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40 Years Later, '72 Dolphins Still Unbeaten

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

December 14, 2012

It’s hard to believe that I was just a Miami Beach teenager when the Miami Dolphins accomplished something no National Football League team has been able to accomplish before or after—a “0” in the loss column at season’s end.

Now, as a lifetime season ticket holder and media friend to the team, I’ll be helping to kick off a weekend’s worth of festivities commemorating the Dolphins’ 1972 Perfect Season, a 17-0 record that still stands 40 years hence.

Records are made to be broken, of course, and many have tried—the 1985 Chicago Bears, and more recently, the New England Patriots, who would have surpassed the Dolphins in 2008 if not for New York Giants receiver David Tyree’s top of the helmet catch in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII.

But the Dolphins’ record has managed to withstand the test of time, and more importantly to me, beyond anniversaries and record books, the Dolphins will always be a testament to what a team can mean to a community.

While it’s no secret that the Dolphins have struggled on the field as of late—the team hasn’t made the NFL postseason since 2008—off of it, owner Steve Ross is applying business tactics honed from a lifetime in residential and commercial real estate, turning Sun Life Stadium into a multicultural center that attempts to appeal to everyone in this very ethnically diverse community.

At his stadium, Ross has commissioned colorful installations by artists Romero Britto and Jeffrey Boan as well as the infamous “orange carpet” rolled out on game days for such celebrity owners as pop star Jennifer Lopez and the Williams sisters of tennis fame. He added the LIV nightclub space to the stadium, a trend that’s now being emulated in sports facilities from Miami to Cleveland and Brooklyn, and he has spent millions turning the aging property into the most technologically advanced, smart phone-friendly stadium this side of Silicon Valley.

At some point, it’s inevitable that given all this positive energy, the wins will come.

Over the march of time and technology, the perfect ’72 squad has presided, ever present in their Augusta-like green jackets and overseeing successful enterprises of their own. You’ve got Dick Anderson and Larry Csonka. Quarterback Bob Griese is a network college football analyst, MVP Nick Buoniconti a top flight lawyer and internationally-recognized advocate for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a cause he has championed since his son Marc was paralyzed during a college football game in 1985.

But none of the 72ers has risen to prominence more that Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula. Often mentioned in the same breath as Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh for his football savvy, Shula has demonstrated that his coaching brethren never possessed. In retirement, he’s served as a pitchman for HearUSA and NutriSystem. More impressively, he now presides over an empire of self-branded restaurants, 36 in all, from Shula’s on the Beach in Ft. Lauderdale to 15 Shula’s American Steak Houses stretching from Florida to Chicago and Times Square—and all operating under the slogan “Still Perfect.”

This weekend, members of the 1972 squad will play a key role in the 2012 Alumni Weekend festivities, starting Friday, with the 40th Anniversary Perfect Season Team Dinner at the Westin Resort, Fort Lauderdale Beach. On Saturday, the Perfect Season Golf Tournament will be held at Doral Blue Monster, and the weekend will culminate at Sun Life Stadium with the Official 40th Anniversary Perfect Season Team Celebration as part of the Dolphins game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. A highlight of Sunday’s celebration will be the induction into the Dolphins’ Honor Roll of a man who played a significant role in the success of the 1972 team, defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger, guru to the Dolphins’ vaunted “No Name” defense.

The organization has also commissioned a film to be created on the 1972 Perfect Season team and its impact on the Miami area. Bombo Sports & Entertainment in cooperation with NFL Films, is producing the documentary, tentatively titled “Perfect in the Magic City.”

“This will be much more than a highlight film,” said Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee. “This project will not only tell the story of what this team accomplished on the field–milestones that have never again been accomplished in 92 years of modern professional football–but will also serve to tell the story of what this team meant to the city of Miami and to the emergence of South Florida four decades ago.”

And the documentary only serves to underscore Ross’ commitment to honor the great history of the organization. In recent years, besides the cultural upgrades, the Dolphins have unveiled a statue of Shula and renamed the street leading into Sun Life Stadium to 347 Don Shula Drive.

It just goes to show: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard: Chapter 1. The Mega-Master Super Series XLXL eBook chapter

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