Stories You Should Know: 1972-73 Miami Dolphins

This is Super Bowl Week. we thought this would be a good time to celebrate the only team to win the Super Bowl and complete the only undefeated and untied season since the establishment of the modern NFL in 1933. Let’s take a look at the accomplishments of the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins. After reviewing that memorable season, we’ll take a “big picture” look at the legacy of that team. Are they the greatest of all time, and if not, why not?

The season prior to the 1972-73 the Dolphins had won the AFC Eastern Division, and AFC Conference Title, before falling to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Their overall record was 12-4-1, and Miami entered the 1972-73 season as one of the favorites to win Super Bowl VII. Their coach, Don Shula, was haunted by a reputation of not being able to win the “big” game. His Baltimore Colt teams had lost the NFL Championship Game in 1964 to the underdog Cleveland Browns. He was also the victim of the biggest upset in Super Bowl history when his Colts infamously fell to Joe Namath’s New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Thus he was coming off another loss in the Super Bowl VI to the Cowboys which made him 0-3 in Championship Games.

His Dolphin’s team was loaded, but still very young. The quarterback was former Heisman Trophy winner Bob Griese. Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris were in the backfield, with Paul Warfield being Griese primary target at wide receiver. The offensive line, led by Larry Little and Jim Langer was the best in football, and maybe the greatest ever, and their “no name” defense was the best part of the team. Expectations were high, somewhat tempered by a lackluster 3-3 record in the pre-season. 

Week 1: 20-10 at Kansas City (8-6)

The Dolphins jumped out to 20-0 lead and then coasted to a 10-point victory. The Chiefs ended the game with more total yards than Miami, but most of them came late when Kansas City was forced to go to the air to catch up. The Dolphin defense forced four turnovers in a game that was never in doubt.

Week 2: 34-13 vs Houston (1-13)

Again Miami settled the issue early, taking a 27-0 lead early in the third quarter in their 21-point route. Their offensive line was dominant, allowing no sacks while the Dolphin backs accumulated 274 yards on the ground. 

Week   3: 16-14 at Minnesota (7-7)

A long pass from Fran Tarkenton to John Gilliam in the first quarter put the Dolphins behind for the first time all season. The Vikings still led 14-6 midway through the 4th quarter, but Garo Yepremian connected on a 51 yard field goal and Bob Griese led Miami to the game winning touchdown late in the game.

Week   4: 27-17 at New York Jets (7-7)

For the second time in the season Larry Csonka ran for over 100 yards as the Dolphins overcame an early seven point deficit to gradually pull away to a 10 point victory over Joe Namath’s Jets.

Week   5: 24-10 vs San Diego (4-9-1)

Miami jumped off to a 24-3 lead and cruised to an easy win that was marred by an early injury to quarterback Bob Griese. Back-up Earl Morrall wasn’t needed for much, as he only threw 10 passes.

Week   6: 24-23 vs Buffalo (4-9-1)

With Morrall behind center Miami had their tightest game. Their defense held O.J. Simpson to 57 yards, and Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick combined for more than 200. They trailed at halftime, but took the lead in the 3rd quarter and were never again headed.

Week   7: 23-0   at Baltimore (5-9)

In a dominant performance the Dolphins defense overwhelmed the Colts’ offense in a rematch of the previous season’s AFC Championship Game. 

Week   8: 30-16 at Buffalo (4-9-1)

Csonka, Morris, and Kiick again combined for over 200 yards, and Miami’s defense only allowed one touchdown as Miami outgained the Bills 327-172 in total yards. Buffalo stayed in the game until late, trailing by only seven until a late touchdown by Mercury Morris put the game out of reach.

Jan 1973; Unknown Location; FILE PHOTO; Miami Dolphins running backs (left to right) #21 Jim Kiick, #39 Larry Csonka, #22 Eugene “Mercury” Morris during their undefeated season. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Tony Tomsic-US PRESSWIRE (c) Copyright 1973 Tony Tomsic [Photo via NewsCom] ORG XMIT: ORG XMIT: MER0706201429271114

Week   9: 52-0 vs New England (3-11)

New England was terrible and Miami destroyed them, scoring 17 points in the first quarter in their second shut-out of the season.

Week 10: 28-24 vs New York Jets (7-7)

Joe Namath led the Jets to an early 17-7 lead, the largest deficit the Dolphins would face all season. Miami took the lead late in the 3rd quarter only to watch “Broadway” Joe drive New York back into the lead in the 4th. Morrall answered with a drive of his own which culminated with a Mercury Morris 14-yard touchdown run. The Dolphin offensive line was again key, as they allowed no sacks and were the key to Miami’s 214 yards rushing. 

Week 11: 31-10 vs St. Louis (4-9-1)

The Miami defense forced six Cardinal turnovers while Miami’s balanced offense had 200 yards on the ground and 254 more in the air in the 24 point win.

Week 12: 37-21 at New England (3-11)

Against the worst team in the Division Miami raced to a 37-7 lead in a game that was never close. Morris and Csonka combined for 204 of Miami’s 304 yards on the ground.

Week 13: 23-13 at New York Giants (8-6)

At home the Giants stayed close, but were eventually worn down by the Miami offensive line. The Dolphins led only 17-13 entering the 4th quarter, but two Garo Yepremian field goals iced it in the 4th.

Week 14: 16-0 vs Baltimore (5-9)

Miami closed their undefeated regular season with a convincing win over the Baltimore Colts. This was their third shut-out of the season, and the third straight time they had blanked the Colts (they had beaten Baltimore, 21-0 in the AFC Championship Game the year before). 

This was only the third time an NFL team had finished the regular season undefeated and untied. The Chicago Bears did it twice, in 1934 (13-0-0) and 1942 (11-0-0), but both times they lost the championship game. The Cleveland Browns did complete a perfect regular season in the All American Football Conference in 1948 (14-0-0), and then did win the Championship game to finish, 15-0-0. Later, the New England Patriots came close to an undefeated  season in 2007-2008. Going 18-0 entering Super Bowl XLII, but losing to the New York Giants in Phoenix, 17-14.   

Division Round:        20-14 vs Cleveland (10-5)

The Dolphins jumped out to an early 10 point lead, but Cleveland rallied to take the lead in the 4th quarter. Earl Morrall was not very good, but the offensive line did just enough for them to score a late TD and survive.

AFC Championship: 21-17 at Pittsburgh (12-4)

In a contest against the young Steelers, who would replace the Dolphins as the best team in football two years later, the undefeated Dolphins had to go on the road to secure their second straight Super Bowl appearance. Bob Griese was healthy enough to play, but Don Shula went with the veteran Earl Morrall instead, who had guided the Dolphins to their last nine victories. Pittsburgh struck first when offensive lineman Gerry Mullin recovered teammate Terry Bradshaw’s fumble in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the hit that caused Bradshaw’s fumble also drove him from the game.

The Dolphins were struggling to move the ball against Pittsburgh’s vaunted defense, but Miami punter Larry Seiple changed the complexion of the game when he raced 37 yards out of a punt formation to the Steeler 12-yard line. Morrall then hit Larry Csonka on a 9-yard pass two plays later. The game was now tied. The Steelers’ Roy Gerela answered with a 14-yard field goal and Pittsburgh ended the half leading 10-7. Out of the break, Shula went back to Griese. and Miami’s offensive line took over the game. Led by Larry Little, Bob Kuechenberg, and Jim Langer they manhandled Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain”. They consumed 15 minutes in their first two possessions of the second half, both ending on short runs for touchdowns by Jim Kiick.

Down 21-10, Steelers’ Coach Chuck Knoll re-inserted Terry Bradshaw back in the game and he threw four straight passes totally 71 yards, the last a 12-yarder to Al Young for a touchdown with five minutes to go. Pittsburgh would get the ball two more times, but Miami’s “No-Name” defense would not relent. They intercepted two of Bradshaw passes to preserve their 21-17 win. Miami was now 16-0, heading to Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  

Super Bowl VII:        14-7 vs Washington (13-4)

The Miami Dolphins entered the Super Bowl undefeated, having not lost a game since Super Bowl VI. Surprisingly it didn’t earn them much respect. The George Allen led Washington Redskins awaited them. The ‘Skins’ had won the NFC East, and had just dispatched the defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys, 26-3. Despite being a slim one point favorite, all the “smart money” seemed to be with Washington. Experts scoffed at the Dolphins’ weak schedule and their two narrow wins in the playoffs. Even President Richard Nixon made it clear he thought the Redskins would win.

They didn’t, and despite the final score, it really wasn’t close. Shula started Bob Griese for the first time since Week 5, and he was very good. He hit Howard Twilley on a 28-yard strike in first quarter, and then with two minutes to go in the half, following a Nick Buoniconti interception of Redskins’ QB Billy Kilmer, he drove Miami to the Redskin 2-yard line on a pass to tight end Jim Mandich. Two plays later Jim Kiick punched it in, and Miami led 14-0 at the half.

The Miami defense, led by Bouniconti, Manny Fernandez and Jake Scott dominated the rest of the game, only allowing Washington to cross the mid-field stripe twice, once resulting in a missed field goal, and the other a Jake Scott interception in the end zone. Washington’s only score came on a bizarre play with 2:07 left in the game. Miami lined up for a 42-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead. Washington managed to block the kick, and when it went directly back to Dolphin kicker Garo Yepremian, he attempted to throw a pass. Bad decision. He juggled the ball and then sort of shoved it forward. Redskin safety Mike Bass caught the ball in mid-air and raced 49-yards for the Redskins only score.

They would get the ball back on Miami’s 30 with less than two minutes to play, but the Miami defense would have none of it, allowing no advancement of the ball, and then sacking Kilmer on their last play. Griese ended up throwing only 11 passes, but he completed eight, while Csonka rumbled for 112 yards on the ground. 

17-0-0, nobody has ever completed a season like that, but is it the greatest achievement in NFL history?

Greatest Football Team of All-Time

Here are the best record of NFL Champions through the years:

1945 Cleveland Rams (10-1-0),

1949 Philadelphia Eagles (12-1-0),

1962 Green Bay Packers (14-1-0),

1976 Oakland Raiders (16-1-0),

1984 San Francisco 49ers (18-1-0),

1985 Chicago Bears (18-1-0).

The Dolphins are the only NFL Champion to go undefeated and untied. The 1948 All American Football Conference Champion did complete an undefeated season when Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns went 15-0-0. But the AAFC, while better than most modern media gives them credit for,  was not as good as the more established NFL.

The best single season record in NFL History:

  1. 1972-73 Dolphins          17-0-0 1.000
  2. 1984-85 49ers               18-1 .947

            1985-86 Bears               18-1 .947

            2007-08 Patriots            18-1 .947

     5.    1976-77 Raiders            16-1-0 .941

     6.    1962 Packers                 14-1-0 .933

Best 2-year record in NFL History:

  1. 1972-74 Dolphins          32-2-0 .941
  2. 1941-42 Bears               22-2 .917
  3. 2003-2005 Patriots        34-4 .895
  4. 1962-63 Packers           25-3-1 .893
  5. 1933-34 Bears               24-3-1 .889

  1984-86 Bears               32-4 .889

  1. 1948-49 Eagles             20-3-1 .870
  2. 1961-62 Packers           26-4-0 .867    

Best 3-year record in NFL History:

  1. 1941-43 Bears             31-3-1 .912         
  2. 1971-74 Dolphins        44-6-1 .880
  3. 1961-63 Packers         37-6-1 .860
  4. 1996-99 Broncos         45-10 .818
  5. 1953-55 Browns          31-7-1 .816
  6. 1965-68 Packers         38-9-1 .807

            2016-19 Patriots         46-11 .807

      8.   2003-06 Patriots         45-11 .804

      9.   1984-87 Bears            43-11 .796

            1974-77 Steelers        39-10-1 .796

     11.  1987-90 49ers            41-11 .788

Looking at these records it is clear that the Miami Dolphins have the most impressive records of all the other teams in the conversation as the greatest ever. The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers are regularly listed as a better team than the early 1970s Miami Dolphins. That is absurd. If you take the overall record of the Pittsburgh Steelers between 1974-1980, a time period where they won 4 out of six Super Bowls, their overall record was 67-21-1 (.761). That’s very impressive, but the Dolphins’ six season record between 1970 and 1975 was even better; 67-16-1 (.807). Excluding the war years Chicago Bears and the AAFC Cleveland Browns, that is the best six year record in pro football history. It is also better than any six year run of the Packers, Patriots or 49ers.

The conclusion; the 1972-1974 Miami Dolphins were the greatest team in pro football history.    

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 14: Billy Kilmer #17 of the Washington Redskins gets his pass off under pressure from Bill Stanfill #84 of the Miami Dolphins during Super Bowl VII at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, January 14, 1973. The Dolphins won the Super Bowl 14-7. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Billy Kilmer; Bill Stanfill

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