese's surprise, snapped the ball on the count of one. Griese handed off to Csonka, who followed Kiick, Langer, guard Larry Little and tackle Norm Evans into the end zone.

"Griese seemed to bobble the ball a little," related Csonka. "I'm just glad that I didn't confuse him so badly that he dropped the ball."

When Yepremian kicked his third extra point, the Dolphins led, 24-0.

Later, Griese could laugh about the mixup. "Coming out of the huddle, I was looking over the defense to see what 1 might call on the next play if we didn't score," he explained. "Then I forgot the count. I should have known that Zonk was the wrong guy to ask."

The Vikings scored their only touchdown early in the fourth period when, climaxing a 10-play, 57-yard march, Tarkenton rolled four yards around right end.

The Vikings had only one more possession and were stopped by an interception by Curtis Johnson under the Miami goalpost. The Dolphins ate up the last 6 1/2 minutes as Kiick and Csonka alternated on 12 running plays that sealed Miami's 32nd victory in 34 games over two seasons.

The Dolphins committed virtually no mistakes. They lost no fumbles and were not intercepted. Their only penalty was for four yards.

On the rare occasions that they did err, there were no ill effects. Once, on a punt, only 10 Dolphins lined up because Ed Newman "forgot" to take the field. Result: Larry Seiple punted the ball 57 yards to the Minnesota 3.

On another occasion, Csonka charged into his own tackle, Wayne Moore, and nearly tripped. Regaining his equilibrium, Zonk charged on for an eight-yard gain.

The Vikes were penalized seven times for 65 yards and when Fred Cox booted an on-side kickoff that was covered by Terry Brown following the Vikings' touchdown, that, too, was doomed for failure as Ron Porter was ruled offside. Cox then was forced to kick deep.

On the second-half kickoff, which Gilliam returned 65 yards to the Miami 34, Voigt was detected clipping and the Vikings were set back to their 10. It was that kind of day for the Norsemen.

Csonka accounted for a record 145 yards on 33 carries, breaking Matt Snell's mark of 121 yards in Super Bowl III, and was named the game's most valuable player. Reed was the Vikings' most productive ball carrier, gaining 32 yards in 11 tries. Because of Miami's steamroller offense, Griese threw only seven passes, completing six. Tarkenton threw more frequently than he had anticipated, hitting on 18 of 28 tosses for 182 yards. One was intercepted.

The Dolphins controlled the football for 33 minutes and 47 seconds, the Vikings for 26 minutes and 13 seconds. The biggest disparity was in the first quarter when the Dolphins controlled the ball for 11 minutes and 13 seconds, the Vikings for only 3:47.

While the Dolphins ground out 13 first downs by rushing, the Vikings accounted for only five, the first of which came late in the third period, after 44 minutes and 17 seconds of play.

The Vikings did not search long for reasons behind their second Super Bowl loss in as many tries.

Coach Bud Grant dismissed a suggestion that the team's week of inactivity before flying to Houston may have been responsible. What hurt the Vikings more, said Grant, was the absence of big plays. "When you face a team like Miami, you must make the big plays," he pointed out. "The main thing is that Miami came off the ball well and we didn't tackle as well as we can.

"Csonka has run that hard before. When Miami gets ahead of you, Csonka is going to carry the ball 25 times. This is one of their strengths.

"When you play the great teams, you have to break even in the turnovers and penalties. This wasn't the case. We had penalties on two kickoffs. We had a fumble on the goal line. On our onside kickoff we had a penalty. When they can back you up in bad field position, you have a hard time beating them."

Defensive line coach Jack Patera termed Miami's offensive unit "the most well coordinated" he had ever seen.

"We thought maybe other teams hadn't prepared properly for them," he said. "We took pains to prepare properly for them, but they went out and did the same thing to us."

"They're just a great team and execute well," lauded middle linebacker Jeff Siemon.

Tarkenton said, "Csonka's the strongest fullback I've ever seen," and the Minnesota quarterback added, "We gave them our best shot and weren't good enough. They played as nearly perfect a game as a team can play.

"Everything just went their way. Not only did they play very well, but every bounce of the football seemed to go their way. Scott fumbles a punt and they recover. On one of their punts the ball bounces sideways instead of going into the end zone and they down it. But the Dolphins made the most of their breaks."

One of the contest's premier matchups involved two former Notre Dame teammates, Kuechenberg of Miami and Minnesota's All-Pro defensive tackle Alan Page. "Alan was a bit annoyed," reported Kuechenberg after the game.

In the fourth quarter Page appeared to vent all his frustrations with an over-zealous charge into Griese. In defense of his action, Page explained, "When the quarterbakc has his back to you, you have to determine right now if he has the ball. When in doubt, you hit him. That's what I did."

The incident cost the Vikings 15 yards.

"I got plenty hot at that," reported Kueenberg. "I let Page know I thought it was cheap shot."

Griese told Page he didn't think it was intentional malice and that "you shouldn't been penalized."

Wide receiver Warfield also had some words for Minnesota cornerback

Bob Bryant, quoted as saying in pregame views that he hoped Warfield's hamstring pull would be healed by Super Sunday "because I don't want to hear any of his excuses. I want him to be at full speed."

"I have no respect for anyone who would say that," snapped Warfield, playing at about 80 percent efficiency. "I believe in respecting the man who plays across from me."

Warfield said he had to slow down on his 27-yard, third-quarter pass play with Griese. "If I'd been perfectly healthy, it would have been a touchdown," he said.

With two consecutive Super Bowl championships, and another $15,000 payday, the Dolphins were fair game for the obvious question: "Are they the greatest team of all time, better even than the Green Bay Packers who won the first two Super Bowls?"

"Not yet, not yet," protested Owner Robbie.

Shula sidestepped the issue, announcing instead, "I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of this team. After our 17-0 season last year I didn't think anything could be better, but this team has gone one step beyond last year. There is no question in my mind that this team is better.

"This year we hung tough, had a little slump toward the end of the regular season, but when the playoffs started, we played as well as any team I ever saw. It's tougher to repeat in the Super Bowl than to get there the first time. We made it because our players are completely unselfish and entirely dedicated."

Neither wide receiver Briscoe nor Kuechenberg would express an opinion on the Dolphins' rating among the all-time best teams. But defensive tackle Manny Fernandez leaped into the discussion willingly.

"What do you think?" began Fernandez, who participated in eight tackles. "How can anyone dispute what we are after we've been to three straight Super Bowls and won two of them? We've had to prove ourselves over and over again, and we've done it."

The logical person to compare the Dolphins with the powerful Packers of the Vince Lombardi era was Bart Starr, the former Green Bay quarterback who had picked the Vikings to defeat the Dolphins.

"I can't compare 'em," hedged Starr. "The Dolphins think of themselves as the best in history and I would think less of them if they didn't. By the same token I have to think of my team as the best.

"Really, though, you can't compare teams from different eras. So much changes. If you think about it, no two plays are ever the same. Every time the ball is snapped, something is different about the play from every other play in the history of football.

"The Dolphins are a stupendously marvelous team, and the Vikings are a splendidly-coached team. This just wasn't their day."