The Dolphins had struggled through four rather forgettable seasons in the late-’60s before Joe Robbie made what ultimately was a franchise-altering move, luring Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts.
So the legendary coach has pretty much seen it all, from the franchise’s humble beginnings to its Super Bowl glory, and everything in between. With Pro Football Talk selecting its Dolphins “Mt. Rushmore” this week, Shula offered up his own picks, choosing two mainstays from the undefeated ’72 Dolphins: fullback Larry Csonka and linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
“Csonka was just such a force for us,” Shula said. “You always felt you were stronger than the other team because you had a guy like Csonka picking up short yardage and goal-line yardage for you.”
The five-time Pro Bowler, also one of Pro Football Talk’s face-of-the-franchise picks, was a rock for those championship teams, overpowering defenses behind a dominant line, most famously in Super Bowl VIII, when he rushed for 145 yards and two scores in a 24-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings, earning MVP honors.
If it was Csonka that powered the offense, giving it that trademarked edge, it was Buoniconti, on defense, that helped complete the team’s identity.
“Our defense was a no-name defense and they took a lot of pride in just being 11 people,” Shula said. “But Buoniconti was really the leader of that group. He called the defensive signals and was just a fiery competitor.”
Looking to encompass every era, PFT went with Jason Taylor over Buoniconti and a host of others, including Dwight Stephenson, Bob Griese and Paul Warfield — he joined Csonka, Dan Marino and, of course, Shula on the mythical Rushmore. On the way to league-record 347 wins, Shula was able to adjust to what is an always-evolving league, trading in a power offense for a vertical one in 1983, with the addition of Marino. But it was his attention to detail, he says, that allowed to him achieve what he did.
“I always wanted to make sure that I covered everything, that there were no surprises, that we worked hard in practice and didn’t make a lot of practice errors,” Shula said. “I felt that if we could eliminate practice errors, then we would have a good chance of not making errors on Sunday or Monday night.”
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