What Bob Kuechenberg had said was: "I played across from Diron Talbert that day (Miami vs. the Redskins 10 Super Bowls ago). He kept spittin' tobacco juice in my face."
Of the Dolphins who whipped the Over the Hill Gang, Kuechenberg is the only one not mostly over the hill himself. He just looks that way, graying and rather pale, with the bearded face of a European nobleman in his early 50s. Count Kuech still plays spry.
"Incredible irony," he was saying, "we had a 10-year reunion with the undefeated club right after the second Jets' game this season." That 17-0 team put about a 24-0 sting on Washington in Super Bowl VII, although the scoreboard said it ended 14-7. Now Miami had beaten the Jets for a remarkable third time, for the AFC championship, and earned a Super Bowl match against the Redskins.
"The real key to our getting back, of course, had nothing to do with what went on out there in any of the games," he said, setting up a crowd of reporters for a straight-on blow of whimsy. "The whole thing was decided when Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon."
"The last time Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon (1974) we were Super Bowl champs (having dominated the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII even more than the Redskins). I reminded everyone of that when it happened, during one of our minicamps this summer."
Given a chance today to elaborate on Times with Talby, Miami's left guard thought it better to look ahead.
"Who is this guy (Darryl) Grant?" asked Kuechenberg, hustling off for some films to find out.
Ah, the twists and happenstance of what Uwe von Schamann calls "Skins vs. Fins."
Miami's offense blossomed late this season, when the usually stodgy Don Shula went liberal, ordered long and daring passes. Washington's offense started humming about the same time, when the usually pass-passionate Joe Gibbs went reactionary, mandated that John Riggins run whenever possible.
Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard drafted several of Miami's best players; the Washington quarterback, Joe Theismann, was the fourth-round pick of the Dolphins in 1971. Going into the Super Bowl, the Dolphin player most outsiders see as shaped like a large question mark is quarterback David Woodley.
What if, coach?
"We were in pretty good shape at quarterback (with Bob Griese) when we took Joe," Shula said. To escape Griese's shadow, Theismann played in Canada three years. Then he signed with the Redskins, George Allen surrendering a down-the-pike first-round draft choice the Dolphins used to select a very good and very underappreciated linebacker, Larry Gordon.
With the Redskins, Theismann either matured--or got a chance to show his worth--about the time Griese was starting to slide with the Dolphins. Without Theismann, they were in three Super Bowls in the early '70s and won two; with him, they might have a better chance to win their first of the '80s.
Like the Redskins, Miami rode to the playoffs on the shoulders of its defense. Also, they are a bafflement even to relative sophisticates. AFC coaches and players chose only nose tackle Bob Baumhower for the Pro Bowl. Chargers and Jets might switch their votes about now.
Whether the weather be fair or foul, these Dolphins have been suffocating. The Jets complained, correctly, that a tarpaulin should have been used to keep the Orange Bowl field as playable as possible Sunday. But Miami had embarrassed a better offense, San Diego's, the week before during ideal conditions.
"(Against the Jets), our defense was very similar to the '70s," Kuechenberg said. "Better (for one game) than the original No-Names. A shutout, and actually put points on the board (A. J. Duhe's 35-yard run with his third interception)."
One of those No-Names still is a no-name with Miami: Vern Den Herder. A starter against the Redskins in Super Bowl VII, he will be used infrequently at defensive end in Super Bowl XVII. His ratio of money earned to game time this year might be the highest in NFL history.
By retiring from retirement, Den Herder qualified both for that $60,000 in back pay after the strike and $140,000 in future severance. That coupled with his salary and postseason checks would mean something close to $370,000 if the Dolphins win Sunday.
The Dolphins look to Pro Bowler Kuechenberg and Den Herder for inspiration; Shula thought they found lots of it after that overtime loss to San Diego here a year ago.
"So many tremendous ups and downs," he said. "Then to have to live with it. I'm sure it gave them a thirst for offseason conditioning, and to push themselves during the strike, to get there again--and transcend it."
The Dolphins' defense has a motto: "If it takes a shutout to win, let's do it."
Let's look at who has not done what lately against Miami: combined, Kellen Winslow, Wes Chandler and Charlie Joiner of the Chargers caught just four passes. Wesley Walker of the Jets had just one. Snap on your chin straps, Smurfs.
"As far as Wesley goes," said cornerback Gerald Small, "he's a great receiver. But like all great receivers, he can be had. That was his day to be had. Bad day for him, great day for us."
Possibly before the kickoff, surely after it all ends near dusk Sunday, two former teammates on opposite sides of the Rose Bowl will share a few moments. Neither the Redskins' Tony McGee nor the Dolphins' Richard Bishop is expected to have much impact on the game; they are thrilled simply to be there, to be expatriated from the Patriots.
"I'd rather ride in the back seat of a Cadillac," Bishop said, "than the front seat of a VW."