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WASHINGTON D.C. — It was the look on their faces that said everything. The smiles. The pride. The gleam in their eyes. The same kind of look that they most undoubtedly had 41 years earlier when they reached out and grabbed perfection. For a bunch of 60- and 70-somethings, they sure looked like kids again.
It all unfolded as President Barack Obama stood at the podium at exactly 2:05 p.m. Tuesday afternoon and introduced the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
“Men of accomplishment,” Obama called them. “Men of character.”
Men whose day in the national spotlight was long overdue. But this was their moment. Their time. The room was filled with many Dolphins fans. One even shouted out to the President, “Next year you can honor the ’73 Dolphins.”
Next year took 41 years for the perfect team. But it was worth it. So worth it.
You could hear it in their voices, see it in their smiles. When Don Shula stood up from his motorized scooter to pose with President Obama with an autographed number 72 jersey, the moment said so much. No way Shula would sit down for this. He needed to stand tall just as the ’72 Dolphins had done 17 times during that unforgettable season. When the President brought up the 1985 Chicago Bears, his Chicago Bears, it was Shula who reminded him, “We put a whooping on those guys.”
I’ve seen Don Shula in a lot of different situations since he retired. I was at his 80th birthday party. I’ve seen him reminisce with former players. I’ve seen him laugh. But I’ve never quite seen the look he had on Tuesday afternoon. It was, so aptly, The Perfect Look.
“One of my great thrills,” Shula whispered afterward.
I was fortunate enough to be there for it all, to spend these two days with these 30 players and two coaches as part of their official travel party. I saw the mutual respect. I saw the camaraderie. Yes, I even saw the love.
Tuesday was the capper. Let me try to bring you behind the scenes.
• 10:45 a.m.: The bus pulls up to the White House. Dogs are brought in to search the bus for something illegal. For the next 30 minutes, there are four security checkpoints. “Keep your driver’s license out,” someone said. The players don’t seem to mind. This is what they came for; this is what they wanted.
• 11:30 a.m.: We get a tour of the East Wing of the White House. Players are posing in front of pictures of everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton. “We like to call this public housing with an attitude,” said one of the tour guides. Cookies and sodas are served to the group.
Dick Anderson organizes group pictures based on the year the player joined the Dolphins. “OK,” Anderson said, “everyone from 1969 get up there.”
Shula is looking at all the pictures, all the memories of past presidents. “Never been here before,” he said. “Unbelievable place.”
Time begins to move slowly. The White House wanted everyone ready long before the President was to arrive. The press conference was in the East Room. The players had two different dress rehearsals just to make sure they were standing in the right place on the big podium behind the President.
•1:25 p.m.: President Obama has a brief meet-and-greet with the players and coaches. He says hello to each one. At one point, Garo Yepremian gets his hand on a football. Just as he had done in the Super Bowl so many years before, Garo throws a pass. This one he blindly flipped over his shoulder and somehow President Obama makes the catch. “It was a great pass,” Garo said. Sure, Garo.
• 1:50 p.m.: The East Room fills up in a hurry. The mayor of Miami is there. A few soldiers from South Florida walk in. By 2 p.m., when the Perfect Team is announced, the room is packed. Television cameras line the back of the room. For a brief moment, a few of the fans start whispering the words of the Dolphins fight song. “Miami’s got the Dolphins …” As quickly as it started, it stopped. After all, this was no time for singing.
• 2:05 p.m.: The room goes quiet; the President is introduced. And for the next 20 or so minutes, it was special. “They never had their White House visit after Super Bowl VII,” Obama said to the group. “But why now? I wanted to be the young guy in the room for a change.”
Everyone laughed. President Obama looked around him. There was Csonka and Warfield and Griese and Buoniconti and all those players who contributed so much to this team. “Nobody can argue with your record,” Obama said to them. “And nobody can argue with what you have gone on to do.”
And then President Obama started rattling off the impressive post-football accomplishments of these ’72 Dolphins. They were leaders then; they are leaders now. How proud they were. Their first time back on the national stage, their first time getting saluted by the leader of the free world.
And then, as quickly as it began, it was over. “A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said linebacker Mike Kolen.
• 3 p.m.: The players are walking back to their buses, parked near the gate of the White House. There are about 20 fans standing there with signs. A few of them start to chant: “Long overdue.” The players walked over to sign autographs. Classy stuff.
And then, I sought out Marv Fleming. It was Fleming, you may recall, who organized this, who pushed for it for so long, who was relentless in his efforts until the deed was done.
“Marv,” I asked him, “was it everything you had hoped?”
Fleming slowly pointed to his eyes and ran an imaginary tear down his cheek.
“I cried,” he whispered.
And that, in two words, really said everything you needed to know.
On Thursday, A.C in the A.M. will take a look at the impact being made by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.