It is an unfair and unfortunate fact that a team is remembered by its last big game, and the lingering off-season memory of the MIAMI DOLPHINS is not of their magnificent 14-2 record or the way the Marino-Duper-Clayton pass-catch fireworks lit up the football world. No, it's of the Super Bowl: Dan Marino coming unglued under the heavy 49er rush, the Dolphins' defense crumbling under a steady Joe Montana barrage and, saddest of all, Miami's puny ground game.
San Francisco held the Dolphin rushers to 25 yards in Palo Alto, the fewest ever for a Don Shula team. Miami's defense, which had been a problem all year, allowed the 49ers 537 yards, including 211 on the ground. Running the ball and playing the tough D eluded the Dolphins that day—all year, actually—and it has been sticking in Shula's throat for the last eight months.
Roll back the clock. It's October 1984, the Dolphins are in the middle of their 11-game winning streak, and someone asks Shula, "Is this really the kind of team you want, all this flash and no substance?" He bristles. "We're winning, aren't we? I'd be crazy getting away from what's successful."
O.K., the Dolphins will be successful again this year. They can't help it. A schedule quirk gives them only three opponents that made the playoffs in '84 (the 49ers will face six). Marino and Mark Duper and Mark Clayton will run up a lot of yards and maybe break some more records, but come Super Bowl week, someone will ask Shula, "What about your running game? What about your defense?" And what will he say?
He could say, "We tried." His hunt for a big back in the Larry Csonka mold has turned up some exotic specimens, people he wouldn't give a second look in the old days: Pete Johnson, who cost the Dolphins a second-round draft pick a year ago. Shula spent a lot of time trying to convince people Johnson was the goal-line fullback he needed, and at last word Johnson, his poundage up to 286, was refusing to report because the club wanted to put a weight restriction on him.
So Miami's big back again appears to be Woody Bennett, unless 225-pound rookie Ron Davenport (sixth round) comes on strong. The top selection was halfback Lorenzo Hampton, but he's of the glitter rather than the muscle variety.
The defense, again minus injured inside linebacker A.J. Duhe, the glue that once held it together, got more bad news when middle guard Bob Baumhower flunked his physical (postoperative knee). Defense coach Chuck Studley says his unit will be less cerebral but more physical, and with a year of experience, the young inside linebackers, Mark Brown and Jay Brophy, will show more smarts than they did in the Super Bowl, when the 49ers ate them up.
One final note: When Marino was staging his training camp holdout, The Miami Herald ran a survey to find out whom the fans supported, Marino or owner Joe Robbie. Robbie beat Marino 1,087 to 524. Who would have guessed it, an owner more popular than his QB?
When you're playing in the same division as Miami you'd better have corner-backs and you'd better have pass rushers. The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS have one of each, Raymond Clayborn at the right corner and Andre Tippett rushing from the left side. The trouble is that Tippett is a linebacker (he led all LBs in sacks last year), and the people with the 70s and 80s and 90s on their backs didn't do much. The guys at the left corner, Ernie Gibson and Ron Lippett, were targets, but hey, it's tough to defend when the quarterback has time to stand back there and sip tea.
That's the big problem. Defensive end Ken Sims has yet to play like the monster the Patriots expected him to be when they made him the top pick in the whole '82 draft. The other guys are just guys. No. 2 '85 draft pick Garin Veris is a speed-type pass rusher who needs to beef up. The linebacking corps is great, with Tippett and Don Blackmon, Larry McGrew and Steve Nelson, but they have to do too much.
The No. 2 problem is the offensive line. Last year Ron Meyer wanted massive specimens, so the linemen lived in the weight room. The Patriots' pass blockers looked like elephants chasing mice. New England quarterbacks, meanwhile, hit the canvas 66 times, their fine second-year man, Tony Eason, going down 60 times. He aged fast.
The linemen have trimmed down this year. Rod Humenuik was imported from Kansas City to teach them clever techniques. Head coach Ray Berry, who succeeded Meyer last October, also imported Les Steckel, who was a gifted young receiver coach at Minnesota before his 1984 debacle as the Vikes' head man. Berry himself has taken a big role in attempting to convince wideouts Stanley Morgan and Irving Fryar they can be the best in the game by trying to mold them in his own all-pro image.
The NEW YORK JETS' practice is winding down. The defensive linemen are running gassers, 40-yard sprints. The pads are off, their T shirts are soaked with sweat. They are agonizing, straining. Mark Gastineau, naked from the waist up, glides through the 40s in a sort of dreamlike trance. When the set is over, he's 20 yards ahead of the pack. In the pass-rush drill half an hour earlier, he beat his man 12 straight times. He looked as if he was going at half speed. Gastineau, the highest-paid defensive lineman in football (about $800,000 a year), will be at right end this year, in a new 3-4 alignment. Occasionally he'll pop up in strange places—the Fred Dean swing. Be great, say the Jets, just be great, because you're our pass rush, buddy. Gastineau had always played in a 4-3, but defensive end in a 3-4 is a different animal. No wide splits. Play in tight and square up against the run. The Rams' Jack Young-blood made the switch, and so must Gastineau. He says he has dedicated himself to it. He requested 500 pounds of weights be delivered to his room at camp so he could grunt and sweat between practices while everyone else was grabbing a snooze.
A great season from Gastineau is essential, because there is turmoil around him. In camp the Jets experimented with Lance Mehl, moving one of the game's finest outside linebackers to the inside. His place outside was taken—perhaps temporarily—by a 6'7", 255-pound end, Ron Faurot. Faurot had trouble rushing from a down position last year; how's he going to do it now? And pass coverage? "Well, he's no worse than anyone else," says linebacker coach Dan Radakovich. Joe Klecko is the nose man. In camp he had a sore hamstring, then a strained abdominal muscle, which might project an aggressive young second-year man, Tom Baldwin, into the picture. Marty Lyons, a natural tackle, has been switched to left end, a position he had trouble with as a rookie. Linebackers have been moved around, DBs, everyone on defense. It's part of a master scheme of the new coordinator, Bud Carson, and Bud's a guy with the skins on the wall—he coordinated the defenses of the Super Bowl Rams and Steelers. If it all works, the Jets are a playoff contender. If not, they're another 7-9 team.
Joe Walton, with time running out, has shaken up his coaching staff, bringing in new people, promoting an assistant. His offense works best when Freeman McNeil is running the ball and sputters when it's third and long. Wideout Al Toon, the No. 1 draft pick who was going to make Wesley Walker expendable, started his NFL career as a holdout. Then Lam Jones tore a tendon in his finger, and suddenly Walker was very much back in favor.
The INDIANAPOLIS COLTS were last in the NFL in passing last year. So the new coach, replacing Frank Kush, is Rod Dowhower, whose St. Louis passing game topped the NFC.
Most observers thought that Dowhower, in addition to jazzing up the passing game, would draft a bunch of fancy rookies to make it go. The defense wasn't a disaster. Leo Wisniewski was a fine middle guard (although he may be out for the season with a knee injury), Johnie Cooks blossomed as an outside linebacker and Barry Krauss had a terrific year as an inside backer. Dowhower crossed them up. When you're playing in the Marino division you need defense, so his first four picks were defensive guys, but the Colts didn't hurry to sign them. Chalk up another one for Bob Irsay. They say he made a ton of money in his first season in the new town last year, but why should he spend it frivolously, like on players?
Buffalo Bills coach Kay Stephenson will be looking for a new job if last year's 2-14 doesn't change dramatically. How has this club sunk so low? One ailment is No. 1 draftitis. When the Bills traded Tony Hunter in July, that made four of their last 12 No. 1s they have dealt. Two they never signed. Only two developed as expected—wideout Jerry Butler and last year's pick, halfback Greg Bell—so maybe things are improving. This season's top pick, defensive end Bruce Smith, is slated for Ken Johnson's spot on the right side even though Johnson led the Bills' linemen in sacks with 3½. That's right, 3½.
Pass rush is obviously one problem area. Another was quarterback, but now the Bills have Vince Ferragamo from the Rams. Let's reserve judgment on that trade until Vince gets a taste of those icy winds that come swirling down from Canada late in the season.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Marino's great '84 performance led to an '85 contract squabble.
The Patriots are going to need a swarming defense to get in playoff contention.
Buffalo's new face, Ferragamo, will find a challenge when the north winds howl.