A Season in Time: NFL 1972
The 1972 season produced the only undefeated team in NFL history.
Reference: Still Perfect! The Untold Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, Dave Hyde (2002)


Preseason
Tim Foley kept a picture on his locker throughout the offseason following Super Bowl VI.
  • The picture showed the Tulane Stadium scoreboard showing the final score: Dallas 24, Miami 3. The Dolphins DB felt the picture got him ready for the 1972 season.
  • DT Manny Fernandez recalled how he broke down walking from the team bus through the hotel parking lot after the game. He cried for 10 minutes because he had failed his family, his teammates, and himself.
  • MLB Nick Buoniconti put a newspaper clipping on the locker room bulletin board. The article contained a quote from Dallas CB Cornell Green: The difference between the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys was that Miami was just happy to be in the game and Dallas came to win the game.
  • Those are just a few symbols of the Dolphins' attitude as they prepared for the new season.

Miami returned essentially the same team from the '71 campaign.

  • The only new O starters would be Wayne Moore at LT and Jim Langer at C.
  • LE Vern Den Herder was the lone newcomer on the starting D eleven and only because Bob Heinz, moved from T to E, had fractured a vertebra in his back in an exhibition game and was lost for two months and, two days later, the starting DE, Jim Riley, went out for the season with torn knee ligaments.

Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated didn't think the Dolphins would win their own division.

It is unreasonable to expect that the Miami Dolphins again will enjoy the kind of success that, apart from mid-January, they experienced last season. Oh, Don Shula's club should make the playoffs for a third consecutive year, but for the team to prevail as before - without suffering one injury serious enough to revise a three-deep list - begs much of logic and more of fate.

Such was the uncommon good health of the AFC champions in 1971 that one can only suppose they have been living on borrowed Blue Cross. The Dolphins themselves, faced with what could be the most competitive race in the NFL, have that eerie feeling. "If we stay injury-free," says Nick Buoniconti, the seasoned middle linebacker, "there's no reason we shouldn't repeat."

The Dolphins have defied all that seems logical ever since Shula arrived on the scene in 1970, developed a remarkable ball-control offense and unreasonably proceeded to turn a 10-game loser into a 10-game winner. Logic says that teams that possess the football as long as Bob Griese and his tenacious playmates do will afford a study in inexorable boredom except when they are fumling the ball away or throwing it into enemy hands. Yet few teams in memory have generated more thrills from their art than the Dolphins, whose limit of regular-season turnovers last year stood at 23, lowest in the division.

The heart of the offense is the NFL's best rushing attack, led by Larry Csonka and his all-purpose buddy, Jim Kiick, who combined for 1,789 yards, 10 touchdowns and a single fumble in 357 carries. Breakaway Back Mercury Morris, who led the AFC in kickoff returns, did not get into the act often enough to suit his pride and has hectored Shula for more work.

But the man who makes Miami move is Griese, a quarterback who brings more cool detachment to the game than his 27 years normally acquire. Sure-handed, intelligent and a scrambler when the need arises, Griese was the NFL's second-rakiong passer in '71 with 2,089 yard, 19 touchdowns and but nine interceptions. Now he plans to improve.

What should Griese is a third season of familiarity with Paul Warfield, who led the league with 11 touchdown receptions, and an introductory one with Marlin Briscoe, who played out his option at Buffalo. Griese's other options are Marv Fleming, Howard Twilley and Jim Mandich.

Until the Super Bowl, when Dallas ran over the Dolphins with alarming impunity, Miami's defense appeared sound in holding regular-season rivals to 174 points. After that, however, no one was more alarmed than Shula, who promptly acquired Jim Dunaway (6' 4", 277) in a trade with the accomodating Bills and made Notre Dame's Notre Dame (6'5", 265) his first draft choice, hoping to combat the rush with more size. Dunaway has already won a starting job in the front four, where Manny Fernandez and Bill Stanfill are accomplished pass rushers. Against the pass, the Dolphins again will utilize a swarming zone blessed by the moxie of Jake Scott and Dick Anderson at safeties, with Tim Foley and Curtis Johnson starting their third year at the corners.

Maule's preview gave an excellent summary of the Dolphins' strengths. He was right in predicting that they could not go another season without major injury. In fact, they would suffer an injury at the position that would hurt the most.

Continued below ...
Dolphins DB Tim Foley

Dolphins DT Manny Fernandez
Manny Fernandez

Dolphins LB Nick Buoniconti
Nick Buoniconti

Dolphins QB Bob Griese
Bob Griese

Dolphins FB Larry Csonka
Larry Csonka

Games 1 and 2
Longest Game Ever
Garo Yepremian ends longest game ever

Chiefs LB Willie Lanier
Willie Lanier

KC K Jan Stenerud 1971
Jan Stenerud on sidelines after missing FG that would have won the Christmas Classic

Kansas City Chiefs RB Ed Podolak
Ed Podolak

Dolphins G Larry Little
Larry Little

Marlin Briscoe & Mercury Morris, Dolphins
Marlin Briscoe (86) and Mercury Morris

Game One: Miami 20 Kansas City 10

The NFL schedule-makers showed a flare for drama to open the 1972 regular season.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs played their first game in their new Arrowhead Stadium.
  • The opponent was the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs' foe in the last game played in Municipal Stadium.
  • And what a game that was, the Christmas Day classic in which the Dolphins prevailed in the second OT period.
  • The game lasted 82:40, still the longest game in pro football history.

The Chiefs tried to convince everyone that revenge wasn't their primary motivation.

  • LB Willie Lanier:

I have nothing to prove against the Dolphins except that we are a better team and I am better than anyone they send against me. This is sport. There is no place for revenge for getting even.

  • Privately, the Chiefs openly said that, except for the Dolphins, they would have been in Super Bowl VI and could have accomplished what Miami failed to do - beat Dallas.

The player who most wanted to redeem himself was K Jan Stenerud who endured the worst day of his 19-year Hall of Fame career. (He's still the only pure placekicker elected to Canton.)

  • After the Dolphins scored a TD with just 1:25 remaining in regulation to tie the game at 24, Ed Podolak returned the kickoff 78y to the Miami 22. That play was part of Ed's 350 all-purpose yards for the day.
  • After the Chiefs matriculated the ball to the 15 with 35 seconds remaining, Hank Stram sent in Stenerud for a chip-shot. But the soft-spoken Norwegian, one of the NFL's first soccer-style kickers, missed the 31-yarder wide right.
  • Don Banks in Sports Illustrated when NFL Films made an hour-long documentary about the longest game on its 50th anniversary.

Forty years later, Stenerud still looks distraught as you watch him describe his miss of that kick in the NFL Films special. You can see the torment in his eyes and hear it in his voice. Four decades have not dulled the pain noticeably. And there's a fascinating clip in the show from Dawson, talking about a despondent Stenerud calling him at home the night of the game, apologetic for his failure.

The Associated Press article on the 1972 game started like this.

All the motivation was there - revenge, pride, a new season - for Kansas City but when it was all over it was the Chiefs flat on their faces again and the Miami Dolphins celebrating Christmas in September.

The Dolphins reveled in the unseasonably hot weather in KC.

  • The temperature on the new artificial turf at kickoff was 120°. Most Dolphins agreed it was the hottest game of their careers, hotter than any contest in the Orange Bowl.
  • Since Miami practiced in steamy weather, G Bob Kuechenberg thought in the locker room before the game: "It'll almost kill us. But it will kill them."
  • KC's mammoth DT Buck Buchanan staggered to the sidelines in the second half, barely making it. When the teams changed sides after Q3, Dolphins G Larry Little sprinted 60y to the other end as if to say, "We're still fresh, Chiefs!"

By that point, the visitors led 20-3.

  • Podolak, the Christmas Day hero, fumbled on KC's third snap, S Dick Anderson recovering at the Dolphin 43. Seven plays later, QB Bob Griese threw a 14y TD pass to Marlin Briscoe.
  • The game jockeyed back and forth until, right before the halftime break, Miami gave the reeling Chiefs the old one-two. First, Yepremian smacked a 47y FG with 0:59 left. S Jake Scott intercepted Len Dawson's pass and returned it to the KC 40. Griese fired a 30y strike to WR Paul Warfield and Mercury Morris swept to the 1. From there, FB Larry Csonka plunged over to make it 17-0 just like that.
  • Garo, the former tie salesman from Armenia, hit a 15-yarder in Q3 before Stenerud's 40y FG broke the Chiefs' scoring drought that extended back to Q4 of the Christmas game in '71.
  • Kansas City made the final score more respectable with a Dawson-Willie Frazier TD pass with 0:09 left to cap an 80y drive.

Game Two: Miami 34 Houston 13

Heat was not a problem on the rainsoaked artificial turf in the Orange Bowl.

  • Miami dominated the sloppy contest (eight fumbles) before 77,821 drenched fans.
  • Staying largely on the ground, the Dolphins ran for four TDs and piled up a 27-0 lead before Bill Peterson's Oilers rallied for two TDs in Q3.
  • RB Jim Kiick scored twice, on a 1y score to break the ice and a 6y pass from Griese in Q4.
  • Morris scored on a 2y run while Csonka ran in from the 4 and Griese skirted LE for the final tally.
  • Miami piled up an incredible 30-7 advantage in first downs.
Continued below ...
"Remembering the Christmas gift that was The Longest Game Ever,"
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated, 12/22/2011
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Games 3 & 4

Game Three: Miami 16 Minnesota 14

The 2-0 Dolphins found themselves trailing 14-9 after Garo Yepremian's third FG with 4:15 to go in the game.

  • The Vikings excited the crowd of 47,900 at Metropolitan Stadium by taking a 7-0 lead in Q1 on Fran Tarkenton's 56y TD pass to John Gilliam, the former Saint who fielded the bomb on the Miami 25 and easily outran Jake Scott and Tim Foley to pay dirt.
  • Miami's O struggled in the first half, failing to dent the scoreboard. The Viking D matched the physicality of the Dolphins. Typical of the hitting was a play in the first half when FB Larry Csonka went up for a pass only to be bent in half by LB Roy Winston (from LSU). The tackle caught the attention of Johnny Carson, who replayed it on The Tonight Show. Teammates feared Larry was badly hurt as he crawled off the field near the Miami sideline. "Get up!" Shula demanded. "They're going to think you're hurt!" "I am," Csonka gasped. The exchange epitomized what G Bob Kuechenberg said about Shula: "He had a high tolerance for other people's pain." Csonka would return.
  • The Dolphin D played well other than the bomb, sacking Tarkenton five times on the day with 3 INTs. That held Minnesota at 7 points until Bob Griese's crew fought back with two FGs in Q3 to cut the deficit to 7-6.
  • But the 1-1 Vikings responded with an 80y drive, 72 on the ground, capped by Bill Brown's 1y dive with 14:27 left.
  • After Garo's 51y FG ate into the deficit, the Dolphins held the Vikes and took over for a now-or-never drive. A roughing the passer penalty and a 12y run by HB Mercury Morris propelled the Dolphins into enemy territory.
  • As happened so often that season, Miami got a contribution from an unexpected quarter. WR Howard Twilley came off the bench for his only two plays of the afternoon, catching a pass on each, the second putting the ball on the 3 with less than two minutes on the clock.
 Fran Tarkenton vs Dolphins 1972
Fran Tarkenton passes against Dolphins in 1972
That's when Griese outfoxed the Vikings.
  • Bob figured that they expected him to give the ball to Csonka. So he called for a pass. Not just any pass but one from a formation usually employed for a FB run and off a fake to Csonka.
  • Bob knew the defenders had seen the play in films of earlier games and expected it sometime during the game. Just not here.
  • So the Vikes moved in close as the ball was snapped, and Csonka hit the hole the same. It's just that he didn't have the ball. Griese kept it and tossed it to TE Jim Mandich who started to block then slipped into the EZ wide open. It was one of the easiest TDs of the season.

After just three weeks, Miami remained the only undefeated team in the entire NFL.

Game Four: Miami 27 New York Jets 17

The Dolphins played their second straight road game, this one at Shea Stadium against Joe Namath and the AFC East rival Jets.

  • Griese didn't need the drama of the previous week as he methodically picked apart New York's worst-in-the-AFC pass D for 220y on 15-of-27 completions.
  • Namath, Bob's much more glamorous counterpart who was still basking in the glow of engineering the monumental upset of Shula's Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, failed to throw a TD pass. Harassed by Miami's rushers and hampered by dropped passes, Broadway Joe connected on just 12-of-25 for 152y. Shula employed five DBs, saying later, It's the most successful way to stop Joe Namath.
  • Twilley hauled in a 16y pass for Miami's first TD, then he and WR Paul Warfield snagged the aerials that set up Jim Kiick's TD runs of 6 and 3y.
  • After falling behind 7-0 in Q1 for the second straight week, Miami took the lead for good with two TDs in Q2.

Afterwards, Griese explained: It wasn't as easy as it looked. I just start passing to loosen them up because I like to mix up the pays with running. It isn't like last year. We have depth in our pass receivers.

Continued below ...
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Vikings WR John Gilliam
John Gilliam

Dolphins WR Howard Twilley

Dolphins QB Bob Griese
Bob Griese

Dolphins TE Jim Mandich

Jets QB Joe Namath
Joe Namath
Games 5 & 6

QB Bob Griese Injured
Griese Injured

Larry Little
Larry Little recovers Griese's fumble

Dolphins Stuff O. J. Simpson
Dolphins stuff O. J. Simpson

Game Five: Miami 24 San Diego Chargers 10

G Norm Evans was crying as his wife drove him home from the Orange Bowl.

  • QB Bob Griese had been injured with what turned out to be a dislocated right ankle and fractured right fibula.
  • Evans bawled because he just heard the diagnosis on the radio. It's my fault. I got beat. My man broke Bob's ankle. I've cost us the season.
  • Griese was expected to be in a cast for six weeks and would probably miss the rest of the season.

Fortunately, Supersub is alive and living in Miami as the UPI article put it.

  • Earl Morrall took over in Q1 with the score 3-3 when Bob was submarined by Ron East while Deacon Jones hit him high. The 38-year-old veteran threw a pair of TD passes, one of 18y to Howard Twilley and another for 19 to Paul Warfield. For his efforts, Earl earned the NFL Offensive Player of the Week award.
  • The Dolphins' D kept San Diego off the scoreboard until Q4 when the score was 24-3. In fact, the first Miami TD came on S Dick Anderson's 35y run with a fumble.

Don Shula talked to his team at halftime about their QB's injury.

  • He told them that we'd like to take the game ball to him in the hospital. When asked after the game about his reaction when he saw Griese go down, Don said, I wanted to throw up.
  • The mark of a good football team is what it can do under adverse conditions. And you can't get more adverse than having a QB out there lying on the field. We by no means are throwing the towel in. The reason we kept Earl was the insurance.
  • Morrall had come off the bench repeatedly for Shula when Don coached the Baltimore Colts.
  • Some players, like Evans, thought the Dolphins' dreams were shattered. Others, like the other G Bob Kuechenberg, felt the team would be fine. Either way, the injury would be the defining moment of the season.
Game Six: Miami 24 Buffalo Bills 23

It's not often you commit four turnovers and incur eleven penalties and still win.

  • Morrall directed a snappy 80y drive to start the game with Mercury Morris doing the honors from the 5.
  • But on the second drive, Miami had first-and-goal on the 7 and failed to score on four cracks at the line.
  • Then, in quick succession in Q2, Jim Kiick fumbled to Alvin Wyatt, Ken Lee intercepted a Morrall pass that bounced out of Morris's hands, and Al Cowlings recovered Kiick's second bobble.
  • Buffalo turned the first fumble into a 35y FG by John Leypoldt, and Lee ran his INT back 16y to pay dirt.
  • Another Leypoldt FG came in the last two minutes after Don Croft recovered a lateral pass that Morris missed.
  • The Dolphins had held the visitors to one first down and their great runner O. J. Simpson to 13y and still trailed 13-7 at the half.

The Dolphins needed a spark, and it came from an unexpected quarter.

  • On the third play of the second half, NG Manny Fernandez burst through and intercepted the handoff from QB Dennis Shaw who managed to grab the NG and ride him down on the 10.
  • A play later FB Larry Csonka raced around LE to put Miami ahead 14-13.
  • Then Curtis Johnson blocked a punt to give the Dolphins the ball at the Buffalo 26. However, four penalties set the ball back to the 47 from where Garo Yepremian booted the longest FG of his career, 54y.
  • After another Leypoldt booted a 45yarder to make it 17-16 in Q4, Morrall led a devastating ground drive that culminated in Morris's 15y run.
  • That allowed Miami to survive a late Bills TD in that era before the NFL finally adopted the AFL's two-point conversion.
Continued below ...
Games 7, 8, & 9
Game Seven: Miami 23 Baltimore Colts 0

The Dolphins and Colts were the two NFL franchises with the most antagonism between them.

  • The antipathy stemmed from Miami owner Joe Robbie hiring Don Shula away from Baltimore after the 1969 season.
  • Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom complained to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle who transferred Miami's #1 draft pick for 1970 to Baltimore.
  • Needless to say, his team's victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl IV under Shula's successor, Don McCafferty, brought Rosenbloom great pleasure.
  • In 1971, the Colts went 10-4, but lost to the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game.
  • The 1972 edition of the Colts, showing their age, won only one of their first six games, leading first-year GM Joe Thomas, who had worked for Robbie as the Director of Personnel who assembled most of the current team, to fire McCafferty after game five because the coach refused to bench revered QB Johnny Unitas. John Sandusky took over and installed Marty Domres as the field general.
  • Earl Morrall relished the opportunity to lead the Dolphins offense against the team he played for from 1968-1971.

When two teams going in opposite direction meet, it's usually not pretty.

  • With Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris combining for 216y and the "No-Name D" completely shackling the Colts' stumbling O, Miami waltzed to a 23-0 victory to move their record to 7-0.
  • The Dolphins wasted no time asserting their superiority. They marched 80y in ten plays, only two of which were runs, to score on Csonka's 2y slant off RE.
  • No one knew it at the time, but that is all the visitors would need. Baltimore could get only two FG attempts, one of which sailed wide with the other blocked.
  • Csonka scored again in Q2, and Garo Yepremian added a FG. Then Morris completed the scoring with a 7y run in Q3.
  • Only 40,000 watched Miami lead in first downs 24-12 and in yardage 375-192.
Game Eight: Miami 30 Buffalo Bills 16

Miami faced the Bills for the second time in three weeks.

  • Lou Saban's squad had provided the biggest scare to the Dolphins, losing only 24-23. So home field advantage might be enough to end Miami's dream of an unbeaten season. From the Dolphins' point of view, though, the first game was close only because of their four turnovers and eleven penalties. Avoid those and victory will follow.
  • Shula's D had done the job on O. J. Simpson in the Orange Bowl, holding him to 57y on 16 carries. They needed a repeat performance to sweep the season series with the Bills.

RB Mercury Morris was even more fired up than his D mates as he stepped on the field against Simpson.

  • It's my own personal vendetta, the 5-10 190 lb speedster from North Texas State said of the challenge of outdoing O. J. Back when I was in college, O.J. beat me out in my junior and senior years for the collegiate rushing title. Simpson always seems to beat me out. When we play Buffalo, we always play the team. But for my own personal vendetta, I'm going against O.J. He knows it, and I'm sure he goes in with the same feeling.
  • Final stats: Morris 11 carries for 106y including 33 the first time he took a handoff from Morrall. Simpson 45y on 13 attempts.
  • Miami's opening drive resulted in a 33y Yepremian FG. But Buffalo retaliated with a TD on a 14y pass from Dennis Shaw to Randy Jackson.
  • The Dolphins responded with a 22y TD run by Morris, then two more Yepremian FGs of just 17 and 16y. The Bills finished off the first half scoring with a 39y pass INT return by Tony Greene to make it 16-13 at intermission.
  • Miami pushed its league back to 10 on Morrall's 7y pass to TE Marv Fleming. Buffalo pulled within a TD on Leypoldt's 28y FG.
  • But the home team could put no more points on the board while the Dolphins put the game away on Morris's 5y run.
  • The statistics indicated the contest was not as close as the final score indicated. The Dolphins had a whopping 27 first downs to just 12 for the Bills. Miami amassed 254y on the ground to lead in total yardage 327-172.
 Jim Kiick runs against Buffalo.Larry Little leads blocking.
L: Jim Kiick runs against Buffalo. R: Larry Little leads Larry Csonka.
Game Nine: Miami 52 New England Patriots 0

A delirious sellout crowd welcome the Dolphins home for Shula's 100th NFL victory.

  • The New England Patriots provided the sacrificial lamb as Miami jumped in front 17-0 at the end of Q1 and never looked back.
  • The Dolphins staff decided to work on the passing game, as Morrall and backup QB Jim Del Gaizo threw for 301y. Earl had one TD toss, to WR Marlin Briscoe, but Jim fired two in the final period, 51y to Briscoe and 39 to TE Jim Mandich.
  • The first four TDs came on three short runs by Morris and one by Csonka.
  • For the fourth week in a row, the No Names held the opponent to under 200y of total offense.
  • The only concern was the status of WR Paul Warfield, who was helped off the field in Q3 with a minor sprain and bruised knee.
  • Shula deflected all praise after the game. I'm grateful to a lot of people over the 10 years. I'm grateful to two wonderful coaching staffs and the great players in Baltimore and here in Miami. I'm proud to get 100 wins but it is only really meaningful if it happened in a year we get a world championship.
  • In that spirit, when captain Larry Little gave Shula the game ball in the locker room, he told him: We know this isn't the ball you want. But we want to give you this one too.

The 9-0 Dolphins led the AFC East by three games over the dogged Jets.

Continued below ...

Baltimore Colts QB Marty Domres

Dolphins RB Mercury Morris
Mercury Morris

Dolphins QB Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall

Dolphins WR Paul Warfield
Paul Warfield

Larry Little vs Patriots
Larry Little vs Patriots

 

Games 10 & 11

 

Jets QB Joe Namath Hands Off
Joe Namath vs Dolphins

Dolphins S Dick Anderson
Dick Anderson

Dolphins RB Mercury Morris
Mercury Morris runs against Jets

Dolphins RB Jim Kiick
Jim Kiick

Dolphins DE Bill Stanfill
Bill Stanfill crashes against Jets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolphins-Cardinals 1972-1
Dolphins-Cardinals

Dolphins WR Otto Stowe
Otto Stowe

Cardinals S Larry Wilson

Dolphins FB Larry Csonka on Sporting News Cover
Larry Csonka

 

Game Ten: Miami 28 New York Jets 24

The Dolphins could wrap up the AFC East by beating their division rivals from New York.

  • When the captains met at midfield, Jets QB Joe Namath shook hands with Larry Little, Nick Buonoconti, and Curtis Johnson, then folded his arms behind his back and ignored Earl Morrall, who was facing Namath as starting QB for the first time since Joe's famous guaranteed win in Super Bowl III over Don Shula's Baltimore Colts.
  • The reason for Joe's snub was an article in The Miami News the previous Thursday under the headline Namath gets no respect from Morrall. Earl was quoted this way: I don't respect him. His lifestyle, his actions. I wouldn't want to follow in his footsteps. I don't want to be like him. And I hope my kids and the younger generation don't grow up to be like him.

The game that didn't need any more hype morphed into a personal duel between the two QBs.

  • S Dick Anderson, a five-year veteran from Colorado, intercepted Namath's first pass at the NY 33. Morrall culminated the seven-play drive with a 9y toss to Howard Twilley.
  • Any thought that this would be an easy win vanished as the Jets came back to tie it on John Riggins' 1y plunge. Then they took the lead in Q2 on Namath's 29y pass to Rich Caster.
  • The Jets squandered two opportunities to go two TDs ahead before the half ended. Riggins rumbled 40y before being dragged down on the 14. But on the next play, 31-year-old LB Buoniconti picked off Namath's pass at the 6 and returned it 10y. Four plays later, W. K. Hicks got in front of Morrall's pass at Jet 48 and ran down the sideline to the 9. But NY had to settle for a FG and a 17-7 lead.
  • But Miami responded with a drive that produced Mercury Morris's 1y TD to pull to 17-14 at the break.
Mercury Morris runs against Jets - 1Dolphins-Jets Morris runs - 2
Mercury Morris runs against the Jets.
The lead continued to change hands in the second half.
  • Ancient Earl, age 38, lumbered 31y down the sidelines, ready to step out at any point, but no one forced him. So he glided into the EZ for a 21-17 Dolphin lead early in Q3. He must have thought, "Take that, Joe!"
  • But New York came right back with an 80y drive of their own, Broadway Joe throwing the final 4 to TE Wayne Stewart. A roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive.
  • The Jets got the ball back early in the final period, but Anderson struck again, falling on a fumble by Cliff McClain at the 27. Four players later, Morris snaked 14y around LE for his 11th TD of the season.
  • But Joe had plenty of time to pull out the game. The Jets drove to a third down on the Miami 10. As the Orange Bowl crowd howled, Namath backed away from center and motioned the offense to huddle up again. The rules permitted the referee to grant the offense that privilege because of noise. Across the line, Buonoconti crossed his ankles and glared at the QB. Once again, Joe turned to the ref for relief. Now Nick crossed his arms as well as his ankles. When the Jets came to the line a third time, the Miami LB stepped closer to be heard above the din. "FUN THE F***ING PLAY!" Joe took the snap and threw a pass over the middle. Nick read it perfectly, intercepted, and saved the win.
Game Eleven: Miami 31 St. Louis Cardinals 10

The Dolphins now prepared for their only Monday Night appearance of the season.

  • In its third season, MNF had quickly become a cultural phenomenon, dispelling the notion that pro football wouldn't do well in prime time. Movie attendance plummeted on Monday nights and many restaurants shut down too. ABC, which paid $8.5 million for the rights fee, earned $20 million in ad revenue.
  • Miami was one of the cities that didn't cotton to the Mouth of MNF, Howard Cosell, who narrated the highlights of the previous day's games at halftime each Monday night. Many Dolphins fans felt that Cosell wasn't showing enough plays from their undefeated team (not realizing that he didn't pick the highlights) or, in other words, that their team wasn't receiving the credit nationally that it deserved.
  • The irony of the situation was that the Dolphins players and coaches got along well with Howard. But, because of threats from the fans, the Miami police escorted him to the stadium for the game.
Monday Night Football Announcers 1972
Monday Night Football Crew
Don Meredith, Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford
The 2-7-1 Cardinals were not expected to mount much opposition for the 11-0 Dolphins, and they didn't.
  • Like the week before, the opponent gave Miami a gift right off the bat. This time is was a fumble by WR Walker Gillette that Anderson - who else? - covered on the 29. Everyone knew what would happen next. Jim Kiick ended the six-play drive on a plunge from the 2.
  • But St. Louis, energized to be in the national spotlight with a chance to make their mark in a lackluster season, drove to the Dolphin 21 on passes from QB Gary Cuozzo, a former Saint, to Jackie Smith (31y) and Johnny Roland (16). But a 28y FG by Jim Bakken sailed wide left.
  • The Cards hung in, exchanging FGs in Q2. Morrall drove his boys from the 20 to the St. Louis 10 with the help of a third-down interference penalty. But a safety blitz by Roger Wehrli dropped Earl for an 8y loss. Garo Yepremian, who had missed a 54y attempt earlier, made good from the 25.
  • The visitors lost an opportunity to gain a halftime tie when S Jake Scott fumbled a punt at his 15, and Dale Hackbart recovered, losing it out of bounds himself at the 7. On the next play, RB Donny Anderson fumbled into the hands of E Bill Stanfill. So the Dolphins left the field with a surprisingly small 10-3 advantage.
Dolphins-Cardinals Action 1972
Dolphins-Cardinals Action 
The undefeated team came out strictly business after the break.
  • Barely escaping the rush, Morrall hit Otto Stowe on a 37y TD pass. As S Larry Wilson blitzed up the gut, Morrall screamed Zoonk! as he backpedaled. FB Larry Csonka moved over to cut off Wilson. As they left the field, Csonka told his field general, I saw him, you didn't have to worry. Earl replied, I just wanted to remind you. Stowe replaced WR Paul Warfield, out with a sprained ankle for the second straight week.
  • Before the period ended, the Dolphins extended the margin to 24-3 on CB Lloyd Mumphord's 28y INT return. After the Cardinals scored in Q4, Morrall connected with Stowe again to close out the scoring.
In the broadcast booth, Cosell tried to placate Miami fans by profusely praising their team and coach throughout the contest. His words proved prescient.
  • Everyone knows the Dolphins played poorly against Dallas in the last Super Bowl. However, right now I rate Miami and Washington the best two teams in pro football, one-two, either way. I also think Don Shula could be one of the best three coaches in the game since World War II, along with George Allen and Vince Lombardi. I don't believe Shula will be satisfied with just winning one Super Bowl. He's going to want to keep on and on winning them.
  • Howard singled out the Dolphins "No Name" D: Don Shula's genius lies in his coordination of these people, the cohesion he's created. Their secondary is ubiquitous. Dandy Don Meredith, Cosell's foil on the ABC team, couldn't resist adding They're pretty good, too, Howard.

Continue below ...

Games 12, 13, & 14
Game Twelve: Miami 37 New England 21

During the week, a reporter asked Don Shula, coach of the 11-0 Dolphins: Would you rather lose this week and take the pressure off the postseason or keep winning and have the pressure build?
Shula answered: Before I throw you out of the press conference, can you tell me why we have to lose at all?

  • The Dolphins had clinched the division with their victory over the Jets in Week 10. In those days, teams weren't seeded in the playoffs. So having the best record in the league did not give Miami home field advantage beyond the first round of the playoffs.
  • So why not rest starters, especially those battling injuries?
  • Well, for one, Shula wouldn't get the idea past his players. They all wanted and expected to win every game. What team can beat us? asked MLB Nick Buoniconti.
  • And if ever there was a team that wouldn't be bothered by the pres­sure of maintaining their spotless record, it was the veteran Dolphins. From the head coach on down, no one talked of going undefeated as a goal. The goal was always the same - win the next game.

So the Dolphins went to Foxboro, jumped out to a 13-0 lead, and were never headed.

  • Phil Bengsten, New England's coach, independently agreed with Shu­la afterwards that 6'6" DE Vern Den Herder's INT of Jim Plunkett's pass at the start of the third period was the turning point of the con­test. With the score 13-7, Den Herder returned the ball 24y to the Pats' 11.
  • Two plays later, Earl Morrall passed 3y to TE Jim Mandich to start a run of 24 unanswered points.

With the chances of Miami going undefeated increasing by the week, Shula made the cover of the December 11 edition of Time.

Game Thirteen: Miami 23 New York Giants 13

The 7-5 Giants hosted the Dolphins at Yankee Stadium.

  • RB Mercury Morris probably spoke for many of his teammates when he said after the game: The Giants were rough, the field was muddy, and those are the kind of games I like.
  • Despite being eliminated from the playoffs when Dallas won a wild card berth the previous day, the Giants started strong, scoring first on Ron Johnson's 1y run. The kick failed to keep the score 6-0.
  • The Dolphins scored the next 17. Morris's 12y run and Garo Yeprem­ian's 37y FG made it 10-6 at the end of Q1. Then Morrall hit WR Paul Warfield for a 34y TD.
  • Johnson scored again from the 1 to make it 17-13 at the break.
  • Second half play was as ugly as the teams' muddy uniforms. The Giants hung tough through a scoreless Q3 until Yepremian's second FG in the final period gave Miami breathing room.
  • Alex Webster's term fought hard but couldn't overcome four lost fum­bles and two INTs.
  • Morrall delivered his usual workmanlike performance: 9-of-17 for 171 with one INT. Warfield snagged four for 102.
  • Morris led the Dolphins' relentless ground attack with 98y. Csonka, who already had topped the 1,000y mark, was used sparingly (9 carries for 30y).
Dolphins Muddy Defenders
L-R: LB Bob Matheson, DT Manny Fernandez, LB Nick Buoniconti
in the mud at Yankee Stadium
The end of the game showed how Shula's approach differed from that of George Allen, whose Redskins led the NFC.
  • Leading 23-13, the Dolphins got a first down on the Giants 2 with only 37 seconds left. After Morris lost a yard at RT, Miami let the clock run out without calling another play.
  • The UPI writer wrote a separate article to explain this because the Giants were still bitter that Allen called time out with 20 seconds remaining to score an extra TD in a 27-13 victory in November.

After the game, Shula talked about the battles his team faced.

  • Each week, I've tried to explain to the players what we're in for. Next week we have Baltimore and we won't have any trouble getting up for that.
  • A reporter asked Csonka if losing once might not make the Dolphins a better team as they head to postseason action. I don't believe in that stuff about it being better to lose one at this stage. Winning breeds win­ning and the only thing that can beat us is a swelled head. (He could have added, And Coach Shula won't let us get a swelled head.)
Game Fourteen: Miami 16 Baltimore 0

In addition to completing the undefeated regular season, the Dolphins could attain two rushing records.

  • Morris was 95y from making Miami the first team to have two 1,000y rushers. They also needed 105y to pass the all-time mark of 2,885 rushing yards in a season.
  • Colts LB Mike Curtis, known as both "The Animal" and "Mad Dog," came out of the tunnel and ran to the end zone where Morris was stretching. Curtis stood over Morris and snarled, "Hey, Merc, you're not getting no f***ing record off me today!" He then jogged back to the other end of the field.
  • To show his determination to get the record for himself but also his offensive line, Morris had his sprained ankle shot up with a Xylocaine cocktail so he could play.
  • Going counter to the passing trend in the league, the '72 Dolphins ran the ball three out of every four downs.
Miami couldn't employ that philosophy without a dominating O line.
  • G Larry Little led the group. He had actually been an All-American DT at Bethune-Cookman whose idol growing up in segregated Miami was Big Daddy Lipscomb of the Colts.
  • The other G, Bob Kuechenberg, came from the white Midwest. His older brother Rudy, who played at Indiana, talked Ara Parseghian into giving Bob a tryout at Notre Dame. Ara saw enough to offer a scholarship. Kuechenberg rewarded that faith by starting for three years.
  • When C Jim Langer joined the Dolphins as a free agent in 1970, he set a modest daily goal: Do well enough so you don't get chewed out. With O line coach Monte Clark taking him under his wing, Langer served as a backup to both guards his first two years before finding his niche at C in '72.
  • The tackles, Wayne Moore and Norm Evans, also came to the NFL without any fanfare. The term "No Name" applied to the Dolphin D also suited the O line.

Curtis & Company succeeded in preventing one of the two records.

  • Morris fell 10 yards short with 85y on 26 carries before being helped off the field with a leg injury.
  • The game was stopped in Q3 when Morrall, of all people, scrambled 5y up the middle to give Miami 2,887y, two more than the 1936 Detroit Lions.
  • The Colts had given up yards grudgingly, allowing only 14 on the ground in Q1. They held the Dolphins to just one TD on the afternoon, a 14y pass from Morrall to Warfield in Q2.
  • Garo added three FGs and the D pitched a shutout to become the third team in NFL history to go undefeated. The Bears finished 13-0 in 1934 and 11-0 in '42.
  • Baltimore failed to score on the Dolphins in either game. Their best chance to score fizzled when Jim O'Brien missed a 20y FG attempt in Q1.
  • The crowd gave its biggest ovations to Colts' QB John Unitas and their own Bob Griese, whom Shula sent in late in the game to get some action before the playoffs. Bob had been out since Game 5 with a broken ankle.

Dolphins DE Vern Den Herder
Patriots QB Jim Plunkett
Jim Plunkett
Don Shula on Time Cover

Giants RB Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson

Dolphins WR Paul Warfield
Paul Warfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colts LB Mike Curtis

Mercury Morris
Mercury Morris vs Colts

Paul Warfield Catches TD Pass vs Colts John Sandusky & Don Shula
L: Paul Warfield scores the game's only TD. R: Colts Coach John Sandusky congratulates Shula after the game.
The Dolphins gave the game ball to Shula.

  • There's only one game ball I want, he said and passed it over to Clark who handed a game ball to each of his O lineman.
  • A reporter asked Griese if he would like to start next week. I would like to start every week. But I'm not completely healthy yet and Earl Morrall is. What if you get healthy? the reporter replied. I think the chances are that Earl will start in the playoffs no matter what.

It turned out that Miami set the other rushing record after all.

  • The following week, the NFL overturned a statistical ruling from the Buffalo game that gave Morris a 9y loss on a lateral.
  • That put him at an even 1,000y.

The Dolphins would host the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs.

Continued below ...

Dolphins O line Coach Monte Clark
Monte Clark 
Playoff Game 1


Browns Coach Nick Skorich
Nick Skorich

Mike Phipps fades to pass.
Mike Phipps fades to pass against the Dolphins

Mercury Morris runs vs Browns
Mercury Morris runs against the Browns.

Larry Csonka
Larry Csonka on his frustrating day

The Dolphins' first playoff game against the AFC's wild card team, Cleveland, held special significance for WR Paul Warfield, despite his denials to the press all week.

  • The fact was that he had slept less and less each night as the game approached.
  • When Cleveland traded six-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowler Warfield to Miami in 1970 in order to draft Purdue QB Mike Phipps, Paul "felt ripped from his center of the universe and the only team he cared about." (Dave Hyde)
  • He had grown up in Warren OH a few miles from the Browns' training camp and played for Ohio State.
  • His youthful heroes were Browns' RB Jim Brown and WR Ray Renfroe.

For two years, the trade appeared to be lopsided in favor of the Dolphins.

  • Warfield immediately became Bob Griese's main target while Phipps started only two games in two seasons.
  • But in '72, Phipps took over the starting job and led Cleveland to a 10-3 mark, throwing for 1,994y and 13 TDs albeit with 16 INTs.
  • Coach Nick Skorich called it "one of the greatest trades the Browns have ever made."
  • Still, while all the Dolphins were fueled by the start of the "second season," Warfield had to fight against being too tense because of his extra motivation to punish Cleveland for trading him.

The oddsmakers installed the Dolphins as two-touchdown favorites.

  • Miami led the NFL in both total offense and total defense. Their 2,960y on the ground erased a 36-year-old NFL record.
  • Cleveland also boasted a balanced running/passing attack as well as the AFC's best pass defense. And they had playoff experience, having made the post-season three of the last four seasons.
  • Skorich's team seethed over the fact that they had no player voted to the Pro Bowl. Nick asked: Isn't it surprising that you win 10 games and you don't have a guy on the team make the Pro Bowl? Owner Art Modell: I don't care who the coaches voted for. In my opinion, I have a number of pro bowlers and they have proven it this year.
  • The Browns were buoyed by what happened the day before in Pittsburgh where "The Immaculate Reception" gave the Steelers an improbable victory over the Raiders.
  • The only question mark on the two squads was Miami RB Mercury Morris who had been plagued with an ailing ankle. However, he would play.

It turned out the Dolphins as a team might have been too tense while the Browns, with nothing to lose, played freely.

  • They started well in beautiful 62° weather. After forcing a three and out, Cleveland took over on its 23, and Phipps immediately took to the air. What happened set the pattern for the first half. Dick Anderson knocked the ball away from receiver Milt Morin into the hands of Doug Swift to give Miami great field position at the Cleveland 40. It was the first of three Dolphin picks in the half and five for the game.
  • Skorich afterwards: A young QB gets a little erratic at times under pressure. We tried to settle Mike down. We tried to ease the pressure on him He was getting confused about what to do out there. We told him to look at what they give you at the line. We told him what plays would work.
  • Phipps: They did the best job I've seen all year. Their linebackers were running very deep.
  • But the Dolphins went nowhere in three plays, and Garo Yepremian's 46y kick sailed wide right. Cleveland couldn't get a first down either and set up to punt. Rookie Charlie Babb blocked the punt on the 17, picked it up on the 5, and ran it in for a 7-0 lead with 5:28 elapsed.
  • Once again the Browns O sputtered, and Miami took possession afater the punt at its 16. Warfield sauntered 16y on an end around to highlight a march that reached the Cleveland 33 before stalling. This time Yepremian was on target with a 40-yarder and a 10-0 lead.
  • Late in the period, the visitors finally started to move. Bo Scott tore off gains of 17 and 15 up the middle, and Phipps added 25y on a keeper to reach 1st-and-down at the 25. Then the Browns came oh so close to tying the game when Frank Pitts shook freee in the EZ. Phipps fired a perfect pass, but the ball went right through the hands of the WR.
  • Still in FG range, Cleveland got nothing when Phipps threw another INT, this one by CB Curtis Johnson.

Miami drove into Cleveland territory as the second quarter began.

  • But again the offense couldn't maintain any momentum, and Yepremian missed a 53y FG.
  • The Dolphins received still another gift when Don Cockroft, back to punt, got a high pass from C and couldn't launch the kick. However, Morrall's shakiness continued and Miami didn't capitalize.
  • The third INT, the second by Anderson, gave the Dolphins a chance in the final minutes of the half. But Morrall let 11 crucial seconds tick off before calling a timeout in the final seconds. Garo booted the ball through the uprights as the clock read 0:00, but a motion penalty nullified the play. Since the half can end on an offensive penalty, Miami went to the dressing room frustrated while Cleveland felt they had a chance to pull an upset if they avoided the mistakes they made in the first 30 minutes.
  • The Dolphins' offensive woes were epitomized by the fact that Warfield's 41y on two end arounds provided most of the rushing yardage. Brown DTs Walter Johnson and Gerry Sherk had made a pre-game pact that Csonka "wasn't going to beat us." They helped hold him to 19y on eight carries in the first half and a meager 32y for the day.
  • As bad as the running game struggled,the passing game was worse. Morrall threw for only 38y in the first 30 minutes. Shula admitted he gave serious thought to inserting Griese.
Mike Kolen vs Browns
Mike Kolen stalks a Brown RB.
If the hometown fans expected their heroes to take over in the second half, they were sadly mistaken.
  • The Browns finally got on the scoreboard when Phipps faked a pass and dashed around E to make it 10-7.
  • But Miami widened its lead on Yepremian's second FG, this one from 46y out less than two minutes into Q4.
  • Cleveland moved to a go-ahead TD aided by a strange play. Starting on their 10, Phipps ran for 14y, and Bo Scott did the same. Then Mike hit WR Fair Hooker for 18y to the Miami 44. Several plays later, Anderson grabbed his third pick of the day but fumbled the ball. Hooker recovered to regain possession on the 30. After a 3y run, Phipps rewarded Fair with a scoring pass to put the Browns ahead by a point and make the Dolphin crowd very nervous with 8:11 to go.
  • The Browns sideline felt a Miami team that had never played from behind all season would choke. On the other side, Shula told Morrall, You've got plenty of time. Don't rush it.


Dolphins WR Paul Warfield
Paul Warfield

Jim Kiick scores against Browns.
Jim Kiick scores the winning TD.

Their season on the line, the Dolphins huddled on the 20 after the kickoff.
  • A voice spoke up. If we're going to do something, now's the time. This is it. We've got to score. The players looked away from Morrall, who hadn't opened his mouth, to find the source - Warfield. It was the first time any player could remember Paul speaking during a game. He hadn't caught a pass all day. But he was not going to lose to the Browns.
  • Earl called a play he had neglected all afternoon, a simple down-and-in to the outspoken WR. It went for 15y, Miami's biggest pass to that point. Morris ran twice for 10 more.
  • When Morrall came to the line, he liked what he saw - CB Ben Davis up tight on Warfield, ready to play bump-and-run. On the snap, CB and WR ran together as Morrall tossed the ball over Warfield's head. Ben didn't see the ball, but Paul did. He stretched out as far as he could, got one hand on the ball, and juggled it in for a 32y gain to the 20.
  • One play later, Paul got loose on the sideline. But as he went for the ball, LB Bill Andrews decked him on the 8, resulting in an interference penalty. On the next snap, Jim Kiick slashed over RT to pay dirt behind the blocking of Norm Evans and Bob Kuechenberg.
  • The Browns couldn't move on the subsequent possession and had to punt. But they got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining at their own 49.
  • Phipps ran for 7, then passed to Scott for 8 more to put the ball on the 35 with 1:15 on the clock. But one play later, Phipps tried to hit Hooker down the seam, but LB Doug Swift got in the way to seal the victory and extend the unbeaten season for another week.

Neither QB compiled gaudy numbers.

  • Under heavy pressure much of the time, Phipps completed only 9 of 23 for the game for 131y and was thrown twice for losses of 17y and .
  • Morrall hit 6-of-13 for only 88y, 50 of which went to Warfield. And no interceptions.

Post-game Comments

  • Shula looked older than his 42 years as he mounted a chair to talk to reported in the jammed dressing room. I knew how tough the Browns would be. This is a team that has been coming fast in recent weeks. You know I've been burned by the Browns a couple of times in the past. We knew it wouldn't be easy. They had to have a great attitude going into this game. There were a lot of things going for them. I don't think that overconfidence was any factor at all. I'm proud of the way we came back. We didn't take advantage of our first half opportunities. Our defense did the job, though.
  • Warfield, when asked if the Dolphins took the Browns lightly: The coaches kept reminding us all week how tough the Browns can be. We respected them as a good football team. We wanted to win very badly. All we've done this season wouldn't have meant much if we lost this playoff game. I believe we were a little more tightened up nervous than usual. I know I felt that way. We've been a loose, relaxed team most of the year. Maybe we simply were too cautious.
  • Looking ahead, Skorich was optimistic. Next year, our horizons are unlimited. We're on the verge of being a top football team. From this game, we gained strength to go on. This team should be proud. They deserved a better fate than this. It was as fine an effort as we played all year. It was a great effort against a great team, and I'm quite pleased.
Miami Dolphins 1972 - Playoff Game 2
Despite their undefeated record, the Dolphins had to go to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game.
  • But the merged NFL clung to its tradition of predetermining playoff sites. After all, the site of the championship game had alternated between the Eastern and Western Conference champions from its inception in 1934 regardless of which team had the better record. This followed the precedent set by baseball, which switched the start of its World Series year-by-year between the American and National League cities.
  • Some of the Steelers' home field advantage was negated by the New Year's Eve weather, which was an unseasonable 60 - more like a Miami winter day.

Don Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer backed off some from his prediction of a Dolphins victory.

Chuck Noll's squad appeared loose and relaxed after a light Saturday workout. The Dolphins, in contrast, seemed more tense and understandably so.

  • Perhaps the Steelers appeared more at ease because of what happened the week before - the Immaculate Reception. Franco Harris's miracle catch of a deflected pass and run for the winning TD in the last seconds would make any team think that it was their year.
  • As Heaton wrote: Pittsburgh has come farther than any other pro team from this city. The season already is a rousing success no matter what happens in the AFC title game. The Steelers realize this and that's why they don't seem to be feeling any pressure.
  • But the Cleveland scribe still thought Miami, favorite by a mere 1.5 points, would win because of their more balanced offense. The Miami defense isn't as physical as Pittsburgh's. It's a smart, disciplined one, however. Terry Bradshaw, still a novice reading defenses, will have his problems with this one.
  • To compound his problems, the Steeler QB battled the flu, spending Friday evening in the hospital. I just haven't been able to sleep, he said, also indicating that he had lost seven pounds.

Unknown to most of the media, a seemingly minor player for the Dolphins also faced a challenge.

  • Punter Larry Seiple had been run into while punting against St. Louis five weeks earlier resulting in a small tear in the medial collateral ligament of his kicking leg. So he missed the last three regular season games with his leg in a cast until just before last week's playoff game against Cleveland.
  • After having his knee drained, wrapped, and shot with pain-killer before taking the field, Larry punted five times for a 42y average.
  • Now as he hobbled around his hotel room, he had trouble loosening up the knee. He faced another medical ordeal to get ready when he reported to Three Rivers Stadium.
  • He looked forward to the game despite the discomfort because of what he and his punting coach Tom Keane had noticed watching Steeler films. They often rushed just one man while everyone else sprinted back to block for the return.
  • You're going to get a chance to take off and run, Keane told him but cautioned the former Kentucky punter not to do it on his own but wait for the OK from the sidelines.
  • Having played all six of his NFL seasons with the Dolphins, Seiple had converted 8 of 9 fake punts his first three seasons under George Wilson. But Larry had run just three times under Don Shula with none in '72.
  • On the flight to the Steel City, radio broadcaster Rick Weaver told Seiple he had a dream where Larry ran a fake punt for a big play. Wondering if the secret had leaked out, the kicker answered noncommitedly.

By the start of the second half, both starting QBs would be on the bench.

  • Despite Earl Morrall's shaky second half against Cleveland, Shula started him even though Bob Griese, the starter for the first five games, was healthy after recovering from a broken leg.
  • The Dolphins received the kick and got an early break when Dwight White's personal foul on third down continued the possession. But after another first down to the 46, DB Glen Edwards intercepted Morrall's pass and returned it 28y to set up a 48y drive for a TD that came on a freak play. Bradshaw rolled out from the 3 but was crushed by S Jake Scott and fumbled into the EZ where TE Gerry Mullins recovered for a 7-0 lead. Harris gained 35 of the yards on the march.
Bradshaw RunsBradshaw Helped Off
L: Bradshaw runs; R: Terry helped off field


Franco Harris running with the Immaculate Reception
Franco Harris with the Immaculate Reception vs Oakland

Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw

Dolphins P Larry Seiple
Larry Seiple

Dolphins Corral Franco Harris
Manny Fernandez corrals Franco Harris with Curtis Johnson coming up

 


The Dolphins tied the game in Q2 thanks in large measure to Seiple's quick thinking.
  • Morrall advanced the ball from the 20 with passes of 15 and 12y to Marv Flemming, who had one of his finest receiving days with 5 for 50y after grabbing only 13 during the regular season.
  • Facing 4th-and-5 at the Steeler 49, Larry went back in punt formation. His knee was no longer sore. In fact, it was so shot up with pain-killer he didn't feel anything at all. So when he saw exactly what he had seen on film - black jerseys running away from him after the snap - he scampered 37y. On televi sion, it looked like the oddest of plays unfolding. From one angle, Seiple appeared almost to be running behind a convoy of three Pittsburgh blockers. "If one of them turns," Seiple thought, "I'm in trouble." (Dave Hyde)
Larry Seipel on fake punt
Seiple advancing behind his "convoy"
  • Afterwards, Larry said, I never even thought about it until I caught the ball. [Little white lie?] I knew by the films that they run two guys in from the outside and leave the middle open. Most of the time their guys have their backs to the ball. It was a split second decision to run ... It has to be the most exciting thing in my career. Seiple added that he had thought of using the same play in the Cleveland game. I'm glad he didn't, said Shula. I'm glad he saved it for this week. Noll: We had position, momentum, everything when that happened. That changed the game.
  • Two plays after Seiple's frolic, Earl flipped 9y to FB Larry Csonka for the TD with 11:57 on the clock.
  • After one more offensive possession, Noll pulled Bradshaw in favor of Terry Hanratty. He had trouble functioning, Chuck said of his starter who admitted: I forgot everything about the offense. Bradshaw wouldn't return until the bells and whistles stopped in his head in Q4.
  • But the Dolphins couldn't take advantage as the 7-7 tie persited to halftime. Morrall completed 7-of-11 but for only 51y, most of which came on the TD drive.

 

Larry Seiple Fake Punt
Seiple running all alone on the fake punt

So Shula decided to go with Griese the second half.
  • Don consulted no one as he went to the locker room. Instead, he asked Griese, Are you ready? When Bob answered in the affirmative, Shula told him, OK, youre going then. He delivered the news to Morrall, then the team. No player remembers anyone second-guessing the coach.
  • The need to get the offense moving was exacerbated when Hanratty opened Q3 by driving the Steelers to a 14y Roy Gerela FG early in the period.
Roy Gerella KicksRoy Gerella Kicks - 2
Two views of Roy Gerella kicking
  • Several Dolphins spoke up in the huddle after receiving the kickoff until Griese barked, "Shut up, dammit! Teammates recalled the incident as the first and only time they heard Bob swear. Now let's get this thing going, he said.
  • After two plays gained only 4y, Griese went to his main man, Paul Warfield, on a quick slant for 52y. A few plays later, Jim Kiick took a pitch into the EZ from the 2 to give the visitors their first lead of the day, 14-10.
  • Pittsburgh had a scoring chance at the beginning of Q4. Harris picked up 7 on first down, plutting the ball on Miami's 40. But instead of using Harris and Frenchy Fuqua, Hanratty threw two wild passes. Then Matty Moore blocked Gerela's long FG attempt, Curtis Johnson recovering on the Steeler 49.
  • Griese & Company took advantage of the field position to forge an 11-point lead with seven minutes left. Kiick did the honors again, this time from the 3.
Terry Bradshaw passes vs Dolphins
Bradshaw passes
That's when Noll sent Bradshaw back into the fray.
  • Terry moved the Steelers in machine gun fashion, passing 9y to Larry Brown, 25 to Al Young, and 24 to Ron Shanklin before Young made a dazzling one-handed grab for a 13y scoring play to make it 21-17 with 5:21 to go.
  • The Steel Curtain D smothered the Dolphins to force a punt as the crowd of 53,050 went wild, anticipating another miracle finish.
  • Instead, DE Vern den Herder dropped Bradshaw for a 9y loss and two plays later LB Nick Buoniconti intercepted at the Miami 49.
  • The Dolphins ground up the yardage and the clock until Csonka was stopped on a 4th down smash at the 10 with only 0:42 left. Miami ended the day with a 65-46 edge in plays from scrimmage.
  • Bradshaw hit Harris for 9 before LB Mike Kolen sealed the victory with another INT, the third off Terry on the afternoon.
Dolphins D Swarms SteelersJim Kiick Scores Deciding TD
L: Dolphin D swarms Steelers; R: Kiick Scores Deciding TD

 

Bob Griese vs Steelers
Bob Griese vs Steelers

Post-game Comments
  • Shula on Griese: Bob deserved the opportunity. He has been sharp in practice all week. On the Steelers: They are a young team and a tough team, and you'll hear a lot from them in the next few years. Chuck Noll has every reason to be proud.
  • Dwight White echoed that sentiment. I'm not ashamed. I'm not crying. They know they were in a ballgame. We'll be back. We've got a good young team. There's next year.
  • Bradshaw: Sure we're disappointed for the moment about losing. But this season was no fluke. We're a young team that definitely has a great future. Our day will come. He was right since Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls in the next eight years.
  • Steeler DT Mean Joe Greene: The Dolphins were a lot better than I thought. They just don't look as good in films as they do in person. We made too many mistakes. I wasn't effective. I wasn't a factor. The reason he wasn't was OG Larry Little, who had been stung by Greene's selection as AFC Lineman of the Year. Little had said before the game: I know if I don't do the job on him, we won't win the game. If I do, we'll win. The Steelers recorded no sacks. Typical of the game were two fourth-and-short plays in Pittsburgh territory when the Dolphins ran straight over Mean Joe to continue drives and set up TDs.

Don Shula and Chuck Noll after game
Shula and Noll after game

Super Bowl - I



Dolphins Coach Don Shula
Don Shula

 

Redskins Coach George Allen
George Allen

Miami QB Bob Griese
Bob Griese

Dolphins QB Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall

Redskins QB Billy Kilmer
Billy Kilmer

Redskins RB Larry Brown

The road to the 1973 Super Bowl had started immediately after Dallas thumped Miami 24-3 in the 1972 Super Bowl in New Orleans. As Coach Don Shula recalled years later:

I think that's when we all came together ... What I stressed in the locker room was that we wanted to make sure that this never happened again. Our goal the next year, and the following year, was not to get to the Super Bowl but to win the Super Bowl.

Another memory of the Crescent City stuck with Shula and affected preparations for the game against the Washington Redskins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

  • No city throws a party like New Orleans. One reason so many like it as a site for major sporting events is the compact downtown area.
  • But Shula didn't like New Orleans for those very same reasons. Fans found where the Dolphins were staying and swarmed over the players, with kids pounding on players' doors to ask for autographs.
  • The club also flew in the players' wives and put them up in the hotel with their husbands - another distraction.
  • Super Bowl VII would be held in a sprawling metropolis with no geographical center. The Dolphins would stay in Long Beach where their view from their windows wasn't a swimming pool but oil refineries.
  • By game time, the Los Angeles Times dubbed it, The quietest Super Bowl yet, which suited the Miami coach just fine.

Shula hadn't taken long to make a decision about his starting QB for the final game.

  • Bob Griese, who had suffered a broken leg in Game 5, played the second half in the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh.
  • So the following Wednesday, Shula called Earl Morrall into his office and told him he was going to start Bob against the Redskins. Earl promised the coach that he would take the news like a pro and not make any waves.

While Shula's teams had reached the league championship three times - all defeats, this was the first appearance for Washington coach George Allen, although he had served as D coordinator for '63 NFL champion Chicago Bears.

  • He had taken over when Vince Lombardi died after just one year at the helm in the Nation's Capital.
  • George had built on the foundation Vince laid and took extra pleasure in bringing his NFC champions to the city he was run out of two seasons earlier by Rams owner Dan Reeves who accused his coach of lying and spending too lavishly.
  • Following his mantra "The future is now," George built the Skins by acquiring veterans, including eight of his former Rams, in 19 trades for 24 draft choices. In fact, his team wore the label "The Over the Hill Gang" proudly. While the Dolphins had only one starter over 30, MLB Nick Buoniconti, Allen's starters averaged 30.9 years old.
  • Of course, veterans demand higher salaries than younger players. Owner Edward Bennett Williams joked, I gave George an unlimited budget and he exceeded it.
  • Like the Dolphins, Washington lost its starting QB, Sonny Jurgenson, early in the season. However, 32-year-old Billy Kilmer took over and steered the team to a 13-3 season,
  • The Redskins couldn't match Miami's tandem of 1,000 rushers in Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris but did have one of them, Larry Brown (1,216).
  • Allen, like most successful coaches, buttered up his opponent all week. He called the Dolphins the soundest team I've ever coached against and proclaimed them better than the 1961 Green Bay Packers and a squad without a weakness.
  • Despite their 16-0 record and Allen's praise, the Dolphins found themselves a 2 1/2 point underdog. But that only continued the lack of respect motivation Miami had drawn on all year.

Living up to his reputation as a stickler for details, Shula fretted about Allen's reputation for spying on opponents.

  • Dolphins' assistant Howard Schnellenberger, while working under Allen in Los Angeles, was ordered to spy on a visiting team's practice the day before a game.
  • So Miami sent advance scouts to check out the Rams' practice facility that was assigned to the AFL champs the week of the game. They noticed a school across the street that overlooked the field. So they switched their practice location to a local community college. The team would bus from the hotel to the Rams' headquarters to change in the locker room, then reboard the bus to the new facility, where two Miami employees checked the trees every day for spies.

A loudmouth from each team gave the opponent bulletin board material.

  • Miami CB Lloyd Mumphord admitted Billy Kilmer and his receiving corps didn't scare him.

(Charley) Taylor never made any big plays off me the first times I've faced him. I've never had any trouble with their receivers. I like the way Kilmer throws the ball. He doesn't throw with much zip, but he tries to throw it in there anyway. That gives you a pretty good chance to come down with one.

  • The Dolphins' staff worried that Lloyd's remarks would tip off the game plan, which would defy Kilmer to throw deep.
  • On the other side, DT Otis Sistrunk was asked if he expected to have his hands full with OG Larry Little.

There is no man made of flesh and blood that I can't whip. Larry Little has made a career of beating up defensive backs. I'm bigger than a defensive back.

  • When asked for a reply, Little said: I think I can handle him. In fact, I know I cn handle him because there's nobody I can't handle. His fellow OG Bob Kuechenberg added, I think Sistrunk is just whistling past a graveyard.

The game was expected to draw the largest viewing audience ever for a sporting event.

To be continued ...

References: The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Bob McGinn (2009)
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Super Bowl - II
"Undefeated underdogs." That's what the Miami Dolphins were as they prepared for Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, who were installed as 2 or 3 point favorites depending on the source.
  • Don Shula had the flu all week and went to bed at 9 each night. But he didn't sleep well. Try as he might to keep his team relaxed, his veteran players had never seen him so tense. Lose one game and ruin a 16-0 season and continue your reputation as a coach who couldn't win the big one.
  • The fear motivated the Dolphins. As Jim Mandich told a reporter, My God, can you imagine what life with Shula would be like if he lost another Super Bowl?
  • Across town, the Redskins, another veteran team, bristled under the tightening grasp of their perpetually uptight coach, George Allen. Practices were long, meetings were longer. The players later said they peaked on Wednesday, then got "stale" by kickoff.

The 90,182 gathered on a smoggy, 84 afternoon in the Los Angeles Coliseum watched one of the most boring Super Bowls ever.

  • The Skins did a fine job of controlling the Miami offense but never came close to scoring on offense themselves.
  • Dolphins QB Bob Griese, who threw only 11 passes all day, completing 8, took a nine-step drop and hit Howard Twilley on a post-corner route for a 28y TD and a 7-0 lead. The Dolphins had used a down-and-in to Twilley all year, but they knew that veteran CB Pat Fischer would see that on film. So Griese and Twilley stayed after practice working on a down-and-in-then out pattern that caught Fischer biting on the first move.
  • Meanwhile, Bill Arnsparger's No-Name D, mixed both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, brought pressure up the middle, overwhelming C Len Hauss, so that DT Manny Fernandez could make an amazing 11 solo tackles and add six assists.
 Dolphins Corral Brown
Fernandez and mates corral Larry Brown.
  • Midway through Q2, Griese struck again, this time a 47y TD strike to Paul Warfield. However, an illegal procedure flag cancelled the score.
  • Washington didn't cross midfield until less than two minutes remained in the half and then by only 2y. On the very next play, DE Doug Swift broke through and hit QB Billy Kilmer as he threw, causing a wounded duck to end up in the hands of MLB Nick Buoniconti, who returned it 32y to the Redskins 27 with 1:17 on the clock. The Dolphins drove from there to their second TD, Jim Kiick doing the honors from the 1 two plays after TE Jim Mandich made a diving catch at the 2. Just 18 ticks remained before the break.
 Billy Kilmer passes in Super Bowl VII
Kilmer rares back.
The NFC champions played better the second half on both sides of the ball. However, they couldn't make key plays in the red zone to put points on the board.
  • They opened the half with a 10-play, 45y drive that ended with Fernandez sacking Kilmer. Curt Knight missed a 42y FG.
  • Miami mounted its only drive of the half, sparked by FB Larry Csonka's 49y run to the 16. But five plays later, with the ball on the 5, Griese underthrew TE Marv Fleming in the corner of the EZ, allowing S Brig Owens to make a leaping INT.
Larry Csonka breaks loose.
Larry Csonka breaks loose.
  • Washington drove 79y in 14 plays in Q4, consuming 7 1/2 minutes in the process. A key play occurred with the ball on the 10 when WR Jerry Smith broke open in the back of the EZ. But Kilmer's pass bounced off the crossbar of the goal posts, which were positioned on the goal line in those days. Frustrated, Kilmer, under pressure, again threw over the middle right into the hands of S Jake Scott who returned out of the EZ all the way to the Redskin 48.
 Scott Intercepts.Scott Sets Sail.
Jake Scott intercepts in the end zone and sets sail for 52y.
Even the Redskins knew they had blown their last chance to score and have a chance to catch Miami.
  • The Dolphins drove methodically to the Washington 35 where they faced fourth down. Shula decided to send out Garo Yepremian for a 42y FG attempt. Don said afterwards that it seemed fitting that Miami would win 17-0 to go 17-0 for the season. But his decision led to the most remembered play of the game and one of the most famous in all of Super Bowl history.
  • Yepremian left-footed the ball low, and DT Bill Brundige blocked it - the 15th kick or punt block by the Redskins special teams coached by Marv Levy. The ball bounced back to Garo's right, and he fielded it on the second hop.
  • The day before at practice on the Coliseum floor, Garo threw 30y passes to relax as he did before every game. So now the 5-8 Cypriate kicker tried to toss the ball to an open white shirt down the field. But the ball slipped out of his hand and traveled just a few feet above his head. He batted it forward, where DB Mike Bass grabbed it and sped down the sideline for a TD.
  • Levy joked many years later, If we can just find a way to get the ball in Yepremian's hands again ...
  • The Dolphins were not amused. Bunoniconti: That one play took a team that was being totally dominated and put them back into contention. We should have shut them out, and he put them into position to ruin possibly the greatest season in the history of the NFL. I pictured this whole awful scenario where Washington was going to have the opportunity to tie the game. If I had a rope, I would have hanged Garo right then and there.
  • As Yaro walked to the end of the bench, Fernandez told him, We lose this game, I'm gonna kill you, you little c***s*****. Hang you up by one of your ties. [Garo was a tie-maker before playing in the NFL.] G Norm Evans, a born-again Christian, came over and told the kicker, Garo, don't worry about it. God loves you and our defense will stop them.



Super Bowl VII Program

 

Manny Fernandez tackles Larry Brown.
Manny Fernandez makes one of his 11 solo tackles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandich makes diving catch.
Mandich makes diving catch.

 

Dolphins Sandwich Kilmer.
Dolphins sandwich Kilmer.

Yepremian Prepares to ThrowYepremian Throws.Bass On The Run
Yepremian throws; Bass intercepts.
The decision-making now shifted to Allen: onside kick or boot away?
  • With three timeouts left and 2:07 on the clock, George trusted his D.
  • Mercury Morris returned the kickoff only to the 16. Morris then ran 3y around RE but mysteriously went out of bounds to stop the clock.
  • Griese then threw a safe 11y pass to Warfield for a first down. Three runs produced only 8y but forced the Redskins to empty their quiver of timeouts.
  • So after Larry Seiple's punt, Washington started on their 30 with 1:14 left.
  • Kilmer missed on two passes, then hit a swing pass to Larry Brown for a loss of 4. The game ended with DE Bill Stanfill sacking Kilmer for a loss of 9.

As the seconds ticked off, the Dolphins lifted up Shula and carried him on their shoulders.

  • Fans invaded the field. A kid who reached up to shake Don's hand pulled off his watch, but Shula jumped down, chased after the boy, and retrieved it.
  • In the locker room, Griese gathered his teammates for the awarding of the game ball. Bob playfully said, We had a lot of guys who had good games. Manny. Jake. Zonk had a big game. It's a tough game ball to award. He paused for effect and looked around. Finally, he tapped Shula on the shoulder with the ball. Don broke into a smile years in the making. He had said all year that there was only one game ball he wanted and now he had it.

Sports Illustrated's Tex Maule wrote: No other team has ever gone undefeated for a season, and no other club is likely to do it again soon, either. 40 years more than surpasses "soon." So Tex's prophecy long ago came true.

References: The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Bob McGinn (2009)
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Shula Lifted On High
Shula Exultant

Cover of Sports Illustrated

 

 

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