Snakes mixed with Dolphins at team’s first training camp in 1966

(Every July I break out this story originally published in 2011 to coincide with the opening of another Miami Dolphins training.

It tells the story of the team’s first permanent training camp at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, way back in 1966.

  In it are quotes from a couple of former players, Tom Goode and Billy Neighbors, who unfortunately have passed on, and there also is a reference to it being the 50th anniversary for St. Andrew’s, when actually the school is up to 56 now. The rest of it still works just fine, however, with entertaining anecdotes about snakes, and about flying to San Diego for an exhibition game in a World War II-era prop plane, and about the head coach using his son at quarterback.

  I’m hoping on this first day of Dolphins training camp 2017 you will find that it is worth your time. Here goes.)

By Dave George

Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist

In 1966 the expansion Miami Dolphins debuted in Boca Raton with an isolated training camp that South Florida residents barely noticed and that the players of the day would prefer to forget.
Saint Andrew’s School was the Dolphins‘ first permanent training headquarters, inheriting that assignment when a brief and failed experiment with sloppy facilities on Florida’s Gulf Coast forced the team to pull up stakes and move on the fly.
The school, in just its fifth year of existence, was surrounded by undeveloped scrub and marshland, with one lonely road leading in and out.

scanned 8/17/99 - SPT - WAHOO McDaniel - Miami Dolphins

Former Dolphins linebacker Wahoo McDaniel at team’s inaugural training camp in 1966.

That meant Boca Raton’s relatively small population center, situated far to the east, was far more a rumor than a daily reality to Dolphins coach George Wilson and his strange new conglomeration of rookies and scooped-up AFL veterans left unprotected by their former teams.
“There would be some people that would come out there to watch us practice, but you had to really want to come because of where it was located,” said former Dolphins center Tom Goode, 72, who had already played eight seasons with the Houston Oilers when Miami took him in an expansion draft.
“It was kind of hidden back off the road, full of palmetto bushes and snakes. Anywhere you could see water you’d see alligators, and you could always see a dead rattlesnake or something on the road coming into campus. Around the school they killed rattlesnakes, I know, and the mosquitoes, they’d just carry you off.”
The Dolphins had what they needed at Saint Andrew’s, however, in the way of multiple practice fields and dormitory rooms and hot cafeteria food.
What a nice change that was, because the first few weeks of training camp in St. Petersburg Beach were just plain silly.
Sparse accommodations
Miami’s first-ever drills were held there on what amounted to an empty lot with background views of the Gulf of Mexico. No goalposts were in place to begin, plus no equipment to speak of and precious little turf.
A gaggle of businessmen known as the Suncoast Sports Group had talked Dolphins founder Joe Robbie into using that tourist-friendly setting, but the team soon had to move its practices to nearby Boca Ciega High School and finally, on Aug. 7, all the way across the peninsula to Saint Andrew’s.
“They tried to put a practice field down over by the beach,” Goode said from his home in West Point, Miss. “It looked pretty going down, with the grass rolled up like carpet, but as soon as we started playing, the stuff tore all up. Seashells started coming through it and we had a lot of infections from cuts on our knees and hands and arms. The team doctor stayed busy with all of that.”
Frank Emanuel, an All-America linebacker at Tennessee and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was drafted by the Dolphins of the AFL and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL but chose Miami because he wanted to stay in the South. His first impressions of that St. Petersburg Beach training camp must have had Emanuel questioning his decision.
“We stayed in this little hotel called the Dolphin Inn right on the beach,” Emanuel,

George Wilson Undated Post file photo

First Miami Dolphins head coach George Wilson (Palm Beach Post file photo)

68, said from his Principal Financial Group office in Tampa. “Here I am a college guy, new to the pros, and I find out that we had to wear our same practice gear for both workouts during two-a-days. We’d hang it all up in the room, but that didn’t do much.
“They gave us a clean jock, thank goodness, but our pants and jerseys and so forth stayed wet.”
Miami’s first exhibition game was in San Diego, which presented another logistical problem. Five major U.S. airlines were shut down that summer because an estimated 35,000 industry workers were on strike. Robbie hustled up a ride to California for the Dolphins, but it was with Zantop International Airlines, a company that utilized World War II-era prop planes and only four years earlier had acquired a license to carry commercial passengers as well as freight.
“It took us days to get there, it seemed like,” Emanuel said. “We flew to the West Coast slow and low, and we had to stop on the way over and on the way back to gas up.”
After returning from that 38-10 loss to the Chargers, Wilson instructed his players to pile into their personal vehicles and carpool across the state to Boca Raton.
Move brings little fanfare
They arrived on a Monday at Saint Andrew’s, a private-school campus deserted for the summer by its all-male student body, and jumped right into preparing for that Friday night’s home opener against Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs.
For an idea of the negligible impact that the Dolphins‘ arrival had on Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post splashed coverage and photos from the American Legion state baseball tournament across the front page of the sports section that week. The story about the Dolphins‘ opening practice in Boca Raton was on Page 2.
Teresa Vignau, the theater director at Saint Andrew’s, places a much higher value than that on the Dolphins‘ first training camp. She was 14 and living on campus with her family in 1966 because Vignau’s father, a French teacher, was a faculty member.
“We had a piano that my mother wanted to put in my bedroom but we weren’t having much luck because of the angle,” Vignau said. “My father, who stands all of 5-foot-6, runs out and asks these three tired linemen if they could help. They very sweetly came in and moved the piano for us.
“Some of the other guys on the team thought it would be really fun to shoot the ducks in the pond on campus. I didn’t see who did it, but I saw the duck. One of the animal-protection organizations came and relocated the flock after that.”
Wilson, who died in 1978, surely had his hands full that first summer.
He won an NFL title as coach of the Detroit Lions in 1957 but lost his first nine games with the Dolphins, counting four exhibitions and five regular-season games.
One of the major reasons was the lack of a quarterback. Bob Griese didn’t join the Dolphins until the following year.
Father turns to son
In 1966, Wilson had four mediocre passers from which to choose, and he gave much of the early playing time to his son, George Jr., who was never more than a backup at Xavier.
“I have to go by what I see in the games and practice,” said Wilson, who traded a 13th-round draft pick to Buffalo to bring his son to Miami. “Once we get on the field, it’s coach and player, not father and son.”
Wilson Jr. wound up throwing five touchdown passes with 10 interceptions and 11 sacks that year, soon giving way to veterans John Stofa and Dick Wood as the Dolphins scrambled to put together a 3-11 inaugural season.
“It got better, but it wasn’t very organized at first,” said Billy Neighbors, 71, a College Football Hall of Fame guard who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama and then four seasons with the Boston Patriots before coming to Miami in 1966.
“I assume it was a typical first-year operation. People didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”
Wilson lasted four years as Dolphins coach, which just happened to be the only four years that the team trained at Saint Andrew’s. He was fired with a 15-39-2 Miami record and replaced in 1970 by Don Shula, who moved the Dolphins‘ summer camp to what was then known as Biscayne College in North Miami.
By the time Shula arrived, one of the more colorful original Dolphins, pro wrestler Wahoo McDaniel, was gone.
McDaniel reportedly enjoyed handling the snakes he found near the Saint Andrew’s dorms and using them to spook teammates.
“It’s amazing that team survived,” Neighbors said.

[Not expecting major step back for Adam Gase and Dolphins]

[1972 Dolphins put up different stats in an entirely different era]

[Here are the trap games that should worry FSU, UM and Gators]

The art of the deal that darn near worked, featuring Donald Trump and Don Shula

This article originally appeared on PalmBeachPost.com on July 1, 2015.

Donald Trump is in the news again, both as a presidential candidate and as a beauty pageant owner on the outs with the television networks. Seems that he’s always making some kind of bold play, which got me thinking about the time he took a run at stealing Don Shula from the Miami Dolphins.

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to a dozen people across the street as he leaves the City Club of Chicago after speaking to a sold out crowd on Monday, June 29, 2015. The protesters had already left. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to people across the street as he leaves the City Club of Chicago after speaking to a sold out crowd on Monday, June 29, 2015.  (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

It was 1983 and Shula had one year left on his contract. Everybody figured he and Dolphins owner Joe Robbie would work it out, but suddenly the regular season was on, and then it was October, and then, in a shock that nobody saw coming, Trump announced he was deep into negotiations to land Shula as coach of his New Jersey Generals team in the rival United States Football League.

Trump’s comments were videotaped and broadcast by CBS at halftime of a Dolphins game at Baltimore. I looked back on my story from that day, which included details on The Donald’s assertion that Shula wanted to work for him and that the deal was being delayed only because the coach wanted an apartment in Trump Plaza on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

That didn’t really sound like Shula at the time, but as it turns out he and Trump really had been talking. What broke up their potential partnership was having it publicly revealed in the middle of the Dolphins’ season. Miami beat the Colts 21-7 that day but the postgame mood went instantly south when one of the first questions that reporters asked Shula was about Trump and the USFL.

“It really has developed into a huge distraction,” Shula said the following afternoon as he declared he was “no longer interested” in switching leagues and going to work for Trump, who was 37 at the time and the new owner of the Generals.

The next move was for Trump to paint the end of negotiations as a decision he had reached himself.

[Yet another reason why GM shouldn’t play Marlins’ manager role]

[Not fair, not smart comparing Justise Winslow to Dwyane Wade]

[Tom Brady using all his allotted timeouts to fight Deflategate suspension]

Don Shula works out with a player during training camp in 1970. Miami News photo by Jay Spencer.
Don Shula works out with a player during training camp in 1970. Miami News photo by Jay Spencer.

“Don is a good man,” Trump said. “An excellent guy, really. He just called me to say he was no longer interested, but I could not have done the deal. I could not have given him an apartment in Trump Tower.

“Money is one thing. Gold is another. I wasn’t very enthusiastic over the past few days. There was no way I could part with the apartment. I guess he was a little upset that the apartment thing came out. You know he was interested.”

Trump’s contract offer was believed to be around $1 million per year for five seasons. Shula neither confirmed nor denied the offer of the apartment, which over time would have been worth much more.

Would Shula really have made the jump? Well, he left the Colts of the NFL in 1970 for the Dolphins of the new American Football League, so it’s not completely out of the question. Also, he didn’t deny listening to Trump’s pitch.

“I had the opportunity to review a tape in which Donald Trump said that I was all set and ready to go and the only thing he had to do was to meet certain economic conditions,” Shula said in officially withdrawing his name from consideration. “I’ve never felt that I in any way have ever committed myself to that extent.

“When I was approached, I showed interest in the offer and in what they had to say. The only way I could make an intelligent decision was to get all the facts, which is all that I ever attempted to do without any commitment at all.”

Shula was 53 when all this happened. He had won two Super Bowls in Miami and would be back in the championship game soon with Dan Marino. Still, this may have been a closer call than anyone knew if only Trump hadn’t overplayed his hand.

We’ve saved the best quote for last, Robbie’s belligerent bugle call.

“This confirms my impression that Donald Trump has been engaged more in ballyhoo for his grand entrance to the U.S. Football League than in a serious effort to build his franchise competitively by sound, professional management.

“Headlines in the sports pages and network television can be mighty heady to Fifth Avenue tycoons.”

It takes a guy like Trump to coax a word like “ballyhoo” out of an opponent. He’s been pushing everybody’s buttons like that for a long, long time.

50 years later, Miami’s franchise history sacks NFL expansion rival Atlanta

Fifty years ago this summer American Football League owners granted Miami an expansion franchise, but only because they couldn’t keep their first choice.

The more-established NFL swooped in and took Atlanta, which left the AFL looking around for a replacement, which wound up being Joe Robbie. In no time flat Robbie pulled together actor Danny Thomas and some other investors, rustled up a contract with the city-owned Orange Bowl and, just like that, on Aug. 16, 1965, Miami was granted an AFL franchise, pushing that league from eight teams to nine.

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 08: Damien Williams #5 of the Miami Dolphins is tackled by Kimario McFadden #40 of the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter of a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 8, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons won 16-10. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Damien Williams of the Miami Dolphins is tackled by Kimario McFadden of the Atlanta Falcons in the a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 8, 2014. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

It could have gone a lot of different ways, of course. Without the growing war between between the NFL and the AFL, it might have taken much longer to bring pro football to Florida. Next came the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, which gave the Dolphins more credibility than they really had earned, and then came Don Shula and, well, you know the rest.

Let’s just throw all of these unmatched apples and oranges into a barrel that’s half-a-century deep now and see which city came out better from the expansion frenzy of 1965.

Atlanta thought it had won the day and the NFL thought it had scored the plum market of the moment, but not according to this chart.

 

Atlanta                             Miami

Super Bowl titles                                    0                                       2

Super Bowl appearances                       1                                       5

Division championships                        5                                     13

Playoff appearances                               12                                   22

Winning seasons                                     14                                   28

Hall of Famers                                          2                                      9

Longest postseason drought              12 yrs.                               6 yrs.

All-time passing yds. leader            Matt Ryan                        Dan Marino

All-time rushing yds. leader           Gerald Riggs                     Larry Csonka

All-time receiving yds. leader         Roddy White                  Mark Duper

Times city hosted Super Bowl               2                                     10

 

All right, so maybe it doesn’t make perfect sense accrediting the successes or failures of any given NFL cities to the markets alone. It’s up to decades of different owners and coaches and draft picks and injuries and on and on.

Let’s just say that Miami is 8-4 in head-to-head play against the Falcons, and that Miami has won 443 games to just 329 for Atlanta, and that the Falcons don’t have to claw their way around New England in the AFC East every year. They’ve got New Orleans and Tampa Bay and Carolina instead.

Make what you want of that information concerning the expansion rivals of 1965. I’m sure you’ll be fair.

My view is that the NFL saw something that wasn’t there in Atlanta, and missed something in Miami that was.