Just like the Redskins, the Miami Dolphins have been complaining about a season of no respect from their professional peers. And just like the Redskins, they will be playing in Super Bowl XVII next Sunday in Pasadena.
Today, the Dolphins advanced to a rematch between the 1973 Super Bowl teams by defeating the football team they love to hate most of all, using a typically dominating defense to shut down and shut up the New York Jets, 14-0, in the mire of an AFC championship game.
They beat the Jets for the third time this season, a feat that had not been accomplished by an NFL team since 1965. And they prevailed because linebacker A.J. Duhe made three of Miami's five interceptions against quarterback Richard Todd and set an AFC title game record.
One of those interceptions led to Miami's first touchdown, a seven-yard scoring run by former Jet running back Woody Bennett. Duhe's third--a 35-yard touchdown return of an intercepted screen pass by Todd--broke the game open for good with 12:52 remaining.
"People have been telling the Redskins they don't have enough talent and people have been saying the same thing about us," Duhe said. "They're a Cinderella team and so are we. It's two teams that aren't supposed to be there. But Pasadena, here we come."
Said Miami Coach Don Shula: "This goes down as an asterisk season, but I want the Dolphins to be the Super Bowl champions of an asterisk season. This team deserves to be in the Super Bowl."
For the second straight week, the Dolphins' defense stymied one of the NFL's most proficient attacks. Last week it was the Chargers. This week, it held Freeman McNeil, the NFL's leading rusher, to 46 yards in 17 carries. It limited wide receiver Wesley Walker, the Jets' leading pass catcher, to one reception--for no gain.
The five interceptions tied an AFC championship record. Miami limited the Jets to 139 yards total offense, setting an AFC record, on an Orange Bowl field inundated by a night-long rainstorm that continued throughout the day.
The Prescription Athletic Turf natural grass field was not covered by a tarpaulin, violating a longstanding league rule. NFL officials insisted they had been told by stadium officials that it would drain. It did, but the middle of the field was a muddy mess.
"I'm not knocking anybody, but they should have a tarp," Jim Kensil, president of the Jets, said before the game. "It's not fair to the players on either side."
After the game, Jets Coach Walt Michaels said simply, "It's easy to make statements and to make excuses, but if you ever hear Walt Michaels make excuses, let me know . . . It's too late when it's already not done. Did you ever break a milk bottle and try to pick it up?"
The Jets were far more concerned about a referee's decision that helped set up Miami's first touchdown.
Duhe had just intercepted his first pass, on a tipped ball off the hands of running back Mike Augustyniak. Two plays later, on second and two at the New York 40, fullback Andra Franklin was hit by Greg Buttle and the ball popped loose. The Jets' Mark Gastineau fell on the ball, then spiked it and went into his war dance routine.
The celebration was premature. Officials ruled that Franklin's forward progress had been stopped before the ball was knocked out and Miami retained possession.
"I thought it was a definite fumble," Gastineau said. "That's all I can say."
The Jets were howling again four plays later when Duriel Harris caught a critical third-and-three pass on the sideline that carried to the 14. Replays indicated Harris had both feet in bounds when he caught the ball, but safety Darrol Ray complained too loudly and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Miami had first and goal from the seven, and Bennett got the call and the ball. He was in the game because Franklin had been knocked groggy on the play before his nonfumble (Franklin was later taken to a hospital for observation). And Bennett, cut by the Jets two years ago, made the most of the opportunity.
The Dolphins ran a trap and Bennett followed a block thrown by Jeff Toews for the touchdown that gave Miami a 7-0 lead with 12:55 left in the third period.
The Jets, meanwhile, could not cope with Miami's defense. The Dolphins were rushing three men most of the day, yet still exerted heavy pressure on Todd, who was sacked four times and harassed almost every time he went back to pass.
The Dolphins were able to double-cover Walker most of the day. The wet ball did not help receivers on either team, but the dreadful turf clearly helped slow McNeil, a darting, slashing runner who rarely was able to turn the corner.
And then there was Duhe, converted from defensive front line to linebacker three years ago and given free rein in the Dolphins' defense--to rush the passer or to drop back in the pass coverage.
On third and seven early in the fourth quarter from New York's 48, Todd back-pedaled and was trying to throw a screen out in the flat to running back Bruce Harper.
"I was the defensive end on the play, trying to move on Marvin Powell," Duhe said. "I saw Harper out of the corner of my eye and I moved away from Powell and just put my hands up. He (Todd) just threw it lower than I thought he wanted to. I just kept concentration on the ball, juggled it a little and started moving. I wasn't expecting a touchdown, but after 10 or 15 yards, nobody was gonna catch me."
The Dolphins had a 14-0 lead at that point. When they had killed almost five minutes of clock midway through the final quarter, the Dolphins began to suspect that this was their day, even if the offense was able to produce only 198 yards.
"This was not the day to talk about offense," said offensive guard Bob Kuechenberg, one of two Dolphins' survivors from that 1973 Super Bowl team (Vern Den Herder is the other). "The defense shut down the dog-breath Jets, and then they put points on the board. What else can you do? And it's not like they were playing a so-so offense.
"Sure, it's nice. That is not our favorite team. Some of their players don't have their heads screwed on right. They have a handful of creeps who say things they shouldn't. You don't win games by mouthing off in the press. There was a lot of garbage coming out of New York this week."
But all of that is forgotten now. The Dolphins are on their way to the Super Bowl to face a Washington team they say they respect and admire, just because the Redskins got very little respect, too.
"I don't think this is the time to get emotional about playing Washington," Shula said when it was over. "I watched them for a while Saturday. I'm impressed with the job (General Manager) Bobby Beathard has done and I voted for Joe Gibbs as coach of the year. We're just happy to be going back. It's going to be a great week."