Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes, continues or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
"That Changed the Game"
1972 AFC Championship Game: Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Thanks to the ridiculous NFL playoff rules, which did not seed the teams and instead set in advance which division winner would host regardless of record, the undefeated Miami Dol­phins had to travel to Pittsburgh to face the 12-3 Steelers. The team from sunny Florida was helped by the weather, which was an unseasonable 60°, more like a Miami winter day.
The Steelers couldn't be blamed for thinking they were a Team of Destiny after what hap­pened the week before–the "Immaculate Reception" game in which a fluke play in the last seconds enabled them to beat the Oakland Raiders.
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."
Heaton added: "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."
Miami was favored by a mere 1.5 points.
Dolphins Punter Injured
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 eight of nine fake punts his first three seasons under George Wilson. But Larry had run just three times under Don Shula with none in 1972.
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.
Steelers Score First
Despite QB Earl Morrall's shaky second half against Cleveland in the first playoff game the previous week, Shula started him even though Bob Griese, the starter for the first five games, was healthy after recovering from a broken leg.
On the opening possession of the game, DB Glen Edwards intercepted Morrall's pass and returned it 28y to set up a 48y drive for a touchdown that came on a freak play. Bradshaw rolled out from the three but was crushed by S Jake Scott and fumbled into the end zone where TE Gerry Mullins recovered for the touchdown. Bradshaw was shaken up on the play. Steelers 7 Dolphins 0
Bradshaw RunsBradshaw Helped Off
L: Bradshaw runs; R: Terry helped off field.
Seiple Strikes
Early in the second quarter, Morrall led the Dolphins from their 20 to the Steeler 49. Fac­ing 4th-and-five, Seiple went back in punt formation. His knee was no longer sore. In fact, it was so shot up with painkiller 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 television, 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."
Larry Seipel on fake punt
Seiple advancing behind his "convoy."
After the game, Noll commented on Seiple's run: "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 tying touchdown with 11:57 on the clock. Steelers 7 Dolphins 7
Noll Changes Quarterbacks
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 the fourth quarter.
So Does Shula
The half ended 7-7. Since Morrall completed 7-of-11 but for only 51y, most of which came on the touchdown drive, Shula decided to go with Griese the second half. The game was now a duel between backup quarterbacks.
The Dolphins' need to get the offense moving was exacerbated when Hanratty opened the third quarter by driving the Steelers to a 14y Roy Gerela field goal to make it 10-7 Pitts­burgh.
Roy Gerella Kicks
L: Roy Gerela kicks field goal; R: Bob Griese scrambles.
Griese Takes Charge
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.
Three plays later, 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 end zone from the two to give the visitors their first lead of the day, 14-10.
Pittsburgh had a scoring chance at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Harris picked up seven 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 field goal 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 three. That's when Noll sent Brad­shaw back into the fray.
Dolphins D Swarms SteelersJim Kiick Scores Deciding TD
L: Dolphin defense swarms Steelers; R: Kiick scores deciding touchdown.
Bradshaw Sparks Steeler Offense
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 defense smothered the Dolphins to force a punt as the crowd of 53,050 went wild, anticipating another miracle finish.
Dolphins Hang On
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 nine before LB Mike Kolen sealed the victory with another inter­ception, the third off Terry on the afternoon.
Steelers' DT 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 touchdowns.