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Interesting Article on Expansion Dolphins


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This year's Dolphins reminiscent of franchise's first team By Tom Danyluk (danyluk1@yahoo.com)


The Miami Dolphins, 0-5 in the standings and counting. It’s taken 41 years, but they’ve finally come back to where it all started.

Anyone remember the very first Dolphins team, the class of 1966? It was the offspring of a frenetic AFL expansion. Pre-Marino … Pre-Griese … Pre-Csonka and Kiick and No-Name. Even pre-Shula, and for fans in Miami Dade and surrounding areas, it doesn’t get any more “pre-” than that.

“Our first head coach was George Wilson,” remembers Howard Twilley, then a rookie receiver from Tulsa. “Not the most technically proficient coach, but he’d won a championship with the Lions before he came to Miami. Honest, kind but volatile. A players’ guy. I remember one time we were saying the Lord’s Prayer before a game. We were kneeling, all solemn, heads down. ‘…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.’

“Then George says, ‘Now let’s go out there and kick the s--- out of those SOBs!’ ”

An odd assortment of players arrived at that first Dolphins training camp … shiny, freshly-signed rookies … waiver-wire refugees … vets unprotected in the expansion draft … all hoping for a chance to hook up with a pro paycheck. One who stopped by was a free agent named John Stofa, QB, University of Buffalo.

“I had been playing semi-pro ball at the time, the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds,” Stofa says, “and the Dolphins invited me up to St. Petersburg for their camp. Team headquarters was a motel right next to the beach. The Happy Dolphin Inn. Two players to a room, along with all our wet, dirty equipment, which never dried. Motel meeting rooms, motel food, motel portions. Five days a week they gave us chow mein for lunch.”

They put down a makeshift practice field across the street from the Happy Dolphin, in a lot next to the ocean. Sod right on the blowing sand, along with the gulls and seashells and bikinis that came with it. A few tough workouts quickly tore the thing up, so they moved the operation back down to Miami.

“But for a bunch of guys just being thrown together, it was a pretty competitive camp,” says Frank Emanuel, then a rookie linebacker out of Tennessee. “We had some veterans like Cookie Gilchrist and Willie West and Rick Casares. Casares was my roommate. He had been a tough back for the Bears and I really admired him. The first time I met him was when I walked into my dorm room. There was this mafia-looking guy just sitting there, a white poodle on his lap. Cadillac parked outside.”

They signed a defensive end named Mel Branch (unprotected, Kansas City) who had an unusual way of tweaking his opponents.

“A rugged ol’ guy,” Twilley says. “Mel played on that famous LSU defense of the late ’50s — the Chinese Bandits, they were called. He used to chew tobacco during the games. I’d see the offensive tackles getting worked up out there and I’d say, ‘Mel, what’s going on out there?” and he’d say, “Well, you gotta spit a little tobacco on their facemasks to get ‘em going.’ ”

And then there was Wahoo McDaniel, a free-spirited linebacker who also worked the pro wrestling circuit during the offseason. Full-blooded Choctaw-Chickasaw Indian.

“No, he was half-Indian, half-crazy,” Emanuel says, laughing. “A real character, an entertainer. But he played the game hard. Wahoo loved the spotlight. He’d make a tackle and then the P.A. announcer would say ‘Tackle by … guess who?’ and the crowd would yell, ‘Waaaaa-hoo!’ and I think he thrived on that.”

Opening day at the Orange Bowl. The Oakland Raiders and 26,776 ticket holders. RB Joe Auer (unprotected, Buffalo) zips back the first kickoff for 95 yards and a score. Danny Thomas (rookie owner) runs along in escort down the sideline.

“Probably the only real highlight from that first season,” Twilley says. “Another strange thing was when they brought over a real dolphin from the Miami Seaquarium and put him in a tank behind the east end zone. His name was Flipper. Flipper was supposed to do flips every time we scored, but as the season went on, he wasn’t getting much exercise. So they made him flip every time we got a first down.”

Miami lost that first one to the Raiders. Then came blows from the Jets, Bills, Chargers and again Oakland. Five games, five losses. Finally, a victory over Denver brought some hoo-rahs, but there weren’t many more celebrations after that.

“Wilson was really fuming after one particular loss that year,” Stofa says, “We were sitting in the projector room and he’s telling us we played like crap and we’d better pay extra attention to the game films this week.

“Everyone thought, ‘Wow, George is really upset.’ So we’re watching the films, and every so often we’d see these naked bodies flashing across the screen. What the heck? Apparently he had slipped in cuts from a stag film to see if we were daydreaming.”

“I remember our games against Kansas City that year,” Twilley says. “One of the best clubs in the league. They had a defensive back named Freddy “Hammer” Williamson, who was a clothesline artist. I wouldn’t say cheap shot, but he played a rough style of football, on the fringe of the rules.”

In the first game the Chiefs had a big lead and Twilley was minding his business on a route when all of a sudden — pow! Hammer time. A forearm to the face and a shattered rookie cheekbone.

“That kind of stuff really bothered George,” Twilley says. “To me it was part of football, but George felt there was no reason for rough shots like that when the game was already decided. So he planned a little revenge.

“Second Kansas City game. George sends in the play from the sideline. It’s called ‘Throw the ball to Freddy.’

“Well, everybody knew what that meant. The ball was snapped and nobody blocked. Nobody ran a pattern. The quarterback threw it right to Williamson and he intercepted. Then six or eight of our guys just swarmed on him, each one taking a good shot. That was our ‘Throw it to Freddy’ play.”

The current Dolphins take their zero act to Cleveland this Sunday. A loss there and it’s the stigma of 0-and-6. Worse than expansion. Worse than Wahoo and chow mein and the Flipper tank.

Wonder what memories we’ll file away from the ’07 team? Well, there’s always the old stag clip option. Just slip a few in the highlight film, you know, to see who’s paying attention.

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