Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1971: NFL's Longest Game
1971 AFC Playoff: Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs
Sometimes the pivotal plays in a game are missed field goal attempts. This playoff game was the best illustration of that fact.
Don Shula's Dolphins and Hank Stram's Chiefs, both 10-3-1 in the regular season, gave NFL fans an unexpected Christmas present in the first round of the AFC playoffs. They played the longest game in NFL history–a two-overtime thriller that lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.
The 50,374 who attended the last game at "rickety" Municipal Stadium saw an epic perform­ance by Chiefs RB Ed Podolak, who gained 350 all-purpose yardage, still a playoff record. But two kickers born in foreign lands would decide the contest.
Chiefs Jump in Front
KC started strong, scoring 10 points in the first quarter while holding Miami scoreless. First Jan Stenerud, a native of Norway, booted a 24y field goal. Later in the period, Podolak took a 7y screen pass from QB Len Dawson and scored behind the blocks of T Ed Budde and C Jack Rudnay. Chiefs 10 Dolphins 0
Dawson recalled: "We had the game under control. Everything we did, we did right. On offense our execution was exact and stunning. On defense we were aggressive and determined. But for some unknown reason, we let it slip away."

Ed Podolak scores Kansas City's first touchdown.
The Chiefs missed a chance to add to their lead early in the second quarter when they failed to execute a fake field goal. Stram recalled, "I told Jan, 'You've got to be a good actor and look like you're going to kick. Anyway, we're on the right hash mark. Everyone on the sideline is psyched. We know we're going to score a touchdown. Bobby Bell, our center, looks through his legs and sees Jan looking down at his spot like he normally would, which is exactly what we told him to do. But it's so convincing, Bell thinks Jan missed the call. He's afraid to snap the ball to him, so he snaps it to the holder, Lenny Dawson. Lenny is sur­prised. Jan is sur­prised. Lenny puts it down, and Jan takes a swipe at it and just misses to the right of the post. Meanwhile, both our guards are all alone on the right. I mean, there wasn't a soul out there with them. It would have been a certain score."

Buck Buchanan takes down Bob Griese.
Dolphins Fight Back
The second quarter belonged to the visitors. Dawson recalled, "Back they came with almost a duplicate of our drive." QB Bob Griese led an 80y, nine-play drive that included several passes to sensational WR Paul Warfield, who led the AFC in touchdown catches with 11. 235lb FB Larry Csonka gained the final yard. Cyprian-born soccer player turned NFL kicker Garo Yepremian booted the extra point. Chiefs 10 Dolphins 7

L: Paul Warfield runs past LB Jim Lynch.
Larry Csonka plunges over for Miami's first touchdown.
The Miami defense turned back KC threats when CB Curtis Johnson intercepted a pass at the Miami 10 and E Jim Riley's rush hurried Stenerud into missing a 29y field goal.
Then DT Frank Cornish forced a Podolak fumble that S Dick Anderson recovered at the KC 12 in the last minutes of the half. That led to Yepremian's 14y field goal with 13 seconds left to tie the game. Halftime score: Chiefs 10 Dolphins 10
The KC defense sustained a setback when All-Pro S Johnny Robinson suffered a groin injury and didn't play after halftime.
Tied Again
Each team sustained long third-quarter drives.
The KC offense stuck with their game plan. In the words of Dawson, "control the ball and don't force it." The Chiefs retook the lead when FB Jim Otis dove over from the one to culminate a 75y, 14-play drive that ate up 9:44 off the clock. Chiefs 17 Dolphins 10
The Dolphins responded by marching 71y in eight plays. The biggest gainers were two Griese passes, one to WR Howard Twilley for 24y and another to Warfield for 23. HB Jim Kiick dove over for the final yard with a minute left in the third quarter. Chiefs 17 Dolphins 17

Jim Kiick dives into the end zone to tie the game.
Chiefs Pull Ahead Again
Kansas City took a giant step toward victory when they retook the lead with 6:46 left in the fourth quarter. Most of the yardage came on a 63y bomb down the middle from Dawson to WR Elmo Wright. Podolak slanted through right tackle to pay dirt from the three. Chiefs 24 Dolphins 17
Dolphins Tie Again
That might have finished a lesser team, but the Griese-led Dolphins wouldn't quit. Starting from the 29 after the kickoff, he fired away despite two earlier interceptions and a number of whacks on a left shoulder still stiff and sore from a month-old sprain. He hit Warfield for 18y and then 26 more on a third down play to the KC 12. Two plays later, Bob scrambled to avoid the rush and flipped 5y to TE Marv Fleming for the tying touchdown. Chiefs 24 Dolphins 24 (1:36)

Marv Fleming catches TD pass between Jim Kearney (46) and Emmitt Thomas (18)
in front of Paul Warfield (42).
Yepremian Prevents Touchdown
The home crowd came to its feet when Podolak took the kickoff and returned it 78y for Kansas City's longest return of the season. He raced up the middle, cut to the left side, and headed down the sidelines. The kicker, Yepremian, was the last man in his way. "I had a choice," recalled Podolak, "run over the Kangaroo (his name for kickers) or run around him. I cut hard left to avoid him and started down the left sideline, but the time it took gave Curtis Johnson the angle to catch me. I tried to get him to commit to where I could cut back behind him, but he played it very smart and kept forcing me toward the sideline. I've looked at the film 50 times to see if there was anything I could have done different, but there wasn't." Ye­premian remembered panicking as Podolak swerved toward him at first. "I thought, 'You've got to do something or the whole season's down the drain." Johnson forced Podolak out of bounds at the Miami 22.
Stenerud Misses Game Winner
Already in field goal range, the Chiefs ran the ball three times to take some time off the clock and set up a 32y field goal attempt by Stenerud with 31 seconds left. Stram thought for sure the game would end. After all, Jan had just made the Pro Bowl for the fourth year in a row. "I was planning what I was going to do with my off-season," Miami LB Nick Buoniconti recalled. "The chances were one in a million he would miss that kick."
Hank said afterwards, "From my angle, it looked good, although I'm not complaining about the call. My guys later told me it missed by inches." Stenerud had a similar story. "I was sur­prised when the referee indicated it was no good, but that's the game." A strong rush may have contributed to the miss.
Dawson: "There was a terrific cheer from the Miami bench in the otherwise quiet stadium. A moment ago, they had conceded the victory to us, and now they were given new life. We were shocked. For a few minutes, we didn't believe it had happened, but we didn't give up."

Jan Stenerud watches his field goal try sail wide.
Buoniconti Blocks Field Goal Try
The Chiefs won the overtime toss and moved to the Miami 35, which was normally routine range for Stenerud. But DB Lloyd Mumphord charged across, and MLB Nick Buoniconti got a hand on the ball to maintain the tie after 3:04 of overtime.
Neither team threatened until Yepremian tried a 52-yarder with 2:46 left that missed by inches. "I decided right then," said Garo, "that anything under 50y, I can make it."
The Chiefs made one more desperate attempt at victory. With time ticking away in the first overtime, Dawson launched a bomb toward Wright, but FS Jake Scott, playing with a broken hand, cut across the middle and picked off the pass at his 33 and returned it 13y.
So the game went into a second overtime period. Dawson: "The players on the field were still strugging, bone tired but determined."
Yepremian Kicks Winner
A punt exchange gave Miami the ball at their 30 after a Scott fair catch. Kiick gained 5y, then Csonka broke through on a draw play, "spilling tacklers over the painted green turf" until he was brought down on the KC 36. As gloom settled over the Chiefs faithful, Kiick gained two and Csonka four. Then Kiick gained nothing but put the ball squarely in front of the up­rights.
Yepremian was dying on the sidelines to get the chance. But he did not consider the 37y attempt routine. "It was the last game in that old stadium, and the field was a complete mess," he recalled. "There were spots where there was no grass, and the dirt was painted green so it would look good on television. I watched as Jan Stenerud missed three field goals earlier in the game. I know how bad he felt, and I didn't want to feel that way. As the game kept going on, the goal posts got narrower and narrower. I knew I had to focus and prepare. It was a 37y kick, but in the sixth quarter, it seemed a lot longer."
Yepremian also recalled, "As I ran out onto the field, I kept saying to myself, 'I can make it. I can make it.' When I kicked it, I knew it would be slightly to the right, but that it was going through. A kicker can tell. After the ball hit my foot, I looked up at the sky and thanked God for giving me a chance to kick it."
So the longest game in NFL history ended after 7:40 of the second overtime.

Garo Yepremian (1) watches his winning kick sail through the uprights.
Csonka paid tribute to Griese for calling the trap play. "It was a great call. He's the kind of quarterback who's aware of the running game. You can have the best running backs in the world, but if the quarterback doesn't realize it, it doesn't do any good."
Shula: "We've never had a bigger win. We had guts and determination, and our guys re­fused to be beaten. We had the big blocks on the plays which set up the field goal. Garo has all the confidence in the world."
Stenerud felt crushed as Yepremian suspected. "I have the worst feeling anyone could have. I have no idea what I'm going to do now. I feel like hiding. I don't feel like playing foot­ball. It's a shame guys play like hell, like our team did, and lose because of a missed field goal. It's unbearable. It's totally unbearable."
"It was a horrifying experience," Dawson said of the game-ending field goal, "because one break is going to be the game. You never heard such silence, if that's not a contradiction. Such pressure, such tension. Everyone was completely drained."
Yepremian was hounded by reporters after the game and then mobbed by 15-20,000 Dol­phins fans who created a traffic jam around Miami International Airport when the team return­ed in the wee hours of Monday morning.
Coach Shula and his son David weaved their way through the throng to the parking lot, where he found his car with a dead battery. So he went back to the mob and stuck out his thumb. A woman spotted him and offered a ride. "I had to be the first coach in history to win a playoff game and end up hitching a ride home," said Shula.
They're Playing My Game, Hank Stram with Lou Sahadi (1986)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, Selected by Chris McDonell (2004)
"Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!: The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History
," Jonathan Rand (2007)
Don Shula: A Biography of the Winningest Coach in NFL History, Carlo DeVito (2018)