Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, December 14, 2001


Ball played on both
ends of NFL spectrum

By Nick Abramo

Larry Ball experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in an NFL career that spanned nearly a decade.

A linebacker, Ball was a member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. As you may know, they went 17-0.

But, wouldn't you know it? Ball was also a member of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- the 0-14 version.

There's no danger of Miami's vintage season being surpassed this year, because all 31 teams have at least one loss.

The Detroit Lions, however, have a chance to out-do Tampa Bay's infamous inaugural season. The Lions are 0-12 with four regular-season games left.

"I wouldn't mind if a dozen teams go winless," Ball said over the phone from his office in North Miami. "We (the expansion '76 Bucs) were thrown together. None of us had played together before, and we didn't have an abundance of talented players.

"What I remember the most is the frustration. That team was every bit as close as the team I was on in 1972. And not every year can you say that. It was a close-knit group that played hard. We just didn't understand why we couldn't get over the hump."

Ball has been a junior high school guidance counselor since retiring from football in 1979, but he still stays active in NFL affairs as vice president of the NFL Alumni, South Florida chapter.

He visited the Makena Resort on Maui last April for the NFL Alumni's Super Bowl of Golf -- a tournament of champions from the organization's many tournaments held across the nation to raise funds for children's charities.

"I came with my wife, and we would really like to come back to Hawaii and spend some more time there," Ball said.

When the last unbeaten NFL team loses each year, a handful of players from the '72 Dolphins unite, usually in Coral Gables, Fla., where former Dolphins Nick Buoniconti, Dick Anderson and Bob Griese reside.

The reunion was extra special in 1998, when undefeated Denver lost at Miami late in the season.

"We happened to be at the stadium when it happened," Ball said. "We were up in the alumni box and we brought in some champagne glasses, and the news media came in to watch us toast.

"The majority of the players are proud of our achievement and would like it to stand. When you're the only one (to go undefeated), people will forever remember it."

Ball will never forget the celebration after the Super Bowl, the Dolphins' 17th win. It was his rookie year.

"I was just kind of gliding along with it (the winning streak). I hadn't played a losing game yet, and here I am in the Super Bowl," Ball said. "And it was such a relief when we won. We expected to win, but none of it would have been worth anything if we didn't win."

Now, he's afraid of the St. Louis Rams.

"They're good, but as long as they lose one a year. ..."

Larry Ball was part of the winningest winners of all time, and the losingest losers.

And he has a framed "Trivial Pursuit" game card hanging on his wall to remind him of his dichotomous career.

The question reads, "Who is the only player in NFL history to play on an undefeated team and a winless team?"

That answer, of course, is Larry Ball, who knows first-hand that you can't win 'em all.

Or can you?

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