WASHINGTON (AP) — Some were gray-headed, others a bit stooped, at least one carried a cane. But despite age, there were still hints of the large frames that had once donned football pads and exploded countless times from lines of scrimmage during an unforgettable season.
Nearly three dozen members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins finally received their White House moment Tuesday, 40 years after they made history by winning 17 games and losing none — an undefeated achievement that no NFL team has ever matched.
President Barack Obama welcomed the former players to the East Room, a periodic occurrence at the White House these days for current sports champions.
Four decades ago, however, saluting athletes was not an established tradition. And the Watergate scandal was preoccupying President Richard Nixon back then anyway. So the men of that historic Dolphins team had not received their due.
“I know that some people may be asking why we are doing this after all these years,” Obama deadpanned. “My answer is simple: I wanted to be the young guy up here for once.”
The faces were still recognizable: Hall of Famers Larry Csonka, the team’s star fullback; quarterback Bob Griese; offensive lineman Larry Little; linebacker Nick Buoniconti; and of course their leader, coach Don Shula.
“Some of them are a little harder to recognize these days,” Obama said. “They don’t have the Afros, the mutton chops, the Fu Manchus.”
Obama, an avid sports fan and regular ESPN watcher, made clear to the Dolphins and his audience that as a Chicagoan, his football team is the Bears.
“We understand,” Shula said. “You have to root for someone.”
Obama noted that two years ago he recognized the 1985 Bears on the White House South Lawn. The team had not received the usual White House reception in 1986, a decision attributed to the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which occurred two days after the Bears beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
“That day I called them the greatest team ever. But, I mean, take it with a grain of salt,” the president added sheepishly with the Dolphins clustered behind him. “The Bears lost once in their nearly perfect season.” Then he paused for effect. “It happened to be to the Dolphins.”
Obama praised their post football careers, noting that members of the team included a minister, a mayor, a doctor, a state senator, a high school counselor and a number of successful businessmen. He singled out Buoniconti for helping found a leading spinal cord research center, the result of an injury sustained by his son on the football field.
Shula and the players gave Obama a Dolphins’ jersey with No. 72 on it. It didn’t bear his name; instead it simply said “Undefeated.”
At least three players, including Hall of Fame center Jim Langer, did not make the trip to the White House, citing political differences with Obama.
Little and Griese, speaking to reporters afterward, said they regretted that those former teammates missed the ceremony.
“I don’t have any thoughts about those guys. I’m just sorry that they weren’t here,” Griese said. “We had a great day. The White House treated us greatly. Everybody who was here was happy they were here.”
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — a Republican — paid the players’ expenses.
Little said the visit felt like a career capstone.
“I can go no higher. This is it,” he said. “Hall of Fame, 17 and 0, 32 and 2 over two years, and now being on the White House grounds. Can’t beat it.”
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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