The old men arrived one by one, many of them physically smaller than we remember but in other ways just as big as ever — maybe bigger, because sometimes time does not diminish. Sometimes, it magnifies. Hairlines recede and stomachs paunch and you see that slight shuffling limp that becomes the normal gait of so many former professional football players, but here they were and here they are, 40 years later.
Every one of them, forever and ever.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins, the ones who gave South Florida its indelible, enduring moment, one bigger than sports, were arriving Thursday evening for a dinner party at the Miami Lakes home of their old coach, Don Shula — patriarch of perfection.
Shula will turn 83 in a few weeks, but this in many ways would be the party of his life. He doesn’t get around on his own much anymore; his back and legs have betrayed him. To wonder if this could be the last he’ll see of these major anniversary celebrations of Miami’s 17-0 season is not macabre. It is life. It is the unspoken poignancy in the interval march of class reunions that sees time gradually but inexorably thin the gatherings.
Shula was buoyant as he spoke of that night’s private party. The body creaks but those eyes still twinkle. So many of the ’72 Perfectos still live locally, never wanting to leave the city they made magic.
“Yeah we’re having ’em all here to the house. It’s going to be just a wonderful evening to walk through the door,” Shula said. Then, that twinkle, and a barely perceptible smirk as he added, “I can check them in, weigh ’em in and have ’em run gassers. Make life miserable remembering what I used to put ’em through!”
The old jokes like that one are familiar, worn smooth like rocks turned to stones by the tides. They are comforting, like the tick of a clock in a quiet room, like old family heirlooms and recipes. Shula and the ’72 team are that for us — comforting — because they are the one constant. Everything else changes here, but never this.
The Perfect Season.
It always will be. Some other team will match the feat some day (maybe), but perfection can never be exceeded, and chronology counts. Can anybody name the second man on the moon? Meantime, right now, only one team in 93 years of recorded NFL history has ended a season unblemished and so, yeah, that’s worth celebrating — as the club will do Sunday during halftime of the Dolphins’ game against Jacksonville.
Worth holding on
I have gently needled some of the ’72ers over the years for their perceived lack of credit or attention. This, in fact, might be the most celebrated single team of all time and if so, why not? I also have wondered aloud if the franchise paying ongoing homage to an increasingly distant accomplishment doesn’t serve to call attention to the club’s lack of more recent accomplishments.
You know what, though? The Dolphins remain South Florida’s most cherished team — yes, even surviving the challenge of LeBron James’ Heat — and the ’72 Perfect Season, followed by a second consecutive Super Bowl triumph in ’73, is the foundation of this club’s heritage and tradition.
Celebrating that makes us feel good, rosy-nostalgic, just like singing that corny old fight song at games makes us feel good.