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Dick Anderson sat down to write an e-mail to his 1972 Miami Dolphins teammates Tuesday morning about the one-year anniversary of Don Shula’s death when it hit him again how many of them are gone.
He didn’t need to count. The number is always with him.
“Sixteen,’' the Dolphins great said.
They were his friends, his teammates, his football family through life. Sixteen players and coaches of this 1972 team — four just this past year alone — are gone, their deaths coming in a world so full of death they couldn’t get a proper goodbye from the team.
“Don’s death, that hit all of us,’' said Anderson, the former Dolphins safety. “He meant so much to us right from our start with him. It was night and day from the minute he walked in the door.
“He was a screamer as a coach. We’d laugh about it. Nick [Buoniconti] would go up to him and say, ‘Quit yelling at Anderson.’ He’d say, ‘Go back to your position – Anderson plays harder when I yell.’ I’d say, ‘You only think I do.’ ’'
Buoniconti , of course, is gone a couple of years now, too. He wasn’t just Anderson’s defensive captain but Coral Gables neighbor. Anderson even picked out his house on the Riviera Country Club a couple houses down from him and across the street from Bob Griese.
That’s how they all were not just in football but forever after it.
“A team,’' he said.
Anderson even organized a company years ago for the full 1972 team to share in its memorabilia profits. Every five years at reunions they sign 1,500 to 2,500 footballs, helmets and jerseys to sell.
“The reason to do it was to keep everyone together,’' Anderson said. “It wasn’t done so this player or that player would sign something. It was everyone on the team. Everyone participated in the process together. One or twice a year, I send out checks.”
He just sent out a check to everyone last week. There were fewer of them around this time. Howard Schnellenberger, the offensive coordinator, was the last coach to pass in March. Jake Scott died last November.
Anderson and Scott lined up at safety for the Dolphins five glory years in the early 1970s. They were so close they used their 1971 Super Bowl money to buy a ranch together in Colorado.
“Jake and I, we knew what the other was doing all the time,’' Anderson said. “We’d line up the same way every down and often take a false step of our direction. Every time I see Joe Namath, he calls me a blankety-blank.”
Jim Kiick died last June during the pandemic, too. Like Buoniconti, like Bill Stanfill — like a few others still living — Kiick suffered from dementia and perhaps chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Kiick spent his final years in an assisted-living facility.
“You knew he had cognitive issues,’' Anderson said. “It was a little worse every time you’d see him. That’s the biggest concern we all have.
“Even at our age — we don’t have anyone under 70 years old, I think — you wonder if getting hit in the head all those years is causing memory issues. Or can’t you remember something because you’re just getting older?”
They came together in their youth in a different time in sports. Anderson had a career — three-time Pro Bowl pick, NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1973, tracking to the Hall of Fame when he was clipped in a Pro Bowl game and his knee was ruined. It’s not something that he brings up. He laughs how he made $15,000 as a rookie in 1968. He was rookie of the year, too — and made $17,500 the next year.
“We didn’t have money issues inside the team because no one made that much,’' he said.
Time tramples on. The 50-year anniversary of their undefeated season is on the horizon. How many more will be gone by then?
Anderson said he had to go write that e-mail to his team about Shula. He wanted to make sure they all remembered — all took a moment to reflect on what the great coach meant. Just as he planned to do. Just as we all should.