Sunday, October 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Bob Kuechenberg

Happy 60th birthday to former Dolphins offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg. From 1970 to 1983, the man known affectionately as "Kooch" was a fixture on the Dolphins greatest teams. He is arguably the greatest Miami Dolphin not currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Born Robert John Kuechenberg in Gary, Indiana, Kuechenberg grew up in nearby Hobart,Indiana--just east of Chicago. He starred at Hobart High School and later became a standout college player at Notre Dame. During his college career, Kuechenberg saw action on both the defensive and offensive lines and played for legendary coach Ara Parseghian. He played on Notre Dame's 1966 national championship team as a sophomore. His teammates at Notre Dame included college football stars Alan Page, Terry Hanratty, Nick Eddy and Rocky Bleier. By his senior year, Kuechenberg had settled as a defensive lineman with dreams of playing in the NFL.

Drafted in the 4th round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969 as a defensive lineman, Kuechenberg's NFL career almost ended before it began. He was promptly cut in Eagles training camp and spent the rest of the year playing semi-pro football for the Chicago Owls of the Continental Football League.

In 1970 Kuechenberg's life would change forever. Don Shula had arrived in Miami as the Dolphins new head coach and brought with him a coaching staff that included brilliant offensive line coach Monte Clark. Kuechenberg was invited to Dolphins training camp as a longshot free agent. But it was Clark who saw talent in the former Notre Dame star and molded his project into one of pro football's best guards of the 1970s. By 1971, Kuechenberg along with Jim Langer, Larry Little, Norm Evans and Wayne Moore made up the NFL's most dominant offensive line. All five players had been rejects from other teams. All five would become Pro Bowl players at sometime during their careers. Langer and Little are currently in the hall of fame. That year, the Dolphins would win the AFC title earning a trip to Super Bowl VI. The Dolphins would lose to the Cowboys, but better days were ahead.

By 1972, Kuechenberg and his fellow linemates helped open huge holes and running lanes for running backs Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick. The Dolphins would set an NFL record for rushing yardage that season and would finish the season with a perfect 17-0 record--the only undefeated team in NFL history.

Kuechenberg's finest perfomance came in Super Bowl VIII against the Minnesota Vikings. NFL Films had asked Don Shula to narrate the game's highlight video. In the video Shula went out of his way to praise and spotlight Kuechenberg, whose responsibility was to block Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page, who was Kuechenberg's teammate at Notre Dame. Kuechenberg was a master technician who dominated Page the entire game and helped fullback Larry Csonka rumble for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Dolphins victory. What's even more remarkable is Kuechenberg played with a cast after having suffered a broken arm during the season.

During the course of his 14 year career with the Dolphins, Kuechenberg was six-time Pro Bowl selection and was twice first-team All Pro in 1975 and 1978. The Dolphins made four trips to the Super Bowl and Kuechenberg started in every one of them. He played in a remarkable 196 games and was considered the leader of a line that was loaded with great players. Later in his career, he served as a mentor for another hall of famer Dwight Stephenson.

Kuechenberg has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame each of the last five years. Unfortunately, he's never received enough votes to earn this long deserved honor. A vocal leader during his playing days, Kuechenberg has continued to be outspoken since his retirement. He's not afraid to speak his opinion or criticize some of the Dolphins best players. Even players like Dan Marino and Jason Taylor haven't escaped Kuechenberg's criticism. Taylor once responded, "I think Kooch needs a hug and a hobby." But to understand Kuechenberg, you must realize this is a man who knows perfection and expects it from his beloved Dolphins.

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