There is, of course, the chance that the law of averages will come to the rescue, that Dallas will finally win a big game and Tex Maule, the Cowboys' enduring advocate, will finally be vindicated. That's the chance. But it won't happen. Whether you believe in the Miami Dolphins or not—and they are eminently unbelievable, glistening us they do with that freshly minted look—they are a better team than Dallas. Not by much, but better. Better coached because they represent a tighter fusion of effort (no Dolphin has been heard to say that Don Shula is made of plastic), a happier band of mercenaries, convinced, as the Mets once were in another unbelievable time, that they were put on earth to conquer it. Right now. Today. Better prepared psychologically, too, at this gravid moment because in the eight-day playoff period just past they beat in heady succession the last two Super Bowl champions, Kansas City and Baltimore, both of whom are superior to Dallas and the teams Dallas defeated over the same period. The generosity of the latter pair (Minnesota and San Francisco) in turning the ball over to the Cowboys eight times on fumbles and pass interceptions will not be repeated by Miami, a tighter-fisted bunch.
Better on offense are the Dolphins because they have a more experienced, more thoughtful quarterback in Bob Griese and the most disciplined of the great receivers in Paul Warfield. Compared to Warfield's intricate and precise pass routes, Bob Hayes is the shortest distance between two points. Better running the ball are the Dolphins because Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka are stronger and can do more things than Duane Thomas, and can be counted on not to cover their heads and faces with stocking caps on the flight home. Neither will they skip practices. Better on defense are the Dolphins because for all their swarming pursuit they have a great patience and are too smart to be taken in by the cozenage of blinking-neon shifts and multiple men in motion which the Cowboys feature.
Chrome is really all that is. Underneath is the usual number of cylinders and pistons—and actually fewer basic plays than, say, Kansas City threw at Miami. And only the emergence (just after midseason, in a desperate move when the Cowboys were floundering) of scrambler Roger Staubach as quarterback and leader keeps the Dallas attack from being the same clank-along offense that dulled up the last Super Bowl. As good as he is, one must wonder about Staubach. He has started only 15 games for the Cowboys since leaving the Navy, compared with Griese's 60 or so starts for the Dolphins, and at this delicate stage of his professional career is not Staubach still confused by the maze of defenses other teams have erected? Certainly Miami will throw up strange defenses, too, reducing Staubach to heroics—he is a terrific scrambler—or dropping him for huge losses when he is unsure where to throw the ball. Or is it old conservative Tom Landry's game plan for Roger to outrush his own rushing backs, which he did in the title game with San Francisco? Silly question.
Much will be made in the hours before this contest of the fact that Dallas has been here before. Five times in five years, to be exact, in either playoff or championship games. This will be called an advantage. It will be called that, but it will not be because every time the Cowboys have been here they have also been beaten. Pain makes men think. From the painful experience will re-emerge the lingering doubts, the residue of insecurity, the now-familiar crisis of spirit. Choose one. Not how we can win, but can we win. Five years of dodging ripe tomatoes and a man grows wary of the next finale. The risk of failing again will weigh heavily on the Cowboys.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, have no such hang-ups. They have grown into their success, steadily and healthily, as prodigies should. Fully matured at last, they consider the failures of the past only prelude, a part of the learning process and not restricting. "I can remember when it was really something just to make a first down," says Wide Receiver Howard Twilley, but he smiles when he says it. There is no fear in the Dolphins. They do not lose their poise. Pressure? They have been to Kansas City. That was pressure. As the saying goes, if Garo Yepremian is for you, who can be against you?
The Dolphins are young—only six years in the making—and since the expansion no team of an equally tender age has ever won the championship of professional football. But in key positions they have settling influences—Nick Buoniconti, the middle linebacker, is a 10-year man; Center Bob DeMarco is a veteran of 11 years; Tight End Marv Fleming, nine; Warfield, eight; and in his five years Griese has become as wise a head as there is in the game, a beau idéal of composure and guile. Can the Dolphins take adversity? What if they get behind? Well, they were down 18 points to Pittsburgh and won; they came from behind three times to beat Kansas City in The Longest Game. But this time they have to play one of the venerable NFL giants. Well, they played three NFL giants during the regular season—the Rams, the Bears and the Packers—and swept. The Bears, manhandled by Miami on national television, had previously beaten the Cowboys. Cowboy fans will contend that that was B.S. (Before Staubach) and does not count. It does so count. There is a suspicion, furthermore, that the Dolphins played in a tougher division (the AFC East compared with Dallas' NFC East). The worst team in the AFC East, Buffalo, scored 37 points on the Cowboys. Cowboy fans will contend that that was early in the season and does not count. It does so count.
One other factor to bear in mind is the impressive physicality of the Dolphins and its psychological counterpart—a belief in one's own strength. At the conclusion of their playoff games with Kansas City and Baltimore, Miami was clearly the stronger team; this Shula attributes to his demanding conditioning program.
The Dolphins themselves are amazed, not by their success but that others still hesitate to accept it. "Miami has an easy ring to it," admits Csonka, "which is fine because it's nice to be the underdog. But look around. Not a prima donna in the bunch and tough as hell. Forty street fighters. And you'll never see a closer bunch." "Superclose," says Manny Fernandez, the defensive tackle. "It doesn't matter if anybody else believes. We believe."
As to the ways and means of Miami's victory, certain things can be predicted. The Cowboys' Doomsday Defense has not faced as good a pair of running backs as Csonka and Kiick, certainly not lately. For all of Bob Lilly's prowess, Miami will find a way to block him and get at the Dallas linebackers, who are good enough but are not to be mistaken for Baltimore's or Kansas City's. Griese will probe around, mentally flipping through his arsenal until he comes up with the plays that will accomplish this (the misdirection, the traps, the power sweeps), enabling his big backs, as Csonka puts it, to "force the collision" on the linebackers. This is where Csonka and Kiick beat you, when the collision is of their making and you suddenly find yourself five yards downfield.
Griese, meanwhile, will throw sparingly, which is his wont, but inevitably he will find Warfield and Twilley and Fleming, and Kiick—even Csonka at times—coming out of the backfield, and he will mix it up, being meticulous in his selection. And he will not throw the ball into George Andrie's chest as John Brodie did, or be intercepted four times as Minnesota's quarterbacks were. And when the time is ripe he will send War-field into an area of minimal protection, and Warfield will be running very fast.
Miami's No-Name Defense, which allowed 48 fewer points than Dallas' Doomsday, will swarm after Calvin Hill and Thomas; and Hayes and Lance Al-worth will have great difficulty finding vacancies in the Miami zone. More often than not, they will find themselves in convoy with two or three Dolphins at a time, as Kansas City's Otis Taylor did when he was restricted to three catches for 12 yards. And then Staubach's concentration will wander (even as John Unitas' did), as will his feet, not by the sheer force of the Miami defense but because he will be looking for something that is not there, and then when he scrambles he will find that Miami's No-Names are very sure hitters in the open field. Linebacker Mike Kolen, for example, is known as Captain Crunch. He put the crunch on Baltimore's Don Nottingham in the open field two weeks ago, and Nottingham never got back in the game. Should Kolen catch Staubach in the open field, well, how does the song go, Roger? Anchors Aweigh?
All these things might not happen, of course, because the Cowboys are overdue, and if the law of averages does catch up with them someday, it would be altogether fitting that they award Tex Maule the game ball.