- - Tuesday, September 3, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jim Langer died last week at the age of 71, and a piece of NFL — and Redskins — history died with him.

The former Miami Dolphins center was perhaps the greatest of all time at his position, standing up to a debate that includes Jim Otto and Mike Webster.

Langer was a first-team All-Pro in 1974, 1975 and 1977 and second-team All-Pro in 1973, 1976 and 1978. He was a six-time Pro Bowler who was named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade team. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1987. It is typically hard for offensive linemen, especially centers, to get into Canton on the first try.

He was a member of the legendary 1972 Dolphins, still the lone undefeated squad in NFL history, a team that played much of its season with a backup quarterback, Earl Morrall, handing off to to two running backs, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, who both rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a 14-game season.

The Dolphins did that behind a trio of men who anchored the interior of that offensive line — Langer, fellow Hall of Fame guard Larry Little, and guard Bob Kuechenberg, who probably should be in Canton.



The 17-0 undefeated season was capped with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, a game in which Langer and his fellow linemen manhandled Redskin defenders, who found themselves on their heels trying to stop the ball-control running game of the Dolphins. Behind Langer, Little and company, Miami rushed for 184 yards.

I have been fortunate enough to have interviewed a number of NFL legends from that 1970s golden age of the league, and I spoke to Langer at length once about his career, the undefeated season and Super Bowl VII.

“I remember being 16-0 and we were underdogs and that pissed us off,” Langer said. “I think that was a big motivating factor in the Super Bowl for us. We’re sitting here saying to ourselves, ‘We thought we were a pretty good team.’ We had gone to the Super Bowl the year before and lost (losing to Dallas 24-3) and we could still vividly remember that, which also helped us in the Super Bowl against the Redskins.

“Going into that game undefeated and being an underdog to the Redskins, that was an insult.”

Miami dominated a game that was not very super.

“We felt early in that game that we were in control,” Langer told me. “We felt we had a good game plan. Our defense was playing well (Dolphins defensive tackle Manny Fernandez dominated the Redskins offensive line). And we were executing well offensively. We weren’t a high-scoring team because of the type of offense we had, but we felt the game was in control — until Garo’s little mishap.”

He was referring to one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history — Dolphins kicker Gary Yepremian’s failed attempt to pass on a blocked field goal with less than three minutes remaining in the game. The kick was blocked by Redskins defensive tackle Bill Brundige and bounced into Yepremian’s hand. He tried to throw it to Csonka, but the ball was batted into the air and into the hands of Washington cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it 49 yards for the touchdown to make at a 14-7 game with two minutes left.

“You go from having control of the game, and you have them (Washington) on the ropes, ready to put them away,” Langer said. “Then they score seven points and are back in it, rejuvenated. We didn’t have a lot of points to give up and when you give it up like that, it can take the momentum away from you.

“I didn’t get mad at Garo,” he said. “He was trying to make something good out of a bad play and it didn’t work.”

They held on for the win — and the undefeated season still celebrated today. “The pressure to stay undefeated became a factor because it had never been done,” Langer said. “People started thinking sooner or later the odds were against us.

“When you look back on that team and what we accomplished and winning the Super Bowl, that is what you play the game for,” he said. “It was very rewarding.”

The Dolphins were one of a series of great AFC teams that decade that dominated the NFL. “We had some great battles against Oakland, and I got to be good friends with some of those guys,” Langer said. “I always respected Al Davis and John Madden and what those teams stood for. We had some pretty fierce battles with them. We had some great games against Buffalo and we had some good games against the Jets. There were some good rivalries in the AFC East. But it was the Dolphins, Raiders and Steelers.”

The Dolphins were the team to kick off the decade, though, and did so behind maybe the greatest center in league history. “I think we had one of the great offensive lines in the history of the game,” Langer said.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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