The Miami Dolphins remained the only undefeated team in the modern day Super Bowl era NFL after the Eagles lost on Monday night. But do you really know what it means to the men who made it possible?
As the Super Bowl nears in February, two specials will air about that special 72 team. One will be done by ESPN and one by NFL Films. Both will have interviews with players from that team and both will talk about what it took to get there and how it happened.
But what about the “champagne popping” players? What do they think when the last team falls? What do they do?
On October 22nd I was fortunate to attend the amazing 50th anniversary gala that was held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in South Florida. I met over a dozen members of the team and had the chance to make idle chit-chat as I escorted them from interview to interview earlier in the day.
During the evening gala several players took to the stage to talk about the accomplishments of that team. In the audience surrounding me were players, wives, family members, and friends. I laughed with grown men whose father, Garo Yepremian, once made one of the biggest blunders in NFL history. You would know both of them if you saw them as each bares an uncanny resemblance to their father.
I listened to Larry Seiple talk about the punt fake that turned the game around against the Steelers and laughed along with Otto Stowe’s wife as she sat in on the interviews to listen.
Each member will tell you they don’t pop champagne, or at least didn’t. That, they will tell you was a media creation. Some will now but most will tell you it is not champagne. Some will toast with a glass of Whiskey, others with high-end vodka, and others will tell you they don’t do anything. A phone call from another teammate is typical. A “hat’s off” so to speak. A chance to reminisce and laugh with one another.
Defensive lineman Bob Heinz believes it is something that won’t happen again. He talked about the longer schedule, the injuries, and more that would make it harder. He talked about the phone calls from a teammate he knew he would get, and the ones he would make.
The ’72 Dolphins don’t want another team to reach their mark. It’s a badge of pride and of hard work but at the same time, they won’t lose any sleep if someone does, but instead, welcome them to the neighborhood.
Larry Csonka told the attendees that what is funny about it all is that once a year, someone brings it up. Someone shows clips of their unprecedented season and for those moments they are relevant again. They are zombies awaking from the grave saying “hey, we are still here!”
The 72 team is no longer the pillar of physicality. Many walk a lot slower, some walk with canes. Their speech may be slower and their stories may seem a bit off but there is joy in their eyes when they get to talk about something that only those on the team can understand.
Each year there is one or maybe two teams that try and accomplish a perfect season. The Patriots came the closest but so far, no one has succeeded. It’s not about relevance it’s about remembering. None of them care to be “remembered” specifically but they get the opportunity to relive it all over again.
The 72 team, as you would expect, are a close knit extended family from one to another. What used to be annual reunions gave way to five year reunions, now even that is near impossible and unlikely.
As I spoke casually with one of the players at the gala he looked around and said, “There are a lot of great friends out here tonight. I doubt I am likely see many of them again.” He looked at me and plainly said, “This is the last time we will all be together like this.”
As I shook his hand and watched him walk away I couldn’t help but feel a little sad, but it only took him about five steps to bear hug one of his teammates and as the two of them broke into a big laugh and were joined by others, I realized that they weren’t disappointed, they were not sad, and they were not too concerned about what their future as a team would be. They were family to each other and they were happy. Not to celebrate a great accomplishment but to celebrate an accomplishment that wouldn’t have happened without each and everyone of the others in the room, and those looking down from above.
Today, there were probably more than a few phone calls, some virtual high-fives, and plenty of smiles and kisses from their wives. A toast or two tonight, a raised glass to the heavens for those who traveled on, and prayers at the dinner table. Tomorrow, it’s back to normal life once again until next season when the next team tries to make that run.