Perfect ending has '72 Dolphins bubbling over
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Darkness covered the desert when Bob Kuechenberg awoke two time zones away Sunday morning. "Kooch" was nervous, amped and hopeful. The former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman was not afraid to say it: He was rooting for the New York Giants almost as hard as he rooted for his own team 35 years ago.
Imperfection is human, he says. Perfection is immortal.
"Hell, yeah, I think the Giants are gonna win," Kuechenberg said as he took off for a Super Bowl party at a friend's house in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"It's terribly important. The same passion that flowed through our bodies 35 years ago is still with us."
When one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history was complete, Giants quarterback Eli Manning raised his arms in the air and clutched the football. That was subdued compared to some of the celebrations going on amongst a bunch of 60-somethings from Florida to Phoenix.
The 1972 Dolphins laughed, cheered and hoisted champagne glasses late Sunday night, still uniquely immortal as the only team in NFL history to finish undefeated. This is how important the perfect-season club is to the Dolphins -- 24 hours earlier, Kuechenberg learned he'd been shut out again for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he said he'd be OK with that if the Giants could somehow find a way to drop New England from the ranks of the unbeaten.
"It's thrilling for us to still be alone in Perfectville," Kuechenberg said. "The Patriots had a remarkable run, but almost. ... Almost doesn't get it."
It has been a long, strange season for the old Dolphins. Their faces have been plastered in newspapers and on TV screens. Their phones never really stopped ringing after New England squashed everything in its path during the first half of the season.
Some cringed at it, but others would admit they didn't really mind the attention. A handful of them recently did a commercial for Reebok poking fun at their fixation with standing alone. One spot had them near a sign that said, "Perfectville, Population 1." The other, shot in the event of a Patriots victory, showed the Dolphins sending over a pie to their new neighbors.
When Sunday finally came, it all felt weird and almost sad to some of the '72 Dolphins. It was if they were about to lose a part of themselves.
"It has been an interesting year," Hall of Fame center Jim Langer said. "There has been so much attention on it, so many people talking about it. I think it brought back the '72 Dolphins and showed people who probably weren't aware of what happened just how tough it is to [go undefeated]."
Langer, one of the more quiet members of the '72 team, says he probably saw more football in 2007 than he had since his playing days. It was impossible not to watch. Roughly an hour after the game, he had three voicemails from people who said they'd bring champagne to his truck equipment business in Minnesota on Monday. Langer has no idea who the messages were from.
But even the subdued Langer was moderately happy Sunday, letting out an occasional chuckle in between game breakdowns. He watched the Super Bowl at his daughter's house in Wisconsin, a rather restrained party in a house that was looking forward to a Patriots-Packers matchup. Sometime on the ride home, his old buddy Kuechenberg called. It was late, but Langer planned on calling him back, so they could talk about Sunday's surprise.
"I really feel a little bad for the Patriots," Langer said. "Man, that's a hell of a season. To lose it tonight, I kind of feel for them.
"But I know my teammates are celebrating. It's a tough thing to go through what [the Patriots] went through. Anybody who played in the Super Bowl knows it's an empty feeling."
Several Dolphins migrated to Arizona to witness history. Former quarterback Earl Morrall spent much of the day doing speaking engagements in Phoenix, then scurried off to the stadium to take his seat near the 15-yard line. He was nervous in the final minutes, when Tom Brady rallied New England with a touchdown strike to Randy Moss.
At that point, many of the Dolphins were sure the game was over. When Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress connected for a 13-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left, the Dolphins exhaled.
"We're very pleased," Morrall said. "We're alive for another year."
Morrall had a piece of blueberry pie and a glass of champagne. None of them seemed to care about the media jokes, that the grumpy old men could pop their champagne bottles, then rest their creaky bones until another team embarks on a perfect run next season. All of them know this: For one more year, they'll be uniquely special.
"We're proud of it," former running back Jim Kiick said. "Why shouldn't we be? We never were against the New England Patriots. We have our accomplishments. We're not comparing ourselves to anyone else from other generations. We're happy with our own accomplishments. The Patriots are a great football team. Unfortunately, they didn't win this Super Bowl."
Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SUPER BOWL XLII
Game coverage• Belichick ready to move on from Super Bowl loss
• Nevada sports books lose record $2.6M
• View to a thrill: Record 97.5 million watch XLII
• Giants' win shatters viewership records
• Clayton: Can the Giants repeat?
• Simmons: Free fallin'
• Giants spoil Pats' perfect season
• Wojciechowski: Blame Pats for this debacle
• Wickersham: Brady dazed and confused
• Clayton: Eli lets instincts take over
• Clayton: N.Y. 'misfits' harass Brady
• Sando: Was Brady rattled?
• Mosley: Belichick left a second early
• Chadiha: Ten things we learned
• Garber: Tyree's catch one for the ages
• Zoom galleries 1 | 2 | Great SB upsets
• SportsNation: Best Super Bowl?
• SportsNation: Biggest SB upset?
• SportsNation: Your favorite commercials?
Commentary/Features• Clayton: Top five contenders for the next SB
• '72 Fins breathe sigh of relief after Giants win
• Chadiha: Giants enjoy underdog role
• Sando: Coughlin, Giants made it work
• Super Bowl picks: Our experts weigh in
• Merrill: Nine previously perfect Patriots
• Merrill: Harrison deals with his rep just fine
• Clayton: Giants' O-line worthy of accolades
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet notes
• Wojciechowski: 15 reasons Patriots will win
• E-ticket: Patriots' man of mystery
• Sunday Countdown
• Clayton's First and Goal
• Chadiha: Giants miss Shockey
• Garber: Injured war vet inspires Giants
• Pasquarelli: The Pats' crucial cameos
• Garber: In Brady's world, insecurity remains
• Merrill: Hixon's traumatizing season
• Football Outsiders: SB numbers crunching
• Pasquarelli: Patriots' silent sentinel
• Wojciechowski: Unflappable Eli
• Sando: Brady rising among all-time QBs
• Chadiha: Giants' rookies playing prominent role
• Fleming: Cardinals/Pottsville Curse
• Clayton: Youth serving Giants well
• Chadiha: Ranking the best QBs by decade
• Klancnik: Top QBs by jersey number
• Hashmarks: Media day coverage | Gallery
• Pasquarelli: Pats' old-school LBs
• Helyar: Marketing windfall for Eli Manning
• Garber: Seau's ring quest
• Pasquarelli: Bruschi's full-circle journey
• Animated plays
• From the research room
• Chadiha: Pierce just wants to win
• Wojciechowski: Explaining Bill Belichick
• Helyar: Recession? Not at Super Bowl!
• Giants' Snee doesn't stray from roots
• Sando: Seymour in eye of storm
• Merrill: Welker scales new heights for Pats
• Pasquarelli: Brady is ready to play
• Garber: The preservation of Plaxico
• Pasquarelli: Hill's spirit lives on
• Clayton: Giants' juggling act at CB works
• Wickersham: Giant ideas
• Klosterman: All too perfect
• Crown Jewels: A look at Super Bowl rings
• FB Outsiders: Giants one of worst SB teams
• Helyar: Patriots will drive TV ratings
• Clayton: First and goal
• Chadiha: Giants' glory road
• Mosley: Brady's ankle saves the week
• Woj: Preseason predictions revisited
• Merrill: David Woodley's dark spotlight
• Former SB QBs: Plunkett | Rypien | Ferragamo
• More: Morton | Humphries | Hostetler | Eason
• Starting matchups of Super Bowl QBs
• Ranking the QB performances: 1-40 | 41-82
• Jaworski: Six Super Bowl surprises
• Joyner: Brady's bad decisions
• Clayton: Eli's managing fine
• Chadiha: Focused Giants
• AccuScore simulation: Pats to prevail
• Chadiha: First Look at the Super Bowl
• Playoff schedule
• Vermeil doubts spying made difference for Pats
• Fish: Ex-Ram Warner suspicious of Pats in SB XXXVI
• Report: Pats taped Rams' SB walk-through
• Specter to Goodell: Let's talk
• Fish: Possible 'Spygate' witness surfaces
• Easterbrook: NFL can blame itself for scandal's timing
• Munson: Congressional interest serious
• Pasquarelli: Specter should stick with politics
• Clayton: Spy saga won't distract Patriots
• Hashmarks at Goodell's news conference
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)
Page 2• Gallo: Five stages of heartbreak for Pats' fans
• Hill: Best Super Bowl parties
• Hill: Teflon Tom Brady
• Popculture roundtable on the Super Bowl
• Hill: Raiders quit on Moss
• Flem File at the Super Bowl
• Fleming: Defining greatness
• Best teams never to win a title
• TMQ: Title-game analysis
• Why Boston teams are so good
• Gallo: Countdown to kickoff
• More from Page 2
News• Brady ankle not on injury report
• Brady on Plax prediction: Only 17 points for Pats?
• Carey named first black Super Bowl referee
• Brady practices in Pats' first Super Bowl session
• Ross gets sick as unified Giants face flu
• NFL not worried about spying
• Security high for Super Bowl
• Williams to be honored during Super Bowl
• Bootless Brady departs for Arizona
• Tickets reselling for average of $4,300
• Burress: Giants' receivers are better
Scouts Inc.• Roundtable: Seven scouts weigh in
• Super Bowl XLII X Factors
• Coaching comparison: Styles vary, results same
• Defensive line breakdowns
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 5)
• Matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLII
• Running-game breakdown
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 4)
• QB tale of the the tape
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 3)
• Ranking NFL QBs 1-64
• Take II on Super Bowl XLII
• Giants' DBs overmatched or underrated?
• Horton: Notes from film room (Day 2)
• Horton: 10 things to watch in SB XLII
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 1)
• A tale of two underrated O-lines
• Take I on Super Bowl XLII
• Players ranked Nos. 1-106
SportsNation• Vote: Which team will win?
• Vote: Who wins the head-to-head matchups?
• Vote: Which team are you rooting for?
• Conversation: Talk Super Bowl XLII
• Map: Which states are picking the Giants?
• Quiz: 42 Super Bowl history questions
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Hello from Arizona!
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live from Media Day
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with oddsmaker
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Matt Hasselbeck
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• Rank: Super Bowl's best individual performances
• Rank: Super Bowl coaches
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• Rank: Greatest all-time quarterbacks
• Vote: Potential for QB greatness?
• Quiz: Greatest quarterbacks
• ABCNews: Super Bowl or Super Tuesday?
• Chat Rewind: When did undefeated talk start?
• Vote: Can we proposition you?
• Pulse: What is SportsNation saying about XLII?