When an email asked if we would like a review copy of Perfection, a new book by Bob Griese and Dave Hyde, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s not every day you’ll get a chance to write about someone you once knew.
“The Kid” was the name my good friend, John “Phil” Clinger from the former Dolphins quarterback’s native Evansville, IN, gave Griese when all three of us were neighbors on Key Biscayne back in the late 1960s.
We joined an appreciative crowd to hear Griese spin locker room stories about his career before queuing up to get our copies of Perfection signed during his personal appearance at Kendall’s Barnes & Noble on Sept. 7, a signature he carefully penned with the numbers 17-0 following his name.
“The Perfect Season” memorialized his Miami Dolphins 1972 team when it chalked up the first and only undefeated stretch in National Football League history. That still unrepeated feat will be celebrated in November during a 40-year reunion of Griese’s teammates at Sun Life Stadium where Dolfans now keep their fingers crossed for the 2012 team.
Meanwhile, old-timers will delight in recapturing those glory days of 1972 when “The Kid,” Earl Morrall, Nick Buoniconti, Paul Warfield and others created a legend along with “Shus” as Robert Alan Griese called Coach Don Shula.
Appropriately numbered with 17 chapters, Griese’s story begins with “Are We Really That Good?” recounting how a return to Kansas City in the fall of 1972 recalled the previous year’s famed Christmas Day AFC Championship game battling the Chiefs for five and a half quarters with two overtimes before Garo Yepremian booted a 36-yard winning field goal, He had missed two others earlier that might have won the game.
That’s why Bob remembers a run-weary Larry Csonka who lost 36 pounds that game, heaving his breath in a huddle after his bulldozing run set up the try and telling Garo, “You little bastard, if you miss this I’ll kill you!”
Stories like this pop up on every page as Griese uses each winning game as a chapter headline although the text that follows more often gives him a chance to describe a fellow player, coach, owner Joe Robbie, scout Joe Thomas, and others he credits with varying contributions to the unbeaten record.
That’s where the drama and fun really come through, from learning how Buoniconti (Griese’s nomination for the key to the team’s defense) and talent scout Joe Thomas put Robbie to bed at the Jockey Club after the owner zonked out from another habitual overdose of booze.
Even so, Robbie gets early credit for courage as a small town South Dakota lawyer who laid out $40,000 by mortgaging his home to bid for the Miami franchise, originally proposed to expand the NFL in Philadelphia.
Jake Scott, the renegade safety twinned with a serious-minded Dick Anderson, gets Griese’s nod as the key cogs of team defense in a chapter titled “The Partnership of Opposites.” Also in for special praise: Coach Monte Clark who designed what Bob called his “check with me” defense allowing him to prepare alternative offensive plays to meet defensive lineup weaknesses before the snap.
Perhaps that’s why Bob, speaking off the cuff during his early quarterbacking days, asked if we knew what a “lookout block” was.
“Abner Haynes, our running back then, prided himself on dodging an onrushing lineman to take off around end. But he was no blocker,” Griese laughed. “Going back to pass, he’d yell ‘Look out!’ when an untouched tackle or linebacker came rushing in on me. That was Abner’s ‘look out block.’”
Once when Bob and Judi Griese made their home on the Key’s Redwood Lane, my friend, Phil, and I watched Bob and Karl Noonan prep opponent films for an upcoming game. After 90 minutes of backand- forth repeats of films from a blimp-like level that rendered players ant-size in slow motion to (“Back it up again, Bob”) we’d had it. “You leaving?” asked the “Per’fessor” as he was known when equipped one season with glass-like goggles. “We’re just getting started.” We also saw Joe Namath, now Bob’s neighbor in Tequesta, upset the Colts in Super Bowl III, surrounded by Colt fans in the OB’s north stands along with Phil, Bob, and longtime pal, Archie Stone, a more rabid aqua-and-orange booster than “Dolfan Denny” with his rhinestonebedecked hat and jacket.
Well before that ’72 season, Herald sports editor Edwin Pope rallied fans for “Victory Sunday” when the Fish ended a winless streak by beating Buffalo. My son, Jay, and friend carried a banner “We Back Bob” to support “The Kid” when disgruntled fans urged John Stofa’s return as QB.
But our fondest memory was the story Judi told after Jay, then age 7, had pitched a ball back-and-forth with Bob on the front lawn of the Clinger Glenridge Rd. home, just across the street from our own.
“You know, the next day when Bob was up in the bedroom studying charts, I heard a knock on our door,” she related to my wife, Barbara, over a hamburger at the old Press Club on Miami Beach. “There stood Jay, standing on his banana seat bike, holding a football.
“I said ‘Hi, Jay, what are you doing here?’
Jay answered: “Can Bob come out and play?”