Bob Kuechenberg, an All-Pro guard on the Dolphins’ Super Bowl offensive lines of the 1970s, died Saturday night at the age of 71 the team announced Sunday.
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Kuechenberg came out of Northern Indiana — born in the Chicagoland city of Gary, played at Hobart High School, then at Notre Dame. He signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in 1970, the year Don Shula took the head coaching job, after being a Philadelphia third round pick in 1969 and quitting to play semi-pro football for a season. He quickly became a key piece of one of the great offensive lines in NFL history, as the Dolphins powerful running game led the team to three consecutive Super Bowls and two Super Bowl wins in Shula’s first four seasons.
In a 14-season career, Kuechenberg started in the franchises first four Super Bowls, made the Pro Bowl six times and was first or second team All-Pro three times. The 1970s Dolphins offensive line was the first to the first to block for two 1,000-yard rushers in a single season (Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka on the 17-0 1972 Dolphins Super Bowl champions). The following season, the line so completely dominated in the 1973 playoffs, the Dolphins threw only 13 passes combined while winning the AFC Championship and Super Bowl, each by 17 points.
Kuechenberg’s death came one day short of the 45th anniversary of what’s arguably the greatest performance by an offensive line in a Super Bowl. Exactly 45 years before Sunday, the Dolphins mauled the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII with an overwhelming rushing performance that required quarterback Bob Griese to throw only seven passes all day. Fullback Larry Csonka ran for 145 yards. The Dolphins took a 14-0 lead after two possessions and rumbled home.
In a nod to the Dolphins’ offensive line’s performance, NFL Films official highlight film of the game actually focused on the line’s blocking schemes.
From that line, Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors picked guard Larry Little and center Jim Langer for induction while repeatedly rejecting Kuechenberg. That became a source of humor for some journalists, grumpiness from Kuechenberg and disgust from some former teammates and opponents.
When longtime pro football writer Paul Zimmerman talked to several coaches and players for a 1981 Sports Illustrated story on still-active New England Patriots’ guard John Hannah possibly being the best offensive lineman ever, he reached out to Shula:
“Don Shula, who coached (1950s Colts Hall of Famer Jim) Parker for five years and has coached against Hannah for eight, gives Parker a slight edge, but then he whispers, “Don’t forget about our own guy, Bob Kuechenberg.””