Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XVII - Washington Redskins vs Miami Dolphins: 1st Half
A predominantly Washington crowd of 103,667, second largest in Super Bowl history, on a picture-perfect southern California day saw an exciting first half that had as much scoring as many pundits predicted for the entire game.

Quarter 1

The Dolphins went three-and-out on the first possession. After Lyle Blackwood returned the kickoff 17y to the 25, QB David Woodley threw too high over the middle to RB Tony Nathan. HB Andra Franklin gained two. Then Woodley, the NFL's leading rusher among quarterbacks, evaded the rush up the middle but slipped down on the damp turf at the 34. So Tom Orosz punted, Mike Nelms returning 5y to the 29.
Not surprisingly, QB Joe Theismann started by handing to RB John Riggins three times to move the chains to the 41. Then Joe fired a quick flanker screen to Charlie Brown, who scampered to the Miami 48. Following another Riggins run for a yard, a pass to WR Alvin Garrett down the middle was knocked away by SS Glen Black­wood. On 3rd-and-9, Earnest Rhone roared up the middle and sacked Theismann for a loss of 7.
Garrett was part of a trio of Washington receivers known as "The Smurfs" for their short size. The other two were 5'8" Virgil Seay and 5'10" Charlie Brown.
Starting from the 20 after a touchback, Nathan gained four up the middle. Then lightning struck the Redskins. Woodley faked a screen to the left, causing LCB Jeris White to let WR Jimmy Cefalo run past him. Then the former LSU signal-kicker turned and hit Cefalo in stride, and he did the rest, veering to the center of the field and outrunning SS Tony Peters for a 76y touchdown. Uwe van Scha­mann kicked the PAT. Dolphins 7 Redskins 0 (9:08)
"We were in a perfect defense for that play, a rolling zone to that side," said Washington LB coach Larry Peccatiello afterward. "It was going to be a quick screen, but they couldn't run it. Cefalo continued downfield, and Woodley took a shot."
Dolphin LB A.J. Duhe on the early touchdown: "It was a boost of energy. Our adrenalin probably went up a notch. Then again, we know it's the Super Bowl, and the team we were playing against was pretty damn good."
Washington G Russ Grimm: "It's a little bit of a shock there. We'd been through it before when we were down a little bit, but it's a matter of staying with the game plan and the coaches were solid about keeping us on coure."
Mike Nelms returned the kickoff 39y, but a block in the back put the ball back on the Washington 25. Riggins' slants of four and five set up third-and-one. Theis­mann then rolled left to pass but was dumped by LB Larry Gordon for a 3y loss. Tom Vigorito ran back Jeff Hayes's punt 10y to the 38.
The Dolphins ripped off two first downs when Nathan darted 12y up the middle, and Franklin added nine and then four. But the momentum turned on the next play. Back to pass, Woodley was slammed from behind by Dexter Manley, sending the ball flying toward the sideline. Dave Butz fell on it at the Miami 46.

Mel Kaufman tackles Tony Nathan.
Dexter Manley sacks David Woodley, causing a fumble.
The Redskins started a drive from there for their first points. First, they tried some razzle dazzle - a double reverse, then a lateral back to Theismann. Joe evaded a rusher and threw incomplete to Brown at the sideline. Following Clarence Har­mon's 8y run, TE Don Warren took a quick throw for a first down at the 35. Rig­gins carried four straight times - 6y off left tackle, 7y up the middle, then four and three at left tackle again.
End of Q1: Dolphins 7 Redskins 0
Washington T Joe Jacoby: "In our first couple of offensive series, I think we were just caught up in playing in the Super Bowl. It was hard not to be excited. Theismann was probably a little hyper, but I'd say that was true for all of us. We moved the ball pretty well, but we were forced to punt when we let them sack Theismann a couple of times on third down. Then all of us calmed down, and we began to play much better."

Trench warfare as Tony Nathan takes a handoff.
Quarter 2

On 3rd-and-3 from the 15, Kim Bokamper stopped Riggins after a gain of only one. So Mark Moseley, the last of the straight-ahead kickers, booted a 31y field goal. Dolphins 7 Redskins 3 (14:39)

Woodley pitches out.
CB Fulton Walker returned Hayes's kickoff 42y to the 47. The Dolphins embarked on a methodical 13-play drive to rebuild a seven-point lead. No play gained more than 8y, starting with Nathan zipping around RE. Then Tony gained three for a first down. A 1y run and an 8y pass to WR Duriel Harris put the ball a yard short of another first down. Franklin pushed for two to move the chains. A flip to Cefalo gained six before Nathan met a stonewall up the middle. Then Woodley fired to Harris for 7y and another first down at the 19. Two Franklin runs sandwiched around an offside penalty on the Redskins made it 1st-and-goal at the eight. In a crucial sequence, the Redskins held the Dolphins to a field goal. Franklin dove for two; then Woodley rolled right to the three. From the shotgun, David threw too high to Cefalo at the left edge of the end zone. So Uwe banged a 21-yarder through the uprights. Dolphins 10 Redskins 3 (6:00)

Riggins heads around left end.
From the 20, TE Rick Walker blocked, then sprinted across the middle to take a pass for 27y. Next, Walker took a reverse for six more. Two Riggins smashes gained just enough to make it 1st-and-10 at the Miami 43. After a toss to Brown on a flanker screen got four, Theismann rolled left, then turned and threw back to Riggins all alone with blockers in front for a 15y gain. Big John took a handoff on a pass-run option for 6y. Next, Theismann scrambled for 12y to the 13. Riggins slashed to the seven, then fought off tacklers for three more around LE. On 3rd-and-one, Theismann lined up two flankers to the right and threw to one of them, Garrett, at the right edge of the end zone just beyond S Mike Koslowski. Dolphins 10 Redskins 10 (1:51)
The touchdown came on a play from the Skins' "explode" package, put into the game plan for use inside the opponents' 20-yard line. "It was our Wednesday night coaches' meeting, but it was Thursday morning by then," recalled Joe Bugel. "Had to be three or after because Joe was on about his fifteenth candy bar." The coaches were looking for something to break the concentration of the Dolphins defense. They already had reverses and a flea-flicker but wanted something extra. Gibbs came up the idea of putting potential receivers in the "wrong" position in the original set, then moving them to "right" positions before the snap. "It was a made scramble," said Theismann. "When I hollered 'set!,' we'd have up to five guys switching spots. ... You line up with a tight end in a wide receiver's spot. Linebacker's got him, so now the linebacker is set out wide. We switch ... everybody runs around. Unless the linebacker moves, he's covering a wideout now, and that's a bad matchup. If he moves back, he may be messed up at the snap of the ball."
That's exactly what happened on the TD pass. "I could see they were mixed up on him (Garrett) on the snap," said Theismann. "I couldn't wait to get the ball to him."
Duhe: "They had so much movement, sometimes we got confused."

Theismann throws the TD pass to Garrett.
The tie didn't last long. Walker took the kickoff on the two, started up the middle, slanted left and found a seam all the way to the end zone for the first Super Bowl kickoff return touchdown. Dolphins 17 Redskins 10 (1:38)
Walker: "I baited them into thinking I was going to the right but cut it back."
Duhe: "We felt pretty good. We knew, defensively, we were sound. We knew that was our bread and butter. We believed we could hold any team to a short number of points, and our offense would score enough to beat them. We played a lot of close games because of the style of defense we played."

Fulton Walker completes first kickoff return TD in Super Bowl history.

Theismann calls signals late in the first half.
Nelms took the kickoff 7y deep but got no further than the 13. To make matters worse, Washington was penalized half the distance for an illegal block. With Miami using its timeouts, Riggins gained 3y and Harmon added four. Then Theismann continued the possession by rolling right to the 24. Joe hit Warren who was smashed immediately by Mike Koslowski at the 28. Then Joe sidestepped the rush and threw down the middle to Nick Giaquinto. Lyle Blackwood was a second too soon on the hit. The intereference penalty put the ball on the Miami 42. Then Theismann rolled right and found Brown down the sideline to the 16. Washington called its last timeout. Another rollout and a completion to Garrett, but Glenn Blackwood made the stop inbounds at the seven. The Redskins couldn't get another play off before the half ended. End of Q2: Dolphins 17 Redskins 10
Gibbs on the final play: "We had talked about that play. We wanted to have a receiver on the sideline and another on that side in the end zone. I told Joe to go to one or the other, and if they weren't open, to throw it away. But our receiver didn't get close enough to the sideline."
"I didn't see the guy on the outside of me. I don't know what I was thinking," Garrett said. "I just didn't get out of bounds." He admitted he did not think about dropping the ball. If he had dropped it, the Redskins would have had time for a field goal attempt.

David Woodley looks for a receiver.

Woodley breaks out of the pocket.

Jimmy Cefalo 76y pass/run TD

Alvin Garrett

Earnest Rhone

Jeris White

Mark Murphy corrals Andra Franklin.

The Killer Bees swarm Charlie Brown.

Joe Jacoby

Mike Nelms returns a kickoff.

Larry Gordon

Tom Vigorito

Jeff Hayes

Woodley goes down in front of Tony Peters.

Bob Baumhower knocks down Riggins.

"The Fun Bunch" celebrate the touchdown catch of one of "The Smurfs," Alvin Garrett (89).

Riggins smashes past A.J. Duhe.

Lyle Blackwood called for interference on Nick Giaquinto.