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 (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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