Belichick: Unbeaten Dolphins were ‘awesome’
Vail, CO Colorado
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ” Bill Belichick remembers the 1972 Miami Dolphins as “an awesome team.” He was “a big fan” of their coach, Don Shula.
And the only team to go undefeated in NFL history was “fun to watch.”
So any expectations the Patriots coach who is trying to match that perfect record would be his usual unenlightening self were dashed Thursday, three days before Miami (1-13) visits New England (14-0).
Belichick was unusually talkative ” and complimentary ” about that accomplishment, even though Shula has suggested an asterisk be placed next to the Patriots’ record.
The reason: Belichick and the Patriots were punished by the NFL for spying on New York Jets coaches with a sideline videocamera during the season opener. Shula later softened his tone, but contended that New England’s success is diminished by Spygate.
“We had dinner in the offseason,” Belichick said. “I don’t think I’ve talked to him since then.”
He hasn’t responded to Shula’s remarks, but the links between Belichick and the Shula family don’t appear to contain any animosity.
They started in Ohio between Belichick’s father, who attended Western Reserve in Cleveland, and Shula, who went to John Carroll in a suburb of that city.
Belichick was studying for his bachelor’s degree in economics at Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., when the 1972 Dolphins went 17-0, beating Washington in the Super Bowl. In 1975, Belichick got his start in the NFL as a special assistant for Ted Marchibroda with the Baltimore Colts, the team Shula coached from 1963-69.
“The first time I really remember spending time with him was in ’75, when I was with the Colts and he was the head coach of the Dolphins,” Belichick said. “Pregame warm up and stuff like that, just bumping into him.”
From 1992-95, Belichick and Shula’s son, David, coached in the same division: Belichick with Cleveland and Shula with Cincinnati. He also knows Shula’s son Mike, who spent four seasons as coach at Alabama before becoming quarterbacks coach this season for Jacksonville, a team New England could face in the playoffs.
“There’s sort of an interrelationship there with David and Mike, as well as Don,” Belichick said.
Having grown up in Annapolis, Md., outside of Baltimore, Belichick rooted for the Colts.
“I was a big fan of Coach Shula from when we was at Baltimore,” he said.
Shula left for Miami in 1970 and coached there through the 1995 season. The Dolphins’ perfect record was built on a powerful running game that included two 1,000-yard rushers, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and a dangerous receiver, Paul Warfield, who led the team with just 29 catches.
Their biggest win that season: 52-0 over the Patriots in Miami.
“The team they had was an awesome team, and they were fun to watch,” Belichick said. “They had a great style of play that I think we all remember.”
Today, some members of that team are obsessed with their place in history. They have been known to pop bottles of champagne-style beverages when teams close to going unbeaten lost their first game.
To some Patriots, that possessiveness is understandable.
“You need to be,” said linebacker Junior Seau, a Dolphin from 2003-05. “That’s a prideful thing, especially when you’re the only team that’s been able to do something special.”
“They accomplished something that no one’s ever done,” said special teams star Larry Izzo, with Miami from 1996-2000. “They should be very proud.”
But when they play the Dolphins on Sunday, the Patriots will be heavily favored to maintain their chance of becoming the second team to finish the season undefeated.
“I respect everything they’ve done,” Seau said. “We’re not even close to what they’ve been able to do. We’re only on our 15th game.”
Belichick, no doubt, has told his players about another memorable Dolphins moment: a 29-28 Patriots loss three years ago in a game they entered with a 12-1 record while the Dolphins were 2-11.
“The last historical moment that really is etched in my mind with the Dolphins would be Dec. 20, 2004,” he said. “You want to talk about football history with the Dolphins, that one is up there probably more profoundly than any other one.”