Dolphins' Great Csonka on Perfect Season, Pats

If the New England Patriots win Sunday, they will join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only unbeaten Super Bowl champions. Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka, a star of that Miami squad, reflects on gridiron excellence, past and present.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

We're going to remember now the last perfect NFL season.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)

U: The clock is moving. They're not going to get a play off. Five seconds, four seconds, three seconds. The Dolphins have won Super Bowl VII, have completed the greatest season in NFL history, and that is going to be the end of the ball game as the Dolphins have won it by a score of 14-7.

INSKEEP: That was the call as the 1972 Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins. They ended a perfect season 17-0. For 35 years that record has stood. One of the players who powered that season was Larry Csonka, who was then six-foot-three, 250 pounds, a fullback who rushed for more than 1,100 yards during that season. He's on the line from Lisbon, Ohio.

Welcome to the program.

M: Good to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: So when you walk in and you're undefeated going into the Super Bowl, were you thinking about the Super Bowl or about the record of being undefeated?

M: Well, you've got to concentrate on the task at hand. And I think thinking about things in terms of seasons or in terms of history rather than in terms of the game plan, it can be very devastating in any Super Bowl, not alone one with a perfect season on the line.

INSKEEP: What did you do on the morning of that Super Bowl?

M: I don't recall.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I think we went to three Super Bowls and the mornings were pretty much the same always. Shula had a very - our head coach, Don Shula, had a very rigorous schedule, kept us busy. He never let us go for more than a couple of hours of free time without having to report somewhere or do something.

INSKEEP: Why was that?

M: To keep your mind on the game.

INSKEEP: You've got a bunch of guys who are professionals, of course, but they're in their mid-20s. They're young guys. They got a lot of energy. It must be hard even for the professionals to stay focused in this kind of situation.

M: I think it's hard for anyone. It gets increasingly difficult with more and more people and more and more attention paid to it. You know, the Pats ought to be very proud of what they've accomplished just this far.

INSKEEP: Now, are you rooting against the Patriots this Sunday?

M: Let's put it this way, Steve. I'm not rooting for them. I'm rooting for the Giants because their head coach, Tommy Coughlin, was my half back in - at Syracuse my senior year. He never made an error, was super-intense, even in the meetings and the practices.

Years later, I saw a mirrored image of that when I met Don Shula, the head coach of the Dolphins, because he had the same kind of intensity.

INSKEEP: Well, now, your former coach, Don Shula, has said that if the Giants score an upset and prevent the Patriots from having a perfect season, he'll be jumping up and down.

M: Well, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Maybe he was joking.

M: You know, Steve, there's two fields of thought on that. Over the years, yes, I have to admit that I've done that. But sooner or later it's going to happen, and one of the announcers on TV the other day was quoted as saying this team, if they do this and complete the 19-0, they'll be the best team of ever. And I thought that's pretty shallow to jump on that.

It's not that you're competing with the past. You're competing with the competition now and then you compete with history.

INSKEEP: Hmm.

M: How superior your team is will be judged by how long that record stands. But the game has changed so much, it's probably time for someone else to step forward, and that's what the Pats are doing.

INSKEEP: Did the perfect season change your life in some way?

M: Absolutely. And I didn't know it at the time. We probably didn't realize how unique it was for eight to 10 years after we did it. Then it became something that we really valued even more than when we actually accomplished it.

INSKEEP: What are you doing these days?

M: I hunt and fish for a living in Alaska. I spend eight months of the year in Alaska. Don't think football. In July, when everybody's in double sessions, I'm knee-deep in the Kenai River having a great time.

INSKEEP: Is there any comparison between challenging nature and challenging somebody on a football field?

M: A couple of times. A couple of close calls with some big brown bears that looked and smelled a lot like Dick Butkus to me, but you know, that's just a personal observation.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I'm friends with Dick now. I can kid with him. He's a great fellow.

INSKEEP: Where will you be on Sunday?

M: I'm going to drive down to Florida and watch it from the Florida house there along the water, and I like to go down there and watch the game in Florida.

INSKEEP: Have some people over?

M: Oh, I don't know how many people we'll have over. Maybe a couple of close friends. But I usually stay in touch with the '72 guys. I'll probably give a couple of them a call. Either way.

INSKEEP: Well, Larry Csonka, enjoy your weekend.

M: You too.

INSKEEP: Larry Csonka played fullback on the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last team to finish a perfect season at the Super Bowl, which is a feat the New England Patriots hope to achieve against the New York Giants this Sunday in Super Bowl XLII.

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