WASHINGTON (CNN) — Four decades after they became the only NFL team so far to cap a perfect season with a Super Bowl win, the 1972 Miami Dolphins headed to the White House for a public honor from President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
“I know this is a little bit unorthodox four decades after the fact, but these guys never got their White House visit after winning Super Bowl VII,” Obama said in the East Room. “Some of them are a little harder to recognize these days. They don’t have the afros, the mutton chops, the fu manchus.”
Despite the ribbing, Obama said the team had inspired a generation of American fans, including himself.
“I did have to explain to my staff, who mostly are in their early 30s, what an incredible impact these guys had, including on me, when they were playing,” he said. “These Dolphins made history back before Super Bowl champs started visiting the White House.”
The event was the culmination of a 15-year effort from former Dolphins tight end Marv Fleming, who spent a decade and a half writing letters and talking to public officials trying to get some presidential attention for his old team.
“Every year, I’d see another team, somebody else going to the White House and not us,” Fleming said. “Why not us?”
Don Shula, the coach of the 1972 team who spoke at Tuesday’s event, also shared his former player’s excitement.
“We feel honored,” said Shula, who rose from his motorized wheelchair at the end of the event to pose for a photo with the former players and the president. “It’s been 40 years, but, what the hell, we still feel honored.”
During his remarks, Obama acknowledged that meeting teams that have won college and professional championships was one of the perks of being president – including an event in 2011 honoring the 1985 Chicago Bears, which he called at the time “the greatest team in NFL history.”
“Take it with a grain of salt,” Obama joked about his past remarks on Tuesday. “The Bears lost once in their nearly perfect season and it happened to be to the Dolphins.”
Nearly thirty members of the 1972 Dolphins were present at the White House ceremony, though a few former players told author and columnist Dave Hyde they weren’t attending for political reasons.
In a recent column for Florida’s Sun Sentinel, Hyde, who’s also written two books about the undefeated Dolphins, quotes three members of the team — center Jim Langer, Manny Fernandez, and left guard Bob Kuechenberg — saying they planned to skip the event.