HYDE: When picking all-time team, don't let modern and popular trump old and forgotten

Sports Columnist

Who am I? I'm small, slow, went undrafted by every NFL team and still made the Hall of Fame, thank you very much. Who am I?

"Edwin Pope.'"

Come on, quit joking. Who am I?

I led the Dolphins in tackles six straight seasons. I have two Super Bowl rings. I'm the franchise's only defensive player in the Hall of Fame. I'm the name on the No-Name Defense. You know me now, right?

"You're the guy picked behind Zach Thomas on the All-Time Dolphins team."

Nick Buoniconti. He got aced out by Thomas as middle linebacker, according to voters. Can Al Gore demand a recount?Look, you have to love watching Thomas play. But if you're filling out a ballot for the Dolphins' all-time team, the first thing you do - the very first thing - is write in the Hall of Famers.

Paul Warfield at receiver. Larry Little at guard. Larry Csonka at fullback. There's some positional overlap, but taking taking Dan Marino over Bob Griese at quarterback and Dwight Stephenson over Jim Langer at center seems the way to go.

And Buoniconti is the middle linebacker. Period.

As productive as Thomas is, as fun as he is to watch, as painful as it this is to ask, do you really think he'll join Buoniconti in the Hall of Fame someday? When he isn't the dominant middle linebacker of his era (Ray Lewis) or best player on his defense (Jason Taylor)? When he - and this isn't his fault - hasn't played on a contending team?

But that's how these polls work: Modern and popular trumps old and forgotten. An era's context gets lost, too. And context matters. You can't judge players across generations without it.

For instance, Dolphins linemen from the 1970s weighed between 250 and 270 pounds. They'd be finger food in today's game.

To understand how context matters, consider Olindo Mare's mis-selection as the all-time kicker. Mare was productive and popular, a local kid who made 80.9 percent of field goals and was a weapon on kickoffs. But for the past five years the average NFL kicker has made around 80 percent of his field goals.So Mare essentially was average. Meanwhile, Garo Yepremian, who really is the Dolphins' all-time kicker, made only 67.1 percent of his kicks. How is this better? Well, field-goal percentages have gone up dramatically over time.

In 1987, only 67.3 percent of field goals were made. In 1977, it was 58.3 percent. So Yepremian made 10 percent more of his field goals than his average peer. He even kicked better than Kansas City's Jan Stenerud (66.1 percent), who is the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame.

An equal point: Yepremian made the only truly monumental field goal in Dolphins history. His 37-yarder ended The Longest Game against Kansas City (Stenerud had just missed a 32-yard attempt). Of course, Yepremian had motivational help.

"You miss this, I'll kill you,'' Csonka had told him.

At running back, there's no all-time Dolphins standout. It's as unexplainable across four decades as the New York Mets having zero no-hitters, as Peter O'Toole without an Oscar.

Mercury Morris was the people's pick for his speed and excitement, despite being platooned through the early-1970s Super Bowl teams with Jim Kiick. In fact, Morris led the team in rushing only in 1975 while Kiick led twice (1968-69).

Ricky Williams delivered the only great running-back season for a Dolphin by leading the league in rushing in 2002. But he kept inhaling.

My pick is Tony Nathan. He led the team in rushing and receiving in 1985 when the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl. He led in receiving two other years. He played eight seasons. That's the class of a weak field.

Finally, there's a problem with the selected tackles on both sides of the line. Bob Baumhower was a five-time Pro Bowl selection who anchored the defensive line for the Dolphins' two Super Bowl appearances in the early-1980s. He should get the nod instead of Tim Bowens, a two-time Pro Bowler.

Offensive tackle Norm Evans made a nice career, but teammate Wayne Moore was considered the slightly better tackle on the early-1970s teams. Just because Moore's gone now, doesn't mean he should be forgotten.

Unfortunately, that's how these polls often work.

Just ask the middle linebacker, the one in the Hall of Fame, ol' what's-his-name.

Dave Hyde can be reached at

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