John E. Hoover: 1972 Dolphins remain gold standard of NFL champions
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 7:58 AM
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Original Print Headline: '72 Dolphins remain the gold standard
For 40 years, the last 40 Super Bowls, perfection has eluded even the most accomplished NFL teams.
As the decades flow by, ball clubs drift past with almost no chance of ever setting foot on this unattainable island.
Howard Twilley watches from that island with teammates and coaches from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, their perfect season still standing all alone, fixed in its permanence.
In December, the Dolphins brought back all the players and coaches from that '72 team for a 40-year anniversary party. During a dinner at coach Don Shula's house, just like he was four decades ago, Twilley was enraptured by Shula's words.
"He said, 'Some people think we're just angry old men,'" Twilley said. "'But we're not angry old men. We are just very happy that we are the only people who've done that.'"
At the University of Tulsa - he was a 5-foot-10, 185-pound end, cornerback and kicker out of Galena Park High School in Houston - Twilley was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1965, catching 134 passes for 1,779 yards and 16 touchdowns. He lost the trophy to USC tailback Mike Garrett (now athletic director at Langston) one year after Golden Hurricane quarterback Jerry Rhome narrowly finished second in the voting to Notre Dame QB John Huarte.
In 11 seasons in the National Football League, all with the Dolphins, Twilley caught 212 passes for 3,064 and 23 touchdowns.
Twilley's best season was 1968, when he caught 34 passes for 604 yards, but his singular highlight was a 28-yard touchdown catch in Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins.
On third-and-4 of the Dolphins' third series, Twilley adjusted his post-corner route from three steps to five steps - an adjustment he anticipated and practiced "a hundred times" during the two-week break - and beat Pro Bowl cornerback Pat Fischer for the score.
Miami prevailed 14-7, the franchise's first of back-to-back championships in a stretch of three consecutive Super Bowls.
That 1972 season - 14-0 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs - remains the gold standard by which the last 40 NFL champions have been measured.
But making history wasn't what motivated those Dolphins. Rather, it was recent history.
"We never had it in our goals to go undefeated," Twilley, 69, said Friday in a phone interview from his Dallas home. "See, we had played the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI (the year before in New Orleans) and just got crushed (24-3). I don't know why. Maybe they were just better than we were. We got beat, and got beat bad, and I don't think anybody thought we played as well as we could. When you have that kind of event happen in your life, you realize, one, you got beat. But the other thing, it's almost as if you didn't compete. It was a pretty gut-wrenching experience to go through."
After the game, Twilley said Shula stood in the center of the locker room, making reporters and families and everyone else wait outside, and delivered an eloquent and fateful discourse.
"He had an ability to understand what was going on in people's minds," Twilley said. "He said, 'Each one of you has a sick feeling in your gut right now. And the only way to get rid of that is to come back next year and win the Super Bowl. Just remember that.' And we did. We remembered it the whole year."
Miami's perfect campaign unfolded with a twist similar to San Francisco's this year. In Week 5, starting quarterback Bob Griese went down with a broken ankle, and backup Earl Morrall came in and helped lead the Dolphins to the AFC championship. For the 49ers this season, starter Alex Smith went down with a concussion in Week 10, and backup Colin Kaepernick stepped in to help win the NFC crown.
There was a major difference, though: Smith never returned and Kaepernick became a star. In 1972, Griese replaced Morrall in the second half of the AFC championship game at Pittsburgh, then quarterbacked the Super Bowl.
"We had done nothing in the first half (in Pittsburgh)," Twilley said. "Earl Morrall was MVP of the National Football League (in 1968), was a great guy, everybody liked him. But Shula comes in and realized we needed a spark. He also realized Earl Morrall just was not as good as Bob Griese. I think everybody just responded to it."
Although they were a one-point underdog to Washington, the Dolphins' easiest game of that postseason was the Super Bowl. They jumped to an early lead after Twilley's touchdown and led 14-0 going into the final two minutes before a blocked field goal and kicker Garo Yepremian's epic botched pass/fumble that Washington cornerback Mike Bass returned for a touchdown.
Twilley retired after the 1976 season as the last of the original Dolphins.
When Miami was granted an AFL expansion club in 1966, the team drafted Twilley in the 12th round out of TU, where he set the NCAA mark for career catches (261), which stood for 24 years.
Twilley - whose top salary was $80,000 in 1975 - said in 1976 he had opportunities to continue playing, but couldn't see himself suiting up for any other team.
Never before 1972, and not since, has an NFL team gone undefeated and untied in winning a championship. Perfection belongs only to the '72 Dolphins.
And it all began with that sick feeling from losing the year before.
"We weren't doing any celebrating after any of the games," Twilley said. "We went through the regular season 14-0 - no celebrating. Only after we beat the Redskins in Los Angeles did that feeling go away."
Washington Redskins running back Larry Brown (43), is stopped by Miami Dolphins defender Manny Fernandez (75) during action at Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles, January 14, 1973. AP Photo