President Obama stepped into the East Room of the White House and opened with the words, “It’s mid-August … that means football is in the air.”
With that, he requested a crowd that was a little more raucous than usual at these celebrations to “give it up” for the undefeated, untied 1972 Miami Dolphins.” He admitted that it’s “unorthodox” to invite a team so much later for a visit and that so many former players and coaches have changed, now minus “the Afros, the muttonchops and the Fu Manchus.”
Obama, turning serious, noted that the 1972 Dolphins were “a juggernaut” known for a grinding running game, two 1,000 rushers and three shutouts. It was a team that doubled opponents’ scores eight times and “did most of it after” quarterback Bob Griese broke his leg in Week 5. He was replaced, Obama noted, by Earl Morrall, quoting a teammate who said, “He couldn’t run and he couldn’t throw, but he could win.” The Dolphins, Obama said, “did that again and again and again.”
The biggest applause, though, came when Obama ‘fessed up that he’d hosted the 1985 Chicago Bears at the White House and had to admit that, vaunted as that team’s great season was, it was marred by one loss. Like other teams over the years, they couldn’t match the Dolphins when it came to perfection.
Those 1985 Bears lost … to the Miami Dolphins.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are heading for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and their appointment with President Obama. This marks the 54th time Obama has honored a sports team, CBS’s Mark Knoller reports. That includes Little League champions.
7:58 a.m. EDT
Forty years ago, no one knew just how special the Miami Dolphins’ season would be. No one knew that, 40 years later, no other NFL team would have managed to complete a season unmarred by a single loss.
It was a different time and the 17-0 Miami Dolphins of 1972 never got their celebratory trip to the White House — the least of many ways a team that ran the table would be lauded if it had accomplished perfection in 2013. Today, though, the Dolphins will get their chance to make up for lost time, visiting the White House and President Obama this afternoon in an event that just might upstage the arrival of a new White House puppy.
“It just seems like yesterday to me,” Don Shula, the coach of the legendary team, told the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote), “but when you look at me you can tell it’s been 40 years.”
Shula, a Hall of Famer, is 83 now and uses a walker and motorized scooter because of back problems. He and Howard Schnellenberger are the only coaches still living; eight players have died and 31 are expected to attend the ceremony today.
Many athletes view an invitation to the White House through a political prism and refuse to attend their ceremony. Garo Yepremian, the Dolphins’ Cyprus-born kicker, is not one of them. “It’s an honor I am going into the greatest house in the world, in the most giving country in the world,” Yepremian told Cote. “Especially for me.”
At least three members of the ’72 Dolphins — Jim Langer, Manny Fernandez and Bob Kuechenberg — planned to stay away because of their differences with the administration.
“We’ve got some real moral compass issues in Washington,” Langer told the Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t want to be in a room with those people and pretend I’m having a good time. I can’t do that. If that [angers] people, so be it.”
Since the Dolphins’ feat, only one team, the New England Patriots of 2007, has given them a run for their money. The Patriots were 16-0 in the regular season and 2-0 in the playoffs before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. It’s become an annual event in the NFL for the Dolphins to hoist a glass of champagne whenever the last undefeated team loses.
Back when the Dolphins went 14-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs, there was no such thing as a White House visit. Those didn’t become popular until later in the 1970s. And, besides, President Nixon had other matters on his mind — namely Watergate — after the Dolphins completed their run with a Super Bowl victory over the Washington Redskins in January 1973.
“Nixon was too busy calling plays,” Mercury Morris, the Dolphins’ running back, joked (via the Associated Press).
The party began Monday night, when the Dolphins arrived in D.C. and owner Stephen Ross hosted a team dinner at which Morris and Shula were front and center:
“It’s a long time coming,” Nick Buoniconti, a Hall of Fame linebacker, told the AP, “but we’re finally getting there.”
By my count, WH event today for Miami Dolphins is the 54th time Pres Obama has honored a sports team – including Little League champs.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) August 20, 2013