1972 Miami Dolphins

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to complete a season with a perfect record.

In 1966, the American Football League awarded an expansion franchise to the city of Miami, giving the league nine teams. The ownership group, led by attorney Joe Robbie and comedian Danny Thomas, paid a $ 7.5 million fee and held a “Name the Team” contest that was judged by 12 members of the local media. Over 19,000 entries were submitted– including Moons, Marauders, Mustangs, Mariners and Missiles—before “Dolphins” was chosen. George Wilson, who led the Detroit Lions to the NFL title in 1957, was hired as head coach and the team played their home games in the Orange Bowl. The 1966 Dolphins went 3-11 and things did not get much better over the next three years, as Wilson compiled a 15-39-2 record and was fired following his fourth season. In February, 1970, the Dolphins hired Don Shula [Daily Dose, September 22] as their new head coach and vice president. Shula had gone 71-23-4 in his seven years as head coach of the Baltimore Colts and was a three-time NFL Coach of the Year. The NFL found the Dolphins guilty of “tampering” in luring Shula away from Baltimore and Miami was forced to forfeit their number one draft choice for 1971 to the Colts.

Shula inherited a nucleus of good players, including quarterback Bob Griese, fullback Larry Csonka, guard Larry Little and linebacker Nick Buoniconti—all future Hall of Famers. He executed one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history by obtaining wide receiver Paul Warfield, a perennial All-Pro and future Hall of Famer, from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the first round draft pick that Cleveland used to select quarterback Mike Phipps, who would go on to become an NFL journeyman. Miami also obtained future Hall of Fame center Jim Langer as an undrafted free agent. The Dolphins went 10-4 and made the playoffs in 1970, losing to the Oakland Raiders in the first round. The following year, they went 10-3-1, won the AFC Conference Championship and earned a trip to Super Bowl VI, where they were thrashed by the Dallas Cowboys, 24-3.

The Miami Dolphins arrived for training camp at St. Thomas University in August 1972, with something to prove following their embarrassing performance in Super Bowl VI. After going 3-3 in the preseason, the Dolphins opened the regular season at Arrowhead Stadium, the sparkling new home of the Kansas City Chiefs, who Miami had eliminated from the playoffs on Christmas Day the prior year in pro football’s longest game [Daily Dose, December 25]. Miami won handily, 20-10, as well as their next three games before hosting the San Diego Chargers in week five. Bob Griese was quarterback, captain and undisputed leader of Shula’s Dolphins and had played in the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league. On October 15, 1972, Deacon Jones [Daily Dose, December 9] sacked Griese, causing a broken leg and dislocated ankle. In came 38-year-old Earl Morrall, who Miami had just picked up on waivers from Shula’s former team, the Baltimore Colts. Morrall, who was named MVP of the NFL after filling in for the injured John Unitas in Baltimore, led the AFC in passing—as Griese had the prior year—while guiding Miami to nine straight wins and an unblemished regular season record. Morrall had plenty of help, as the Dolphins featured bruising fullback Larry Csonka and nifty halfback Eugene “Mercury” Morris–the first two 1,000 yard rushers in the same backfield in NFL history—and led the league in rushing and total offense. They ran behind an offensive line that included Langer, Little and Pro Bowler Norm Evans and averaged over 200 rushing yards per game. Warfield led the team in receptions with 29 and averaged over 20 yards per catch. The defense was underrated and largely overlooked—labelled the No-Name Defense in an era when Dallas boasted Doomsday and Minnesota the Purple People Eaters—while leading the league in fewest points allowed [171] and largest average margin of victory. Four Dolphin defenders, including safeties Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, made the Pro Bowl in 1972.

After finishing the regular season 14-0, the Dolphins beat the Cleveland Browns, 20-14, in the divisional playoffs on Christmas Eve. They then traveled to Three Rivers Stadium to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had won their first playoff game since 1947 [Daily Dose, January 5] on Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” one week earlier. With the score tied 7-7 at halftime, Griese replaced Morrall at quarterback and directed Miami to two second-half touchdowns and a 21-17 victory. The Dolphins, who were now in their seventh year of existence, returned to the Super Bowl for the second straight year and a showdown with the Washington Redskins. Super Bowl VII was played before 90,182 spectators on a sunny day in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Redskins, coached by George Allen, came into the game 13-3 and as the slight favorite, but could not generate any offense and were down, 14-0, when Dolphin placekicker Garo Yepremian lined up to attempt a 42-yard field goal with 2:07 left in the game. Shula thought a 17-0 final score would provide a fitting end to a 17-0 season, but the kick was blocked back into the hands of Yepremian, who attempted to throw the football out of bounds. “Garo’s Gaffe” was intercepted by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass and returned for a touchdown to make it 14-7. Miami’s “No Name Defense” saved the day by forcing Washington to turn the ball over on downs to win the Lombardi Trophy and complete the perfect season.

Nine players from the 1972 Dolphins made the Pro Bowl. Earl Morrall was named AFC MVP and six Miami players from that team, as well as Don Shula, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On this date in 1973, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII. It was the second time the Super Bowl had been played in the Los Angeles Coliseum.