Unbeaten '72 Dolphins see similarities in Heat

March 19, 2013

Members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins won’t be drinking champagne when this streak ends. Those Dolphins, who orchestrated the most legendary winning streak in NFL history, have a tradition whenever the last NFL undefeated team falls each season. But they’re not hoping a certain NBA team's winning streak ends anytime soon. “The furthest thing from it,’’ 1972 Dolphins safety Dick Anderson, who helped start the team’s champagne drinking more than two decades ago, said of any bottles being opened whenever the Miami Heat’s might lose. “I’m a fan. I’m pulling for them.’’ The Heat’s winning streak reached 23, the second-longest in NBA history, with their 105-103 victory Monday at Boston. They’ll go for No. 24 Wednesday at Cleveland. The Heat’s streak has conjured up some memories of the 1972 Dolphins, who went 17-0 while winning the Super Bowl and then won their first regular-season game in 1973 to stretch their run to 18 games. Perfection in South Florida sports always has been linked to the Dolphins. Now, they’re finding some neighbors with the Heat. But they don’t mind at all. “From the standpoint of winning, that’s what it's all about,’’ said Don Shula, the Hall of Fame coach of the 1972 Dolphins. “That’s what we did with the 1972 Dolphins and that’s what the Heat are doing right now… What the Heat are doing now is amazing. (Heat president) Pat Riley is great and I like (coach Erik) Spoelstra and I like their players. Their players are great players.’’ The Dolphins remain in the record books as the only NFL team ever to go undefeated and untied throughout the regular season and playoffs. Their overall 18-game winning streak now trails the 2003-04 New England Patriots, who won 21 in a row. But the Dolphins are the NFL team most historically associated with streaking. Four decades later, here come the Heat. But they are still 10 games shy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won an NBA-record 33 straight games. “I see a lot of similarities,’’ Larry Little, a Hall of Fame guard on the 1972 Dolphins, said in comparing his team’s streak to the Heat’s one. “The fans are being galvanized behind a winning streak much like they were with us. Everybody’s talking about it. The Heat winning streak is amazing. I don’t see them losing anytime soon. I hope they get the record.’’
So does another Hall of Famer from the 1972 Dolphins. “I’m paying close attention (to the Heat streak),’’ said wide receiver Paul Warfield. “It’s marvelous. I think it’s great for the fans of South Florida that they‘ve got a team winning like we did.’’ While Shula, Little and Anderson and many other 1972 Dolphins continue to live in South Florida, Warfield resides in Palm Springs, Calif. But he has the NBA television package and watches most Heat games.
“When we played, it wasn’t until we went into New York for the (13th) game (in a 14-game regular season) that it was really brought up,’’ Warfield said. “Now, once a team wins its first six games out of a 16-game (NFL) season, the national media is following them around and asking if they can go undefeated. “You’ve got a zillion sports shows now, so it might be more pressure now (on the Heat). But our focus in 1972 was to win the Super Bowl, not to go undefeated, and that has to be the Heat’s focus. The most important thing is that they win the championship.’’ Unlike the 1972 Dolphins, who were motivated by losing the previous year’s Super Bowl, the Heat are coming off having won a title. But the Dolphins did end up winning consecutive Super Bowls, also claiming one in 1973. The Heat already have won five more games in their streak than the Dolphins did in their 1972-73 run. But Anderson points out three of his team’s wins came during the 1972 playoffs, where one loss would have ended the Dolphins’ season. “I hope the Heat keep winning, but the streak does become a matter of pride,’’ Anderson said. “They could lose a few playoff games and still win the title while one loss in the (1972) playoffs and our season would have been over.’’ As the Heat continue to try to extend their streak, Anderson will be watching. So will Shula. “I’ve always been a Heat fan and a Pat Riley fan,’’ Shula said. “I like them and I watch them. They’re just a great team and they’ve got the two best players. James is unbelievable and (Dwyane) Wade is the same... (In basketball), somebody can get hot from 3-point range and end up winning a game they shouldn’t. That’s what makes it even more amazing that the Heat have continued to win.’’ For a change, the 1972 Dolphins are enjoying when a streak is going on, not when it ends. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson