Monday, June 18, 2007
Reader Question: Best 5 Dolphins Ever
I'd like to take this opportunity to answer another reader-submitted question. All questions are welcome, so send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll post my response.
This question comes from Alexander Freund. (As an aside, Alex writes for the website Bleacher Report, and I would urge you to visit that site and take a look at its extensive sports coverage.)
Q: Who would you say are the best 5 Dolphins ever?
A: It's always fun to answer questions like this because a large part any individual's response will be determined by how old they are, and which teams they were able to watch in person from a young age.
As for myself, I wasn't around to see the Dolphins dynastic years during the early 1970s, but as a true fan, I've made sure to research those teams and their players to get a feel for the history of the franchise. Nothing compares to watching and following players week in and week out, seeing both their best performances and their forgettable ones. As a result, some people may consider a selection or two of mine debatable, claiming that I am leaning too far towards the present and eschewing the glorious past. But that's the greatness of a list like this. It depends so much on what a person looks for in a sports icon.
So, without further ado, here's my list of the top 5 Dolphins players in franchise history:
5) Larry Csonka - Csonka is the epitome of a bruising running back, and he was exactly the kind of player that power running schemes are designed around. He was not one to fool around with long runs to the outside involving unnecessary east-west style running. Instead, he bulled straight up the middle of the offensive line, shedding tacklers with an incredible level of ease. The most amazing thing about him, however, may have been his toughness. Csonka would play through almost any pain imaginable, continuing to get up after every gang tackle.
Miami led the NFL in rushing in 1971 and 1972 largely due to the workhorse-like effort of Csonka, and in those two seasons, he averaged more than 5 yards per carry. The running-game that he fueled helped lead the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowl appearances and two championships. And, of course, he was a main cog in the ultimate machine that was the 1972 undefeated squad.
4) Zach Thomas - No, he hasn't yet finished his career in Miami. Yes, I do believe, even at this point in his career, that he has proven himself worthy of being on this list. If I were to choose this list simply on who my favorite Dolphins players are, Thomas would be second on that list only to Dan Marino.
If Larry Csonka is toughness personified, then Zach Thomas is surely heart. As a player coming out of college, he was routinely criticized for being too small to play linebacker at the pro level. But as they say, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight..." Thomas exemplifies that old saying more than anyone I've ever seen. Furthermore, with every game that I see Thomas play, I become increasingly convinced that his blood is not red like the rest of us - rather, it flows in bright aqua and orange. For the past decade-plus, Thomas has quite literally been the backbone of the Dolphins franchise. As players came and went, and seasons started and ended, the one thing that all Dolphins fans could be sure of come September was Thomas lining up at middle linebacker and giving everything he had week in and week out. It has become routine for him to finish in the top 5 on the league leader board for tackles.
A player must not be judged on how many Super Bowl rings he has. Unfortunately for Thomas, the Miami offense has often lagged severely behind the defense in terms of effectiveness. Because of this, he has had to bear witness to far too many bitter, losing campaigns. One would think that such an overexposure to losing would dampen the spirits and energy of a player. Perhaps it has, but you'd never know it. Even if the team was 1-14 heading into the last week of the season, Thomas would still lace up his cleats like always and do everything in his power to get that ever-elusive win.
3) Bob Griese - Continuing with the trend, Bob Griese represents the pinnacle of leadership. His stats won't particularly wow anyone, but his results will. Griese was the man at the helm of the ship for each of Miami's three consecutive Super Bowl appearances including the legendary undefeated season. Throughout the 1970s, he led the Dolphins to nine winning seasons. He was an AFL All-Star twice and was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl six times. There have been few quarterbacks who could consistently manage an offense to victory as Griese.
Management - that was Griese's specialty. Not one to make poor decisions with the ball, Griese was content to pass less often in order to let the ball-control running-game of Csonka pave the way. Make no mistake, however, when crunch time came, Griese was not afraid to make the play, exhibiting supreme confidence and poise.
2) Jason Taylor - Jason Taylor is intensity, pure and simple. He is the spark plug of the Miami defense. Much of what I said about his brother-in-law Zach Thomas can also be said about Taylor. Taylor was also criticized for being to small to effectively play on the defensive line, but he has destroyed that perception, almost creating a new breed of player by himself - the thin and wiry lightning-fast DE sack-master who is also a force to be reckoned with in the running game. And, oh yeah, he's a pure playmaker too. Taylor's motor is running non-stop and that allows him to always be in a position to make a big play on the ball. Not only can he do everything (bat down balls, stop the run, rush the passer, drop into shallow zone coverages, force fumbles, make interceptions, etc.), but he does everything extremely well. Jack-of-all-trades, master of all.
1) Dan Marino - As much as the rest of this list might differ from person to person, the number one spot on a vast majority of people's lists (dare I say a unanimous decision?) will be this guy - Dan "The Man" Marino. Larry Csonka is toughness. Zach Thomas is heart. Bob Griese is leadership. Jason Taylor is intensity. And Dan Marino is a miraculous combination of all those qualities. In my mind, Marino is far and away the greatest player to ever play the game of football. I can honestly say that and know that I am not simply being a "homer." Marino legitimately is the greatest NFL player.
My earliest memories of watching games on TV were of this gunslinger confidently leading his team up and down the field with the fiery intensity of a true leader. I was most amazed by his ability to weave his way untouched and unfazed around a collapsing pocket and fire a bullet to his receiver with incredible accuracy. He did all of this, of course, with a gigantic brace attached to his creaky knee. It was always clear to me that I was watching a legend perform and that is a rare occurrence - one that we are all lucky to have had.
I'm sure that everyone is well aware of how Marino single-handedly rewrote the NFL record books. He was the king of quantifiable statistics. That's not what makes him the greatest football player, however. Statistics are only a part of the bigger picture. Dan Marino possessed all of the intangibles that commentators always mention. He combined the greatest attributes of every player, resulting in the type of player who will never be seen again.
For someone looking to discover the game of football and wanting to see all its best aspects on display, I would point to Dan Marino and tell them that the soul of American football rests in the performance of that one man - the one who suited up for the Miami Dolphins for 17 unbelievable years.
There's my list for the top five best Dolphins ever. I'd also like to mention two honorable mention players - Larry Little and Richmond Webb. I always like to give credit to the grunts on the offensive line when possible, and those two guys certainly deserve the credit.
I'd like to hear from you what your list would be like and what you think of mine. One thing we can all be sure of after an exercise like this is how lucky we all are to be Dolphins fans.