WASHINGTON – President Richard Nixon didn’t have them by the White House when they went undefeated in 1972, but the Miami Dolphins got their due Tuesday.
The 1972 Dolphins, who defeated the Washington Redskins to win Super Bowl VII, remain the only NFL team with an undefeated season.
Nearly every living member of the team made the trip to the White House, including 83-year-old Coach Don Shula. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay for travel for any member who wanted to go. Thirty-one players attended the ceremony, along with Shula, assistant coach Howard Schnellenberger and trainer Robert Lundy.
President Barack Obama said he was honoring the 1972 team because they are “all men of accomplishment and character, and it showed on the field and off the field as well.”
The president joked that if he could invite the Green Bay Packers, a rival to his Chicago Bears, to the White House after their 2011 Super Bowl victory, the Dolphins were certainly welcome after 40 years.
“These Dolphins made history back before Super Bowl champs started visiting the White House,” he said. “Let’s face it, this is also just a fun thing to do. I like doing it as president.”
It wasn’t a common practice in the 1970s to invite championship teams to the White House, although Nixon might have been unusually distracted during the Dolphins’ historic game on Jan, 14, 1973. Although Nixon had just been re-elected, former aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. were about to be convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in connection with the break-in at the Democratic Party national headquarters at Washington’s Watergate hotel. Nixon’s presidency, it turned out, was doomed.
Obama sheepishly admitted to the Dolphins that he already had invited another team that got neglected: the 1985 Chicago Bears. The team’s victory trip to the White House had been postponed by the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Shula reminded the president that the Dolphins were the only team to defeat the president’s beloved Bears that season.
“We beat ’em!” shouted one of the people attending the ceremony.
Tuesday’s 15-minute ceremony was the first visit to the White House for the legendary football coach. The 1972 team entered the East Room of the White House in Dolphin-green sports coats. The Hall of Famers on the team entered in their special gold jackets.