In their later years, when the Beatles were asked in what period they did their best work and felt at the top of their musical game, they often surprised people by saying it was back before they were discovered, back when they were nobodies, way back when they were humble and hungry and hoping to be discovered.
I never felt this way about this Dolphins team.
Chapter 1, “Are We That Good?”
Using the weekly schedule of that famed 1972 as the chapters for each of the seventeen games, all won and none lost, as a backdrop, Bob Griese, the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback of that team and era, disabled for most of the season with a broken leg in week five and thrust back into play in the second half of the AFC Championship game against the emerging Pittsburgh Steelers in week sixteen, recalls that season, the only perfect season in the current Super Bowl era history of the National Football League to date, from the inside of the locker room, the playbook, the hotel rooms, and the minds of the team members themselves. Published by John Wiley and Sons, Perfection, is a well written and an even handed presentation of personalities both on the field, along the sidelines, and… in the owner’s suite.
For fans of that day (and I was one of them) and sports historians, this book is a trip back 40 years to a team unknown in many ways (who remembers the names of the ‘No Name’ Defense?) and yet with two unforgettable running backs, Csonka and Kiick, a cerebral and go to wide receiver (and childhood favorite of mine) Paul Warfield, the coaching of Don Shula, and the steady leadership through the heart of the season by Earl Morrall who replaced Griese at starting quarterback until the Super Bowl game, and yet a team that achieved, well, perfection! For those who were born after that perfect season, this is a good introduction to a different era in American pro football. The common elements of the game today, especially the money side, was coming into play. The frequent million dollar contracts were close to appearing but not yet. Back then though, professional football was different and in 1972 was still emerging from the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL.
And with sports being a very person oriented endeavor, it is the stories about the players themselves, anecdotes large and small, tension filled and humorous, that fill this book and make it a worthy read:
“As demanding as Shula was, as loud as he could be, nothing shows the relationship he had with his players better than a prank pulled against him… One day [Manny Fernandez and Bill Stanfill] came back with a four foot alligator. The question was how to get the most mileage out of it. While Csonka talked with Shula’s secretary, Fernandez put the alligator in Shula’s shower stall. Bill Arnsparger [the defensive coordinator] walked in to take a shower, saw the alligator, and turned around, saying nothing. When Shula opened the opened the door to take his shower, he screamed. He came into the locker room, saw Jim Kiick, and went up to him for an explanation.
“You should feel fortunate,” Kiick said.
“We had a vote whether to tape the mouth shut. It passed by one vote.”
In the days after the AFC Championship Game, Don Shula face another decision. Everyone knew it. No one said anything. When I came out Tuesday for our first practice before the Super Bowl, he watched me closely.
“You come out of the game okay?” he asked.
“Yes, ” I said
…the next day before practice, Earl Morrall was sitting in the rocking chair by his locker when a locker-room attendant told him, “Coach wants to see you.”
As he entered the office, Morrall knew the answer. He could see it on Shula’s face before he even sat down.
“I’m starting Bob in the Super Bowl,” Shula said.
And behind all of these stories and more, interwoven into the text, we get a clear view of Griese’s methodical preparation for the next game. One that earned him the title of “The Thinking Man’s Quarterback.”
This was a ‘great’ read.
Note: I received a copy of this book via the Amazon Vine reviewer program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.