By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
A pair of 14-2 teams advanced to the NFL’s ultimate game on January 13, 1974. For the first time in history, an AFL born and bred expansion team, the Miami Dolphins (first season 1966) were favored to win the Super Bowl (by 6 and 1/2 points). Standing in there way was an NFL born and bred expansion team, the Minnesota Vikings (first season 1961). In August of 1959, Minneapolis businessmen Bill Boyer, H.P. Skoglund and Max Winter were awarded a franchise in the new American Football League. But the established National Football League also wanted a presence in the Twin Cities area. After considerable pressure from the NFL, the AFL ownership group reneged on their deal with the AFL in January of 1960 and accepted an offer to become the NFL’s 14th franchise, beginning play in 1961. Meanwhile, this reneged AFL franchise eventually became the Oakland Raider franchise!
This new NFL franchise was officially named the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27, 1960. On Jan. 18, 1961, recently retired Eagle’s quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, fresh off a victory over the Packers in the NFL Championship Game, was named the first head coach of the Vikings. He and Vikings GM Joe Thomas(who’d later be Miami’s GM) went to work stocking this team with players. The first player they selected was Tulane star running back Tommy Mason. Later, in the third round, quarterback Fran Tarkenton of Georgia was chosen. On opening day in 1961 Tarkenton came off the bench to lead Minnesota to a 37-13 victory over the Chicago Bears! Tarkenton threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth to lead this shocking upset victory in Minnesota’s very first NFL game!
Eventually, reality set in. The Vikings languished through a period of mediocrity in the early to mid-1960’s, having only one winning season (8-5-1 in 1964). In early 1967, Van Brocklin resigned as head coach. Bud Grant, who had led the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup titles, was hired to replace Van Brocklin. Soon, popular QB Fran Tarkenton was traded to the Giants for two first round picks and two second round picks. These picks produced Hall of Fame lineman Ron Yary and star wide receiver Clint Jones. Eight year Canadian Football League veteran Joe Kapp was brought in to replace Tarkenton at quarterback.
The Vikings also set out to upgrade their defense. This defense, known as the “Purple People Eaters,” was led by Hall of Fame defensive linemen Alan Page, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, plus defensive back Paul Krause, also a future HOFer.
This improved Vikings team won the NFL Central Division title in 1968. In 1969, The Vikings defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-7 in the last NFL Championship Game prior to the merger of the two leagues. This win propelled Minnesota to Super Bowl IV. The double digit favored Vikings stumbled badly in their first Super Bowl. Kansas City dominated Minnesota throughout most of the game, winning 16-7 on the strength of three Jan Stenerud field goals. After the game, Vikings head coach Bud Grant said, “Now I know how Don Shula felt when he lost the Super Bowl to the Jets.” Like Shula, Grant vowed to get back to the Super Bowl.
Indeed, Bud Grant would return. But, unlike Shula, Grant would never win pro football’s Holy Grail. Four times during the decade of the ’70’s Grant would get the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Four times he would suffer the agony of defeat. However, from the late ’60’s through the late ’70’s, the Vikings were among the best franchises in the NFL.
In January of 1972, Minnesota traded quarterback Norm Snead and three other players to the New York Giants to reacquire the incredibly popular Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton was the man who made Minnesota go! By the time he retired, Tarkenton would own many all-time NFL passing records, including most yards passing (47,003) and most career touchdown passing (342). His records would stand for over 15 years until broken by Miami’s Dan Marino in the 1990’s. Prior to Super Bowl VIII the Dolphins and the Vikings had met only once before. And what a game it was! Their prior meeting had occurred during the NFL’s one and only PERFECT SEASON! It was the third week of the 1972 campaign. The Miami Dolphins had upset the favored Kansas City Chiefs on the road 20-10 in the first game ever played at Arrowhead Stadium. In week #2, Miami blew out an overmatched Houston Oilers team in the historic Orange Bowl. Week #3 saw Miami return to the road to play the favored Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
Early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota’s Bill Brown scored on a one yard run to give the Vikings a 14-6 lead. Later in the quarter Miami’s Garo Yepremian connected on a 51 yard field goal that barely made it over the crossbar! But time was running out! Miami trailed 14-9.
Minnesota’s attempt to run out the clock failed when Miami’s “No Name Defense” crushed the Vikings on three consecutive plays! After a punt, Bob Griese led a last gasp drive down to the Minnesota 28 yard line. Two consecutive complete passes to reliable Howard Twilley got the Dolphins a FIRST AND GOAL AT THE THREE! Everyone in Metropolitan Stadium was standing and screaming their lungs out! There was less than two minutes left on the clock!
Everyone expected Griese to hand-off to Larry Csonka. But the clever Miami quarterback faked a hand-off and PASSED TO A WIDE OPEN JIM MANDICH FOR THE CLINCHING TOUCHDOWN! Miami would win this game 16-14 and go on to complete THE PERFECT SEASON!
In week #12 of the 1973 season the Minnesota Vikings played the eventual AFC Central Division champs, the Cincinnati Bengals. Paul Brown’s Bengals toyed with the Vikings, blowing them out by a 27-0 score. A few weeks later, the same Bengals would be trounced in the AFC Playoffs 34-16 by Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Shula and his assistants could barely conceal their confidence as they studied the game films of Cincy’s destruction of Minnesota.
Shula strongly believed his team’s running game COULD RUN ON ANYBODY!! And why not? Miami had run the ball 50 times vs. the Bengals for a 5.0 average in the AFC semi-finals. Then, in the AFC Championship Game, Miami ran the ball a mind-boggling 53 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns against the tough-as-nails Oakland defense! So the offensive game plan for Super Bowl VIII was simple: RUN THE FOOTBALL until Minnesota forced Miami to do something else.
A hamstring injury to Paul Warfield late in the Oakland game impacted Miami’s offense. The All-Pro wide receiver was healthy enough to block. But his availability to run deep patterns would not be known until pre-game warmups. Warfield confidently predicted “I’ll be ready!” But Marlin Briscoe got extra work during Super Bowl week practices just in case Warfield suffered a setback.
The Minnesota offense centered on 13 year veteran QB Fran Tarkenton. He completed 62 per cent of his passes in 1973 for 15 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. His favorite deep threat was Pro Bowl receiver John Gilliam, who caught 42 passes for 907 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end Stu Voight and NFL Rookie of the Year running back Chuck Foreman also were prominent in the Vikes’ passing game.
Foreman, an ex-Miami Hurricane, rushed for 801 yards in 1973. Running backs Dave Osborn, Bill Brown, Oscar Reed and Ed Marinaro also were contributors to the Minnesota offense. But Dolphins head coach Don Shula strongly believed his “No Name Defense” was more than a match for this Viking offense. Bluntly speaking, I saw NO WAY the Minnesota Vikings could defeat the Miami Dolphins. Unlike the 1972 post season, when Miami won three very close contests, the 1973 post season would see Miami DESTROY their opponents in every game! I believed Miami would easily complete their amazing two year run of 32-2, the greatest two year run in NFL history!
Just before kickoff, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath said, “If Miami gets the kickoff and scores on the opening drive, the game is OVER!” CBS announcers Ray Scott and Pat Sumerall chuckled as Namath made his comments.
It was a cool, cloudy, 50 degree day in downtown Houston at the kickoff of Super Bowl VIII. Referee Ben Dreith announced to the crowd of 71,882 that Miami had won the toss and elected to receive. CBS cameras scanned the Miami sideline. Most of the Miami players were smiling. They knew what was coming!!
Jake Scott caught the opening kickoff at the seven yard line and returned it 31 yards to the Miami 38. Then Mercury Morris scooted around right tackle for four yards. Larry Csonka plowed the middle for two more to the 44. On third down, Griese completed a 13 yard pass play to tight end Jim Mandich at the Minnesota 43. A 16 yard burst by Larry Csonkawas followed by a six yard pass to Marlin Briscoe at the Minnesota 21. Three running plays got the ball to a first and goal at the Minnesota five! “They’re making this look easy,” said CBS color commentator Bart Starr. On cue, Csonka roared through a hole and SCORED THE FIRST TOUCHDOWN of Super Bowl VIII! Yepremian’s extra point made it 7-0, Miami.
This successful opening drive meant that Miami had won the coin toss for all three 1973 post season games and SCORED A TOUCHDOWN ON ALL THREE OF THOSE DRIVES! No one could recall this EVER happening before!
Down 7-0, Vikings head coach Bud Grant knew his team had to respond. But Miami’s “No Name Defense” would have none of it! They forced Minnesota to a classic “three and out!”
The Dolphins started their second drive from their 44. Three key runs by Larry Csonka were good for eight, 12, and eight yards. Quarterback Bob Griese completed his third pass of the first quarter, good for 13 yards to Briscoe. Then, from the one yard line, running back Jim Kiick scored his only touchdown of the season, giving Miami a 14-0 lead after one quarter.
Miami had run 20 plays for 118 yards and eight first downs good for two touchdowns on their first two possessions. Minnesota’s first quarter numbers were six plays for one first down and 25 total yards. The rout was on!
Miami mounted another drive about five minutes into the second quarter. The seven play drive ended in a 28 yard field goal by Garo Yepremian, raising Miami’s advantage to 17-0. This drive was aided by a 15 yard penalty against Minnesota’s Wally Hilgenberg, who heaved an elbow through Larry Csonka’s facemask, cutting Csonka above the eye. This penalty would be just one of seven total penalties against the Vikings for a total of 65 yards. Miami was penalized just once for four yards in this game.
Minnesota had their best chance to score in the first half on their next drive. Tarkenton completed two passes good for 31 combined yards to Stu Voight. Then Tarkenton hit speedy John Gilliam for 30 yards! A Tarkenton scramble moved the ball to Miami’s seven yard line. On fourth and one from the six, the Vikings decided to go for it! Running back Oscar Reed took the hand off and was CRUSHED by linebacker Nick Buoniconti! Reed fumbled the ball and Miami’s Jake Scott recovered it! Miami jogged off the field with an insurmountable 17-0 halftime lead! Miami’s All-Pro center Jim Langer said “We definitely knew that this game was over!”
Minnesota’s John Gilliam returned the second half kickoff back 65 yards! But a holding penalty negated the return and placed the ball back at the Vikings 11. Three plays later, Minnesota’s punt was returned by Jake Scott to the Vikes 43 yard line. The Dolphins proceeded to deliver the knockout punch with an eight play drive. The key play was Bob Griese’s 27 yard strike to Paul Warfield at the Minnesota 11 yard line! It would be Griese’s final pass of Super Bowl VIII.
Larry Csonka ended this drive with a two yard touchdown rumblr running right through Wally Hilgenberg! This lopsided Super Bowl had become a 24-0 laugher! Fran Tarkenton’s meaningless fourth quarter touchdown run was barely a footnote to Miami’s dominant 24-7 blowout victory! Indeed, the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’S Super Bowl issue said “Miami Massacres Minnesota!”
Miami’s Larry Csonka was the overwhelming choice for the Super Bowl VIII MVP trophy. He carried a then Super Bowl record 33 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Miami repeated their 53-carry performance against Oakland with another 53-carry performance in Super Bowl VIII. In all, Miami ran the ball a staggering 156 times in three playoff games, a record I believe has never been broken!
Quarterback Bob Griese attempted just seven passes, completing six for 73 yards (all Super Bowl lows for a winning quarterback). “The running game was working so well I saw no need to pass the ball much” said the studious Griese.
Meanwhile, Miami’s “No Name Defense” had just put on one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history. Oscar Reed led the Vikes with a paltry 32 yards on 11 carries. Chuck Foreman had 17 yards on eight carries. QB Fran Tarkenton was 18 for 28 passing for 182 yards but NO touchdowns and one interception. For the second consecutive Super Bowl, Miami held their opponents TO JUST SEVEN POINTS! This “No Name Defense” gave up a record low 150 points during the 1973 regular season. But, in Super Bowl VIII, they were even better. They had solidified their status as the greatest defense in the storied history of the National Football League!
Newspapers across America were unanimous in their praise of the victorious Dolphins. Reporter Bob Oates of the LOS ANGELES TIMES said “Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins weren’t playing for Roman numeral championships Sunday. They were playing for the ages, for immortality, for recognition as the greatest football team of all time. And they probably got there.”
L. A. TIMES humorist Jim Murray wrote “Minnesota made a whole bunch of mistakes, not the least of which was showing up! …The Titanic put up a better fight. Minnesota looked like it was fighting the Johnstown Flood with a spoon with a hole through it!”
The front page of the January 14 MIAMI HERALD sports section carried a huge photo of Csonka scoring the game’s first touchdown. Beside the photo was sports editor Edwin Pope’s article titled “The Dolphins–Pro Football’s All-Time Kings.” In that article, Pope made a persuasive case for calling these Dolphins the best team of all time. Better than the Packers.
And why not? The 1972 Dolphins were, and ARE, the ONLY UNDEFEATED TEAM IN NFL HISTORY!! And some believe the 1973 team WAS EVEN BETTER!! That team gave up only 150 points in the entire season, STILL AN ALL-TIME NFL RECORD in the Super Bowl era!!
The 1972-1973 Dolphins compiled a mind blowing 32-2 record, the best ever over a two year span. Better than Lombardi’s Packers. Better than Noll’s Steelers. Better than Landry’s Cowboys. Better than Bill Walsh’s Niners. And better than Belichik’s “Cheatriots,” who’ve never won a Super Bowl since getting caught cheating! For two seasons, these Dolphins were THE GREATEST TEAM OF ALL TIME!
Me and “My Boyz” had a more mellow, less boisterous, celebration after our beloved Dolphins won their second consecutive Super Bowl. But we rejoiced, firm in our belief that we had just witnessed history. I thought then as I think now: THIS TWO YEAR RECORD OF 32-2 WILL NEVER BE BROKEN! And, indeed, it NEVER HAS BEEN BROKEN!
Bravo to Don Shula, his coaches, his staff, and to general managers Joe Thomas and Bobby Beatherd for a truly incredible achievement. And bravo to all the players who achieved what many said could NOT be done. They ruly achieved history.
This is your author, Randy Campbell, the OLD DOLFAN, saying it has been my ultimate pleasure to bring you this modest rendition of the greatest pro football team of all time. I truly hope you’ve enjoyed it!! Me and my lovely wife, Penny, and “My Boyz,” hope to see each and every one of you at the stadium real soon.
May we all live long enough to see and experience yet another Dolphins Championship Season! Long live the legend of the 1972-1973 Miami Dolphins!