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'72 Dolphins weren't swimming in cash

Many of coach Don Shula's undefeated 1972 Dolphins had to have offseason jobs to supplement their football salaries. Many of coach Don Shula's undefeated 1972 Dolphins had to have offseason jobs to supplement their football salaries. (Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Charlie Nobles
The New York Times / February 4, 2008

MIAMI - Dick Anderson made $38,000 as a Pro Bowl strong safety for the Dolphins in 1972, but that was only part of his income. He started an insurance agency five years earlier and would sometimes return calls to clients before or after practices.

"Shula was always telling me to get off the phone," Anderson said of Miami coach Don Shula. "In those days, you had to have another job if you wanted to get ahead."

Anderson had a car phone, rare in those days, and recalled a young player doing a double take after seeing him in his car, with his uniform on, talking on the telephone. It was a dual life that he considered necessary.

As the Dolphins were on their way to a 17-0 season, other players proved adept at mixing football and business pursuits. Nick Buoniconti, who was licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, studied to pass the Florida bar. Fellow linebacker Doug Swift attended the University of Miami and eventually earned a medical degree and became an anesthesiologist in Philadelphia.

Almost everybody had an offseason job back then, Shula recalled. He earned only $75,000, according to an internal list of the Miami coaches' salaries at the time. In addition, Shula had a 10 percent ownership stake in the team, which he received when he left Baltimore for Miami.

According to interviews and an internal memorandum sent by Joe Robbie, then the owner, to Pat Peppler, his director of scouting, the standout middle three in the Dolphins' offensive line earned less than Anderson. Larry Little made $30,000, and Jim Langer $22,000, including a $1,000 bonus. Bob Kuechenberg's salary was $21,000.

The Patriots, who were seeking last night to match the Dolphins with an unbeaten season, have 23 players earning at least $1 million - including some who were injured or released.

Despite the Dolphins' relatively humble salaries - offensive tackle Wayne Moore played for $18,000 and defensive end Vern Den Herder for $19,000, including a $2,000 bonus - a number of players from the 1972 team found success in business. They are perhaps topped by Buoniconti, who rose to be president of United States Tobacco, has served on the board of several corporations, and has helped the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis raise more than $100 million. Buoniconti began fund-raising after his son Marc was paralyzed in a football accident.

Quarterback Bob Griese, a longtime college football television analyst, first struck it rich in real estate in Indiana. Linebacker Mike Kolen and Kuechenberg also have excelled in real estate.

Wide receiver Howard Twilley, now retired, started a chain of shoe and women's clothing stores in Oklahoma. Den Herder has specialized in farming in Iowa. Swift works on one of the country's top heart surgery teams, at Pennsylvania Hospital. In addition to his insurance agency, Anderson, a former Florida state senator, bought and sold several businesses.

Cornerback Tim Foley decided, at the suggestion of Kuechenberg, to become a representative for Amway, which largely sold household cleaning products.

At the time, Kuechenberg was renovating a 23,000-square-foot home on exclusive Star Island, near Miami Beach. Kuechenberg recalled that he and Foley had parties at the mansion, where they would persuade people to sign up as Amway representatives or buy its products.

In the Amway system, Kuechenberg benefited from sales Foley made, and they each benefited from the sales of the people they signed up. Kuechenberg did not like the business and left before Amway reached its sales zenith. But Foley stayed to reap the biggest rewards.

"It's the best gift I've ever given anyone," Kuechenberg said of introducing Foley to Amway.

Foley once said he could never live outside Florida because the cold weather would inflame his football-induced arthritis. Now he doesn't have to. He owns an airplane and runs a management company named after him in central Florida.

Shula suspected he had a special group of players after a players strike in 1970. The Dolphins started training camp late, and Shula decided to conduct four-a-day practices. He said the players grumbled at the time. But after they made the playoffs, he said, they credited the extra work for their striking improvement.

"The thing I have always said when I talk about that football team is the thing that set them apart was their intelligence and their competitiveness," Shula said. "They wanted to win and they were very smart. We were the least-penalized team."

A number of players, including Little and running back Mercury Morris, cited Shula's influence as a philosophical foundation for later success. Fullback Larry Csonka did, too, but in a different way. He spends much of his time these days doing hunting and fishing shows for ESPN.

"Getting away from Shula provided me with a great motivation to go all the way to Alaska in a cool stream in July instead of doing grass drills and having Shula stepping over my stomach saying, 'You don't like me,' " said Csonka, known for his playful sarcasm. "He had no idea how much I didn't like him. Every July, I think about the fact that I'm not in Miami. I don't have grass and sweat running down my neck and him standing on my stomach."

Five years ago, Anderson started a memorabilia company for the 1972 team. He acts as the treasurer and usually sends a check twice a year to each player. The payments are tiered so that the Hall of Famers and the starters get more than the nonstarters. But even the team's lesser lights reap a monetary reward.

"It's a way to keep in touch," Anderson said. "We had something special, and we still do."

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