AP WAS THERE: Dolphins complete perfect season in 14-7 win

February 2, 2022 GMT
FILE - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It can be argued — and has been for decades — that a perfect record including winning a championship makes that team the best in its sport. And maybe the 1972 Miami Dolphins wouldn't have matched up with, say, the great Steelers dynasty of the later 1970s. Or the dominant 49ers of the 1980s. Or the Cowboys Triplets of the 1990s. No matter: Miami owns the only unblemished record in the Super Bowl era. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It can be argued — and has been for decades — that a perfect record including winning a championship makes that team the best in its sport. And maybe the 1972 Miami Dolphins wouldn't have matched up with, say, the great Steelers dynasty of the later 1970s. Or the dominant 49ers of the 1980s. Or the Cowboys Triplets of the 1990s. No matter: Miami owns the only unblemished record in the Super Bowl era. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It can be argued — and has been for decades — that a perfect record including winning a championship makes that team the best in its sport. And maybe the 1972 Miami Dolphins wouldn't have matched up with, say, the great Steelers dynasty of the later 1970s. Or the dominant 49ers of the 1980s. Or the Cowboys Triplets of the 1990s. No matter: Miami owns the only unblemished record in the Super Bowl era. (AP Photo/File)
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FILE - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It can be argued — and has been for decades — that a perfect record including winning a championship makes that team the best in its sport. And maybe the 1972 Miami Dolphins wouldn't have matched up with, say, the great Steelers dynasty of the later 1970s. Or the dominant 49ers of the 1980s. Or the Cowboys Triplets of the 1990s. No matter: Miami owns the only unblemished record in the Super Bowl era. (AP Photo/File)
1 of 8
FILE - Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It can be argued — and has been for decades — that a perfect record including winning a championship makes that team the best in its sport. And maybe the 1972 Miami Dolphins wouldn't have matched up with, say, the great Steelers dynasty of the later 1970s. Or the dominant 49ers of the 1980s. Or the Cowboys Triplets of the 1990s. No matter: Miami owns the only unblemished record in the Super Bowl era. (AP Photo/File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The only full season of NFL perfection in the Super Bowl era including winning the championship occurred in 1972. When the Dolphins took the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field against Washington on Jan. 14, 1973, they were 16-0. But they were underdogs to the veteran opponent led by future Hall of Fame coach George Allen. Of course, Miami also had that level of coach in Don Shula. And despite one of the most infamous plays in pro football history, the Dolphins succeeded, 14-7. The Associated Press is republishing verbatim the story of that game.

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“Welcome to the Super Bowl Fish Fry,” said the bedsheet banner in the massive Memorial Coliseum. However, it was the Washington Redskins who got neatly sautéed by pro football’s unbeatable underdogs, the Miami Dolphins.

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“Washington’s Championship Menu: Filet of Dolphin,” said another home paean to coach George Allen’s Over-The-Hill Gang. However, it was Miami quarterback Bob Griese who feasted on the tasty gaps in the Redskins’ defense.

It was bullish Larry Csonka who gobbled up the Coliseum turf. It was Manny Fernandez who chewed up the Washington ground game. It was Jake Scott who speared the Redskins’ aerial attack like a hungry interloper amid trays of hors d’oeuvres.

And when the banquet was over on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, with a victory in Super Bowl 7 far more convincing than the final 14-7, had become the National Football League’s first team to munch their way through an entire season without so much as a tie to blemish their record.

With the American Conference’s top offense and equally supreme defense, they had barreled through the year with a 14-0 record. Then, in a pair of come-from-behind efforts, they’d nudged past Cleveland 20-14, and Pittsburgh 21-17 for the AFC title.

And finally, as underdogs of anywhere from one to three points, they marked into Super Bowl 7, silently determined to shove into the background their 24-3 humiliation at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in the championship game of a year ago.

They didn’t just push it into the background, they obliterated it.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna tell these guys in training camp,” coach Don Shula said in a jubilant Miami locker room,” except maybe, `We gotta win the College All-Star Game.

“There was always the empty feeling of not having accomplished the ultimate,” said Shula, who twice had taken teams into the Super Bowl and twice had come away a loser.

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The Dolphins had come within one busted field-goal attempt in the waning minutes of becoming the first shutout winner in the Super Bowl.

And with their 17-0 record, they moved within one victory of the Chicago Bears’ twice-achieved record for the NFL’s longest winning streak. They won’t know until perhaps late April, when the league releases the 1973 schedule, who could be No. 18.

The Bears of 1934 and 1942 had battered their way through perfect seasons, only to lose championship games. Did that make these Dolphins the ultimate team, a thoroughly mature but still relatively young squad which had blown gaping holes in Allen’s “the future is now” concept of a trade-acquired machine of veterans?

“It’s hard for me to compare other teams of other times,” Shula said. “No other team has ever won it all and then this, too. I think they deserve everything they’ve got coming.”

The scoring statistics are simple. A 28-yard Griese to Howard Twilley touchdown pass with 1 second to go in the first quarter, and a 1-yard Jim Kiick plunge with 18 seconds to go in the second quarter. But that hardly tells much of a story.

Washington scoring is a bit more complicated -- its special teams defense, helped by a frenzy of confusion, got the points. Gary Yepremian’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Bill Brundige and, when the Cypriot placekicker recovered the ball and tried to pass, he lost the handle.

Cornerback Mike Bass snatched it in midair and galloped 49 yards down the left sideline for the touchdown which, with 2:02 to play, averted the ultimate ignominy for Washington.

Suddenly, the record championship crowd of 90,182 fans — and the estimated 75 million television viewers, including those unblacked-out Los Angeles -- had themselves a close game. They waited for the onside kick. But it never came.

“There was too much time left,” Allen said. “You just try to kick deep, hold them and maybe block the punt.”

But they didn’t hold them until barely a minute remained. They didn’t block the punt by Larry Seiple that dumped the Redskins back on their 30-yard line.

Then, after three incomplete passes by Billy Kilmer and a final crushing sack that left him staring helplessly at the smog-laden California sky, the Dolphins, for their 60 minutes of work, were each richer $15,000 -- closer to $25,000 if you count the AFC playoff shares.

The National Conference champion Redskins each receive about $17,500, including the $7,500 Super Bowl loser’s check.

Griese, who played it protectively cozy in the second half, finishing the game with eight completions on 11 passes for 88 yards, was dynamite in the first half of his first start since the fifth game of the season, when leg and ankle injuries brought Earl Morrall in as the signal caller.

In the first two periods, he went 6 for 6 for 75 yards. And he would have been 8 for 8 for 142 yards had not a 20-yarder to Marv Fleming and a 47-yard scoring bomb to Paul Warfield not been wiped out by penalties.

It seemed the teams would go scoreless through the first period before Griese got Miami moving from its 37-yard line with three minutes to go. A series of rushes by Kiick and an 18-yard bullet to Warfield put the ball on the Washington 28.

Then Griese looked for his ace receiver again.

“Warfield had double coverage, so Twilley had single coverage with Pat Fischer,” he recalled. “He just went down and beat him.”

With a beautiful inside move that had Fischer faked out of his cleats, Twilley was well clear of the Redskins cornerback when the ball arrived at the 6-yard line. Fischer recovered, but his tackle came just as Twilley lunged into the right corner of the end zone.

It was Jake Scott who came up with two of Miami’s interceptions, one of them near midfield in the opening minutes of the second period, the other a touchdown killer in the end zone he returned 55 yards just before Yepremian messed up the field goal attempt.

But it was linebacker Nick Buoniconti’s interception that set the stage for the Dolphins’ second-period touchdown. He grabbed Kilmer’s pass at the Miami 41 and ran it back to the Washington 27. Three-yard runs by Kiick and Csonka, a 19-yard Griese to Jim Mandich pass and two more plunges by Kiick, and the score was 14-0.

There was still plenty of time as the second half began and Kilmer, who finished with completions on half of his 28 passes for 104 yards, didn’t seem to waste it. Four successive completions -- 11 yards to Jerry Smith, 15 to Charley Taylor, then 15 and 7 to Roy Jefferson and the ’Skins were at the Miami 17.

But as suddenly as Kilmer had found his arm, he lost it and he lost 8 yards when Fernandez blew in to dump him. So it was up to Curt Knight to put Washington on the scoreboard.

He didn’t. The placekicker who had booted seven straight field goals in the NFC playoffs against Green Bay and Dallas missed from 32 yards.

”I simply did not throw the ball well today,” said Kilmer, looking forward glumly to his role next Sunday in Dallas as quarterback of the NFC in the Pro Bowl. “I think if I had thrown well we would have beaten them ... that game next week doesn’t mean a thing any more. Not without this one.

“We figured we had to run against Miami, but their overall defense is so good that we couldn’t get anything started,” Larry Brown, who led the NFC rushers with 1,216 yards but managed 72 of Washington’s 141 ground yard against the Dolphins, and he needed 22 carries to do it.

Csonka, meanwhile, brushed aside Redskins tacklers all day, piling up 112 yards, nine short of the Super Bowl record set by the New York Jets’ Matt Snell in 1969.

Forty-nine of them came in one explosive charge through half the Redskins on the field with five minutes to go in the third quarter. He broke several tackles, gave Fischer a deadly forearm that sent him cartwheeling, then mangled Jack Pardee and Brig Owens as they wrestled him down at the Washington 16-yard line.

Five plays later, with the ball at 5, Griese made his only mistake.

“I wanted at least three points because it had been a long drive and it could have out us into a 17-point lead going into the last period.

“Al I was thinking was, ‘Don’t fumble, don’t throw an interception. Just get the three points.’ I saw Fleming break open in the corner of the end zone and I led him a little to make sure.”

But Owens made sure Miami got no points, leaping in front of Fleming to make the interception. It was exactly what I was trying to avoid,” Griese said. “He just made a great play on the ball. It was the most upsetting thing about the game.”

Allen said there were plenty of things to be upset about. One of them was an apparent fumbled snap by Miami center Howard Kindig in the opening minutes, one which Redskins linebacker Harold McLinton slapped loose, then recovered at the Dolphins 25.

The officials nailed McLinton for illegal procedure. It gave Miami a second chance to punt and this one was good, a 50-yarder by Seiple.

“A lot of centers in the league wind up when they snap the ball,” Allen said. “Well, their center lifts up the front of the ball. Harold slapped the ball ... the officials ruled it was our ball until one of them informed the referee about the penalty for encroachment.”

And there was a fumbled punt by Scott later in the first period. The Redskins might have had the ball on The Dolphins 37, but Dick Anderson recovered for Miami.

“That was the biggest play of the first half,” Allen said. “If we’d have gotten the ball — and I feel we would have scored — we would have gone ahead and it would have been a different ballgame.”

One thing was different. President Nixon, who had avidly supported Miami a year ago in its Super Bowl loss, switched his allegiance this year to the Redskins, and saw his heroes go down to defeat from the Florida White House in Key Biscayne.

“That was a fine game. There was suspense right up to the end,” the president said. But he didn’t say it to the coaches. He delayed his congratulatory and conciliatory telephone calls to Shula and Allen until today.

So there was no consolation for Allen, the former Rams coach who, along with a wave of Rams players returned to the scene of his five winning seasons.

“I can’t get out of here fast enough,” he said. “We’ll stay overnight and leave in the morning. There’ll be a lot of hours of agony tonight. It doesn’t do any good to play in the Super Bowl and not win it. But my message to the team after the game was, `Don’t worry. We’ll be back.’”

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AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.

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