The only team in professional football history to go undefeated getting a White House reception 40 years after the fact is worthy of real estate in print newspapers, but today's Washington Post elected to put a gauzy item on President Obama hosting the 1972 Dolphins not on the front page of the Sports section but the front page of the entire paper.
What's more, sports writer Liz Clarke all but infantilized those heroes of the gridiron, portraying them as "wide-eyed children" who could "stand a little taller" basking in Obama's presence (emphasis mine):
It has become as much a part of modern-day sports celebrations as cutting down nets, stripping off sweaty jerseys, dousing coaches with Gatorade and braying, “I’m going to Disneyland!” From the Little League World Series to the NFL’s Super Bowl, no American sporting title is complete without a visit to the White House and personal tribute from the Commander-in-Chief.
In the past 12 months, President Obama has hosted the champions of every major professional league, as well as the 2012 U.S. Olympians, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski and a slew of NCAA squads. His predecessor, George W. Bush, stayed equally busy feting sports stars, including Uno, the beagle that won the Westminster Kennel Club’s Best in Show in 2008.
Tuesday brought another twist to the White House tradition that shows no sign of abating, with Obama dipping four decades back to honor the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who defeated the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl to complete the only unbeaten season in NFL history.
The 31 former Dolphins who trouped into the East Room of the White House, along with their Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula, bore the years well for the most part. Wide receiver Paul Warfield was as trim as Obama himself. Larry Csonka’s mustache was bushy as ever. And Shula still sported a shock of white hair and that chiseled jaw. Collectively they have signed untold autographs and cycled through nearly as many marriages, divorces, second careers and joint-replacement surgeries in the last four decades.
But on Tuesday, they were reduced to wide-eyed children on the field trip of a lifetime, gamely taking their place on risers behind the president with youngsters’ vigor and a pride that made each stand a little taller.
Most acknowledged the honor wouldn’t have resonated as deeply in their youth, when they sat atop the sporting world, setting records on the field and raising hell off it.
Former tight end Marv Fleming, a veteran of five Super Bowls and the driving force behind the belated honor, equated the visit to “another Super Bowl of a different kind.”
Ex-quarterback Bob Griese’s only lament was that his mother, Ida Marie, hadn’t lived to hear tell. “She’s up in heaven high-fiving everybody and telling them her son is going to the White House,” Griese said on the eve of the ceremony.
None was more humbled than kicker Garo Yepremian, born in Cyprus to Armenian parents.
“I came to America when I was 22 years old with hopes of getting a scholarship and going to school,” said Yepremian, 69. “And here I am, 47 years later, going to the greatest house in the world — the White House — in the free-est country in the world, the greatest country in the world, the most giving country in the world, the most forgiving country in the world.”
In fairness, yes, it is a great honor to be recognized by the sitting president of the United States and to visit the White House, regardless of the party of the occupant of the Oval Office. And Yepremian's sentiments as an immigrant and first generation American are moving.
All the same, Clarke's narrative was overkill, especially since nowhere in her story did she acknowledge that some members of 1972 championship team elected to decline the president invite, citing objections to President Obama's agenda.
Leaving politics aside for a moment, it's also not a smart business move for the hometown paper of the Washington Redskins to puff up a team which defeated the Skins in Super Bowl VII. Indeed, Clarke devoted her last few paragraphs to how teammates have finally forgiven their placekicker for an error which may have cost them their Super Bowl rings:
They had come to Washington from all corners of the country, with Csonka, who spends half the year in Alaska, traveling farthest. The Dolphins’ billionaire owner, Stephen Ross, 73, a Mitt Romney supporter in the 2012 election, paid everyone’s way and joined them for the ceremony.
Along with Shula and his wife, they gathered for dinner Monday at a hotel near the White House. What was striking, apart from their diamond-encrusted Super Bowl rings, was the players’ closeness and affection for one another as they traded bear hugs and belly laughs.
Four decades is a long time. But it had taken nearly that long for Shula and running back Jim Kiick to end their spat over the coach’s decision to split Kiick’s playing time with Mercury Morris. And it had taken nearly as long for the rest of the team to forgive Yepremian’s blunder that nearly cost them Super Bowl VII and, with it, the perfect season.
The Dolphins had held the Redskins scoreless until just over two minutes remained in the game. Yepremian lined up to kick a field goal that would have made the score 17-0, but the Redskins’ Bill Brundige blocked the kick. Yepremian was first to the ball, but instead of flopping on it, he tried to throw a pass. It was disastrous, landing in the arms of cornerback Mike Bass, who ran it back for a touchdown, turning a rout into a nail-biter.
“We threatened to kill Garo if we lost the game,” Kiick recalled. “Here’s a guy that had a hand not big enough to palm a tennis ball, and he’s trying to throw a football!”
Today, the 5-foot-8 Yepremian proudly points out that he leads all NFL quarterbacks in Super Bowl passer ratings, with one attempt that went for a touchdown — alas, to the wrong team.
It’s one of many Dolphins records not likely to be replicated.
Said Griese: “We’re proud of our record. But if somebody goes through a season without losing a game, they’ll just tie our record. And we’ll shake their hands, pat ’em on the back and say, ‘Welcome to history!’ ”