Iconic Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope, who died January 19, covered the first 47 Super Bowls. This column from Super Bowl XVII, in which John Riggins and the Washington Redskins took out the Miami Dolphins in the Rose Bowl, originally ran on Jan. 31, 1983.
PASADENA, Calif. — Crow's feet inched a little closer alongside Don Shula's weary eyes.
Nothing else changed.
He came off the phone from telling President Reagan that he was "proud" of the Dolphins. And then he stood tall in Miami's funereal dressing room in the bowels of the Rose Bowl and spoke without a quiver of how the Redskins had smashed his Super Bowl XVII dream to 27-17 smithereens.
"It could have been a great story," Shula said. "But now it will only be on the Redskins. I realize better than anyone else that after a Super Bowl they're only going to be talking about one team, and it won't be the Dolphins. We had a fine season, and we have to turn this loss into a learning experience, which is the only positive thing I can possibly say about it."
Sunday, nine years after his second successive Super Bowl runaway, he could only say positive things about the Redskins. He let that roll like the gentleman he is.
"Give them all the credit. Their coach, Joe Gibbs. The great fullback, John Riggins. And a quarterback, Joe Theismann, who did a super job on us.
"They deserve to be champions. They had the best record of anybody in the regular season and now they come out of the Super Bowl with the best record, and when you do that, you're the best, and they are the best."
Shula also realized better than anyone else the totality of a rout that the score fails to reflect. That included a second half in which quarterback David Woodley did not complete a single pass out of the eight he threw, and the Dolphins managed only 34 yards of total offense and two first downs.
"This team has accomplished a lot of things," said the champion coach of the seventh and eighth Super Bowls, "and it took a successful season to reach Super Bowl XVII. But we just couldn't get it done in the second half. Washington beat us every way you can beat a team in the third and fourth quarters."
He spotted the next question before it was out of a man's mouth.
"I considered making a quarterbacking change, from Woodley to Don Strock, late in the third quarter and early in the fourth," he said. "We had it ready to go, but they used up a lot of clock on us. Strock never was able to get untracked the little time he was in there."
Shula reluctantly turned back to the Woodley case -- a dismal four completions out of 14 passes all game, for a total of 97 yards. But for Woodley's 76-yard scoring connection with Jimmy Cefalo, who ran 55 of those yards, Woodley completed only three other passes for 21 yards.
The Dolphins did not lose because of Woodley, but they had no chance to win without him playing better than he did.
"I thought Woodley played well in the first half," Shula said. "We got two big plays, the touchdown pass to Cefalo and then Fulton Walker giving us life on the 98-yard kick return. But we messed up a lot of things. Woodley hung the ball out there for Cefalo a little too long at the end of the third quarter, and Mark Murphy makes the interception.
"We try to get our running attack going and can't do it, and they're making the big plays against our pass attack, too. We went deep a lot because I thought we could throw long with them crowding us the way they were. It just didn't click. We just go three and out, three and out, three and out."
Shula was facing the music, and only ugly chords echoed from Riggins' Super Bowl record 166 yards in 38 carries, across the benches of half-naked Dolphins.
"When Riggins went 43 for the touch in the fourth quarter," Shula recalled with a wrench, "we were in a short-yardage defense, and he went off the left corner, and we had a man slip and a man miss an arm-tackle on him, and it didn't work. He was a tremendously dominating force, and their offensive line also had some of the surges we've seen in the films that they've done against other teams."
Someone asked Shula how the Redskins could possibly waste a scoring opportunity as the first-half clock ran out on them after Theismann's nine-yard pass to Alvin Garrett at the Dolphin seven gave Garrett no chance to get out of bounds.
"Hey," Shula said, "Theismann did a great job against a tough defense. He came up with big plays to keep drives alive. On designed rollouts, he came out of the pocket and made critical plays that kept hurting us."
Shula paused, finally, and then ended it.
"I'm in no position to criticize anything Washington did after the way they manhandled us," Shula said.