The signs proclaiming deja vu every few yards in the Orange Bowl were both sadly wrong and wonderfully prophetic. Expecting another Rembrandt of an American Conference playoff today, we got a numbers painting. Which made the afternoon even more pleasurable.
What took place, for the first time in nine years, was a gang of Dolphins mostly unknown beyond Biscayne Boulevard mauling one of the most glamorous teams ever disassembled. So here we are again, celebrating No Names and One Name.
Until last week, Don Shula had not won a playoff game since Nixon was calling the nation's signals in Washington. Or 3,279 days, if you want to be precise. Shula also was inwardly seething over being reminded that since his last postseason success, the Steelers' Chuck Noll had won four Super Bowls.
Nobody could kick Shula's ego any longer.
Now he is back in the AFC title test again.
"The year of the monkey killer," Bob Kuechenberg put it after the 34-13 rout of the Chargers.
There have been few more imaginative schemes than the one the Dolphins showed today: a run from punt formation, a halfback pass, a quarterback draw for a touchdown. That and the usual collection of unfamiliar defenders doing unfamiliar damage to an air force threatening to overtake football.
The worst thing that can be said for silly San Diego is that its defense played rather well. But then, the Chargers' idea of a shutout is surrendering three touchdowns and a field goal. Today, the special teams blundered and Dan Fouts completed two more passes to Miami's Blackwood brothers than he did to Kellen Winslow.
It was as clean as a clinic, as thorough and well-conceived as, well, as what we've come to expect from Don Shula for ever so long. He may have mellowed off the field, as he suggested on naming son David as an offensive aide on his 53rd birthday.
There is no senility on the sideline.
"Run outside, to loosen 'em up," Kuechenberg said. "Throw on first down, to loosen 'em up. Then hit 'em in the body. We pretty well manhandled a team lots of people picked to win all the way."
Defense seemed to be the Dolphin key today; offense actually was. It is possible to fly from Washington to Pittsburgh in the edge Miami had in time of possession: 21 minutes. And James Brooks now is known as the Davey Lopes of the pro football playoffs.
"And yet, when we get together again on Tuesday," wideout Jimmy Cefalo said as an example of what makes Shula special, "it'll be as if we weren't here at all."
So analytical is Shula, so dispassionate during the film critique of past performances, that Cefalo and some other Dolphins often forget it is themselves they are watching.
"At first," the five-year veteran said, "I thought to myself: 'We already know this.' But every time I find out something more."
If he had it to do all over again, the coach who won back-to-back Super Bowls after the 1972 and '73 seasons--and no playoff games again until last week--has said he would be more emotional to no-names only he could fully appreciate. Steady, unheralded offensive linemen, special teams thumpers.
"As a young player recently from Notre Dame under Ara Parseghian," said the 35-year-old Kuechenberg, "I was used to the rah-rah approach. Tremendous excitement. So (in his rookie year, 1970) when Shula simply talked about execution, about mental toughness, about doing your job, I thought:
" 'Where's the punch line? Where's the Rockne? Where's the Gipper? Then I realized he outprepares everybody. That and the fact that you can't win one for the Gipper 14 years in a row. But he's so consistent. Week after month after year, he works."
That sinful advantage on time of possession came about because the Dolphins left no Louie Kelcher unturned. Each Charger defensive lineman is Butz-big, so the Dolphins got them tuckered by dashing to the outside early and passing on running downs. Yes, Shula admitted, that 24-0 Dolphin lead did jog his mind. The Chargers led by that score last year, only to have Miami march back . . . and eventually lose in overtime.
"So we decided to play the second half as though it was 0-0," Shula said.
The Dolphins also won that one, 7-0.
Dominant as the offense was, Cefalo found himself applauding the defense at times.
"The secondary had been so maligned," he said, "to the point where near Thanksgiving a year ago some guy painted some turkeys and put their names on them. They'd taken lots of abuse; they deserved everything they got out there today.
"I was in awe of 'em sometimes."
Glenn Blackwood grabbed two passes by Fouts, same as Wes Chandler; Lyle Blackwood got one, as did Winslow, who was so heroic here a year ago but hampered today by ankle problems in addition to two no-names attached to his jersey on most pass plays.
Defense has been the one positive constant for the Dolphins this season. Now the entire offense, including uncommonly accurate long passes by David Woodley, is flowing.
"Bring 'em on," Kuechenberg said of the Jets. "Step three of four. If we play like we've played the last four weeks, we'll win it all."