Jim Kiick now a Giants fan, but Shula feud over
MIAMI — Perhaps it's good the New York Giants aren't the foe Sunday when the Miami Dolphins have their 40th-anniversary reunion of the 1972 undefeated team.
"I'm more of a Giants fan than anything else," running back Jim Kiick, who scored a team-high four touchdowns for Miami during the 1972 playoffs, including one in the 14-7 Super Bowl VII win over Washington, said of where his football allegiance lies today.
But Kiick, who said he rooted for the Giants when they last played the Dolphins in 2011, won't have to worry about any awkwardness Sunday. Miami is facing Jacksonville, a team that didn't even exist when the Dolphins went 17-0 during their legendary season of 1972.
Before Miami fans fret too much, Kiick, who played for the Dolphins from 1968-74, grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s cheering Giants stars Frank Gifford and Charley Conerly and simply has gone back to supporting the team of his youth. Kiick, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, at least calls the Dolphins his favorite AFC team.
"To each his own," Miami Hall of Fame wide receiver and fellow 1972 stalwart Paul Warfield said while laughing about Kiick having gone back to being a Giants fan. "Jim is an interesting guy."
Kiick, 66, will be at this weekend's team reunion, which will kick off when players from the 1972 team have dinner Thursday at the South Florida home of '72 head coach Don Shula. That, unlike a game between the Giants and Dolphins, shouldn't be awkward for Kiick.
Kiick said he had no relationship with Shula from when he bolted from the Dolphins to the World Football League in 1975 until last year, when the two got together at a celebrity event in Atlantic City, N.J. He said the two had some drinks, and got back on the same page.
"It was time to bury the hatchet," Kiick said. "You can't be angry your whole life. He's changed and I'm changed. And who am I to have a problem with the winningest coach ever (in NFL history)?"
Kiick said some of the problems he had with Shula stemmed from the coach's decision to replace him as starting halfback in 1972 with Mercury Morris.
Morris went on to rush that season for 1,000 yards as the Dolphins, with Hall of Fame-bound fullback Larry Csonka gaining 1,117, became the first NFL team to have two 1,000-yard backs.
Kiick still played a vital role in 1972, running for 521 yards and catching 21 passes. But his role diminished in 1973 and 1974, and by 1975 he was gone from Miami, having joinied Csonka and Warfield on the Memphis Southmen.
"When I was playing, he thought that I had a bad attitude and I didn't like it when Mercury and I were alternating back and forth," Kiick said. "He said I had an attitude, and I probably did, because I wanted to play more. … I told Shula, ‘You and Csonka have a lot in common. You're both from Ohio, you're both Hungarian and you're both ugly.' He probably didn't like that."
Shula acknowledged Kiick wasn't happy when replaced by Morris. But Shula didn't feel he had a bad relationship with Kiick and didn't want to discuss the topic further.
Kiick said Shula went so far as to blame him for Csonka being among the three players to leave for the WFL. Csonka, then 28 and coming off five straight Pro Bowl appearances, was Miami's biggest loss among the three players who got lucrative three-year deals. Csonka signed for $1.4 million, Warfield for $900,000 and Kiick for $700,000.
"He was angry," Kiick said of Shula. "He blamed me for taking Csonka to the World Football League. He blamed me for leaving him high and dry. But Csonka was a big boy, and he made his own decision."
Warfield said all three players left on their free will. He said Kiick didn't have any special influence over Csonka, a backfield pair that had been dubbed "Butch Cassidy (Kiick) and the Sundance Kid (Csonka)."
"That decimated his team, and (Shula) took it personally," Dick Anderson, a Dolphins safety from 1968-77, said of the three players leaving. "But none of the players held any ill will (toward the three who departed). After the WFL came in, it ended up in player salaries going up in the NFL."
The WFL folded midway through its second season of 1975, leaving the three ex-Dolphins nowhere to play the rest of that season. They all landed on new NFL teams in 1976, with Csonka interestingly landing on the Giants for three years.
Kiick, who retired in 1977 after stints with Denver and Washington, never did get to play for his beloved Giants, whom he had followed religiously when they made six NFL Championship Game appearances between 1956-63. But now he at least has gone back to cheering for a team that has won four of the past 26 Super Bowls.
And it must be said that everybody from the 1972 Dolphins was a Giants fan in February 2008, when New York defeated New England in Super Bowl XLII to deny the Patriots' quest to become the second undefeated team in NFL history.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson