MEXICO CITY — Legendary sports feats tend to echo over time, in the process resonating with those who were not around to celebrate in real time. It’s why younger fans of the Miami Dolphins raise a figurative glass each season when the last NFL team without a loss eventually falls, free to celebrate an oft-cited tradition of the 1972 squad — the only team to ever finish a season undefeated.
Fifty years after those Dolphins entered the record books, they continue to inspire lore (E60’s “The Perfect Machine” on the ’72 Dolphins debuts at noon ET Sunday on ABC and will be available on ESPN+ afterward). The uniqueness of their accomplishment crosses the expected borders of fandom. Even in Mexico, the knowledge of rooting for the only NFL team to have a perfect season is enough to prompt instant gratification.
“As a fan of the team, it fills you with a sense of pride,” said Jorge Macias, a 34-year-old embryologist from Mexico City. “So if the 1972 team celebrates with champagne, as the legend says, us fans can toast to it as well.”
Adolfo Martinez, 40, is another one of those fans too young too remember the glory days of the ’70s who pours himself a glass once the Dolphins’ place in the record books is secured.
“I don’t always have champagne readily available, but I make do with a beer or a shot of tequila,” said Martinez, who works as an electrical engineer in the Mexican capital.
The NFL boasts over 48 million fans in Mexico, according to Arturo Olive, the league’s top executive in the country. Though the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers consistently rate as the most popular teams among Mexican fans, the Dolphins nevertheless claim a strong following. A 2020 poll conducted by the Mexican business newspaper El Economista saw the South Florida squad ranked fifth in popularity, while former quarterback Dan Marino was rated as the third-most popular player despite retiring in 1999.
Since 1978, the NFL has staged 12 games in Mexico, including five regular-season matchups. The Dolphins’ only appearance was a 1997 preseason contest against the Denver Broncos in Mexico City at the fabled Estadio Azteca, which pitted two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Marino and John Elway. At the time, the announced crowd of 104,209 fans was the third largest in NFL history, with the Dolphins enjoying near-unanimous support from the crowd.
“It was a great experience because of the support they showed us,” Marino said after the game. “Being able to play in front of as many people as we did was outstanding. They’re great fans and they had a real good time, I could tell.”
Martinez began cheering for the Dolphins as a 7-year-old, initially transfixed by players such as Marino and the so-called “Marks Brothers,” star wide receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. He admits, however, that the reason he fell into fandom for Miami, a city almost 1,300 miles away from home, couldn’t have been possible without an assist from an unlikely figure — Mickey Mouse.
“I have family members who live in Florida, so I knew Miami was near Orlando — and that’s where Disney World is,” Martinez said.
Both Martinez and Macias are card-carrying members of Dolphins Nation Mexico, an official fan club with chapters all over the country. From August and all the way through Miami’s season, the group organizes watch parties that can gather as many as a hundred fans.
Founded in 2015, Dolphins Nation Mexico has grown to over 4,000 followers on social media, though Macias says a sizeable part of their membership remains offline. Through the Dolphins front office, a portion of them have made the trip up to Hard Rock Stadium as part of the team’s Fan Club Weekend, the most recent of which occurred during the Week 6 clash against the Minnesota Vikings.
“We have a great relationship with the team,” Macias said. “They send us gifts to raffle off within the group, help us with charitable causes, and invite us to events in Miami. We’re the international fan club who sends the most people to Fan Club Weekend.”
Throughout their history, the Dolphins have featured a number of Latino and Mexican American players, including Kiko Alonso, Greg Camarillo, Matt Moore and Fuad Reveiz, among others. However, perhaps the most lauded among the group is Manny Fernandez, who anchored the defensive line during the perfect 1972 season.
Fernandez was a leader within Miami’s vaunted No-Name Defense, which produced four Pro Bowlers and allowed just 12.2 points per game, best in the NFL. In the Super Bowl, Fernandez recorded 17 tackles and a sack of Washington’s Billy Kilmer, helping the Miami defense to a shutout. The only touchdown for the NFC champions came on defense with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter, when Mike Bass returned a fumble 49 yards to the end zone, to make the score 14-7.
“To have a player like [Fernandez] be a part of such an achievement is special,” Martinez said. “The league was over 50 years old when the perfect season happened, now it’s over 100 years old and it hasn’t happened again.”
And though the vast majority of Dolphins Nation Mexico has yet to see their team win the Lombardi Trophy in their lifetime, the ability to link up and spread camaraderie provided by the social media era allows this particular group of fans to enjoy their fandom on a large scale. During this year’s AFC Wild Card game between the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, over 150 Dolphins Nation Mexico members packed a local restaurant to watch Skylar Thompson give the reigning AFC East champs a run for their money.
Next season, as the Dolphins look to build on a moderately successful season and perhaps gear up for a deeper playoff run, a litany of news stories and off-the-cuff remarks about the 1972 team will invariably show up when the last undefeated team in the NFL bites the dust. Far removed from Miami Gardens and the homes of the surviving players from that team, the men and women who make up Dolphins Nation Mexico will raise a toast, too.
“Maybe next year I’ll celebrate by going to Disney World,” said Martinez. “Full circle.”