They are our national treasure. Nothing less. This was highlighted again last Sunday night when NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth projected the Philadelphia Eagles to win their opening game this season:

“It’s not like it’s time to talk about the ’72 Dolphins,” he said.

His impact was greatest across the U.S. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only undefeated team in NFL history. It was that they are a part of the national sports vocabulary, as well The 50th anniversary is being celebrated on Sunday. Night at Hard Rock Stadium.

The mere mention of the ’72 team conjures up the notion of perfection, of a team sitting on a determined mountain that shouldn’t be upset by a challenger with six wins to start the season, such as the Eagles.

And they are ours.

Even after all these years, they are all ours.

If single-name players are uncommon in sports—Babe, Ali, Michael, Serena—single teams that define something by mere mention are even less frequent. 1927 is the greatness of the New York Yankees and baseball. The Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics and modern fame. The 1919 Black Sox define corruption. The Miracle on Ice team in Lake Placid in 1980 is the patron saint of underdogs.

The 1972 Dolphins define perfection..

“It wasn’t the stars, it wasn’t the coaches, it wasn’t the trainers — it was all of us, all of us, one team,” Hall of Fame fullback Larry Cinca said.

Half a century after their season, living in an era of instant classics and yesterday’s technology, dismissing grainy videos of that 1972 season, or worse, relegating reunions like Sunday’s to a tired old year Rituals are so easy to understand now.

We should take care of this time. We should probably like this team for the last time.

“This is probably our last time together as a group,” Hall of Fame guard Larry Little said.

Seventeen players and seven coaches, including Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, have died. It will lead to some quiet moments of watching the empty chairs at their meetings this weekend, even as they remember their success.

They have a football story, but it’s not just football. It’s a story of failure, as their motivation is to redeem themselves from last year’s Super Bowl loss. It’s a story of persistence, as each offensive lineman — two of whom reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame — was let go by another team before landing with the Dolphins.

The team was assembled in a changing America, when Shula first replaced blacks with whites when he arrived at the Dolphins in 1970. This meant that a black child growing up in rural Florida like Multimore, who had never been around many white people, became Lifelong friends with a white kid from rural Iowa like Vern Dean Herder, who had never been around many black people.

He played when sports were played on a human scale. The players didn’t make more money than the fans who watched them. The $23,000 in playoff bonuses was more than double the salaries of nearly half the team this season. That included the coaches, as offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger used that extra money to get himself out of debt for the first time in his life.

Most of all, of course, the boys of ’72 are a story of winning in a unique way that they are still winning today. For years, they had to celebrate their success too hard, as the Dolphins first beat the Chicago Bears 12-0 in 1985, or when the last undefeated team lost in a season as neighbor Nick Buoniconti. However, the view from the sidelines continued to be criticized. And started by Dick Anderson in 1991.

It was just champagne on ice, not their lives. Look at his achievements after football. Buoniconti became the CEO of two Fortune 500 companies after his son Mark was paralyzed while playing football. Anderson went on to become a state senator and community leader, starting a series of successful companies, some of which he still runs.

Doug Swift took his medical school exam the day before a Dolphins game in New England and retired early to become a doctor. Bob Graves became a leading college football analyst, when he wasn’t running an insurance company. Howard Twilley owned 29 Athlete’s Foot stores in his native Oklahoma. Sanka hosted The Outdoors Show on ESPN for two decades.

Go down that list, and keep going, and you’ll find success stories straight up for Shula, who became the winningest coach in NFL history.

“He was so obsessed, we thought he was on drugs,” Sanka said.

Football and nostalgia don’t often go hand in hand, because you look back so much. Scattered corpses. Bad mind. This is also part of the story of this team. Reserve quarterback Jim Del Guizo left the locker room before every game because he was upset about the many shots that caused players pain.

Bill Stanfill took so much cortisone to replace his hips in the 50s, and the impingement in his neck meant he couldn’t do menial work. Like tipping back to drink the last half of a soda. He was one of seven players on the 1972 team diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma that can only be diagnosed after death. Is.

So here’s the pain, the pain of a lifetime, though over time it became a hallmark of this team’s special quality. Shula, in a wheelchair, still met regularly in her later years at Gulfstream Park for lunch, $5 bets and updates on children and grandchildren. Mercury Morris would drive an hour every few weeks to the assisted living facility in Broward where Jim Keck spent his final years, just to be a good friend to him.

Each funeral for the 1972 Dolphins, beginning with the first one for tackle Wayne Moore in 1989, was well-received. Tim Foley, a former defensive back, praised Moore at South Miami. A quarter-century after defensive coordinator Bill Arns-Sparger’s funeral, players retired to a bar in rural Kentucky to tell stories about him. Some were his strategic genius. There were some that her clothes often didn’t match.

During that 1972 season, New York Jets running back John Riggins said the Miami team “played more like a college team than any pro team I’ve ever seen. I’ve played with so much togetherness, so much desire. Never seen a pro team.

Fifty years later, that unity remains, even as their bodies ache and many of their friends are missing. New York doesn’t have to welcome the ’27 Yankees. On Sunday, perhaps for the last time, we got to celebrate our national treasure, the ’72 Dolphins.