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’72 Dolphins far from tired, cranky

The phone call came, as these calls always come this time of year, with a precast storyline. You know it. You’ve read it. The one that goes like so:

They’re old.

They’re cranky.

They’re as tired as yesterday and as welcome as morning breath.

“What’s it with the ’72 Dolphins living in the past anyway?” a reporter asked from Carolina, where the 14-0 Panthers are challenging an undefeated season and, therefore, climbing the grandfather mountain of these old Dolphins.

And you understand. Old and cranky, sure. Tired and unwelcome, maybe. But living in the past? Do all the media calling about the past, and asking about the past, and fixated on the past, understand what this group did in the decades their football moment?

Does America need a lesson in what made that ’72 team great?

Nick Buoniconti, who got his law degree while playing, graduated from football to run two Fortune 500 companies. In his spare time, he started The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and has helped raise more than $450 million for it, the most ever for a sports-related charity.

That’s not bad for a guy living in the past, right? But then go down the roster. Look at who they became without helmets.

Doug Swift became a doctor. Howard Twilley owned 29 “The Athlete’s Foot” stores in the Midwest. Bob Griese became the national voice of college football for years on ABC. Dick Anderson became a state senator and private entrepreneur.

Larry Csonka fell in love with Alaska after seeing a sign outside bush city’s limits that read, “You’re now part of the food cycle.” He produced and hosted an outdoors show there that aired on ESPN, even capsizing once in the Sea of Alaska and having to be air-rescued after 10 hours in the frigid water.

“Thanks for pulling my ass out of the sea,” he wrote on a football to the Coast Guard that saved him.

Do you see what everyone should in the re-telling of this team? How they lived life like they played football? They didn’t retire after 1972 into “Perfectville,” the way the TV advertisement read when the Patriots challenged their mark in 2007.

Their roster is full of success stories even without the ring they all wear. Jim Mandich became president of a construction company and popular talk-show host. Earl Morrall became mayor of Davie. Tim Foley made more money than all of them at Amway. Vern Den Herder returned to Iowa and bought a 420-acre farm.

Doug Crusan oversaw 55 brokers in an investment house, telling them they’d have to run Don Shula’s brand of sprints if they didn’t meet their quota. Marv Fleming became an entrepreneur and actor, appearing in Warren Beatty’s movie “Heaven Can Wait.” (“Did you ever play football, Mr. Farnsworth?” he asks.)

This doesn’t even cover those who stayed in football. Shula became football’s winningest coach. Howard Schnellenberger started the University of Miami on a dynastic title run. Bob Kuechenberg went on to play more games as a Dolphin than anyone, until Dan Marino broke that record.

We could go on with this, if you want. And on. The point is they didn’t act like life ended after 1972. Most didn’t even understand the achievement at the time. Jim Kiick, who became a private detective, was told by teammates in 1985 that Chicago was trying to match their record of being football’s only undefeated team.

“We are?” Kiick said.

They’ve come to love the attention, of course. And they’re honest. Ask them if they want to stay the only undefeated team and most will say they do. But as Mercury Morris says (and says and says), “I love it with a team goes undefeated deep into a season — we get to live our achievement all over again.”

So enjoy being 14-0, Carolina. Enjoy having Mike Shula, Don’s son, along for the ride as the offensive coordinator. But let’s drop this notion of the ’72 Dolphins being bitter old men.

For that matter, let’s drop the idea that if the Panthers go undefeated throughout the regular season and postseason that they tie the Dolphins as the greatest team ever. Come back in four decades. See what else these players do with their lives. Then we’ll talk.