I separated my article into two parts, because I knew, inevitably, I would talk about my favorite team's strength and weaknesses, and that this would take me away from one of the main points of the title.
We live in a fast-turning world. Who was it that said, "Things are more like they are now then they have ever been before?" That would sum up the speed at which the season passes. Faster than a Marino spiral and quite conveniently, the NFL officiating brain-trust has swept the "immaculate deception" call of just a few short weeks ago under the rug!
And the Dolphins, choosing to put us out of our misery early, have cooperated with recent losses to less-than-stellar Browns and Bills teams! They will not finish the season 10-6 and lose a tie-breaker to the Steelers or some other team. The Dolphins can look ahead to 2011. And as I look forward to 2011, I would say, to that same brain-trust, that if they see a bouncing football in the end zone, they should keep a camera on it, but I digress.....
What if the Dolphins had won close games against the Browns and Bills? I don't think it would matter! This team is not clicking. Tweak reality however you want to, this team is not ripe for a playoff run. As I stated yesterday, winning next year is within reason, but we'll just have to wait. I can remember another Dolphin team from a different year, however, that could have done quite a bit of damage in the playoffs had they not been victimized by a horrendous call. The year was 1977, and the Dolphins fielded one of their greatest teams since the glory years. A far better team than some of the Dolphin playoff teams of the later 70's, and 80's, and 90's.
The team had a perfect mix of veteran leadership, and one of the youngest rosters in the league with emerging talent. In a year pegged as a "rebuilding" year, Don Shula performed one of his miracle quick-fix turnarounds by drafting guys like AJ Duhe and Bob Baumhower to go along with Superbowl Hall ofFamers like Jim Langer and Larry Little. The quarterback was a fellow by the name of Bob Griese. The second-best-ever Dolphin QB had, statistically, his best year as a pro and was the No. 1 passer in the NFL that year. He threw to guys like Nat Moore, Duriel Harris and Freddy Solomon. The running game was by committee and, in a word, rugged. With guys like Benny Malone [4.8 average-per-carry] and Gary Davis [4.2] the Dolphins outscored their opponents by a margin of better than 3-2. Did I fail to mention rookie RB Leroy Harris? His 4.6 average-per-carry was boosted by a gem of a run on Monday Night Football that helped seal a victory against the rival Colts. The defense was ranked fifth in points against that year.
As good as this team was, they did manage to lose four games that year. Two of the losses were, admittedly, underachieving games against division rivals [Colts and Patriots]. The other two losses were games Miami would have liked to have back. Was the team just a little TOO young when they allowed a lesser team like the Chargers to squeak one out, 14-13 with a late touchdown. They had outplayed the Bengals and lost by a flea-flicker in the closing moments of that game. Still the team stood at 10-4, good enough by most standards to keep the ball rolling.
The team would need help. On the final game of the regular season, the Dolphins would need a Patriot victory over the Colts to secure the division. The Wildcard was not an option. If memory serves me correct, the Patriots were up 21-0 on that day before the Bert Jones-led Colts went on a furious comeback. It was on a late-final scoring drive that the Colts were aided by a horrendous call that would have been overturned in today's NFL.
The Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs that day, and they never quite regained the chemistry that they had put together. [The team traded some key components to the 49ers for a runner by the name of Delvin Williams. Williams, an incredible talent, would later have his career shortened by injury.]
How good was the 1977 team? We'll never know what they would have done in the playoffs. They were, in my opinion, as good as the "Orange Crush" from Denver that would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl that year. They were incrementally close, oh so close, to the talent that DID go on to win the Super Bowl that year, and that would be the Staubach-led, Landry-coached Dallas Cowboys.
At the very least, I can nominate them for the Greatest Team not to have made the playoffs.