Certain stories in American football history have become timeless legends. The 1972 season of the Miami Dolphins is undoubtedly one of them. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the extraordinary journey of the team that achieved the only perfect season in the history of the NFL. This feat remains unmatched to this day. We will uncover the remarkable and inspiring saga of the Miami Dolphins, from their humble beginnings to the pinnacle of football glory in 1972.
The Birth of a Franchise
The Miami Dolphins franchise was established in 1966 when they joined the American Football League (AFL). At the start, the team was led by head coach George Wilson. However, it was when the legendary coach Don Shula took over that major changes began in the organization. Shula’s appointment was a turning point for the Dolphins, setting the stage for their historic 1972 season.
Don Shula, a Coaching Legend
Don Shula is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. He took over as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1970, bringing with him a wealth of coaching experience and a reputation for excellence. His leadership and strategic acumen played an instrumental role in shaping the franchise’s destiny.
Building the Foundation
Shula, a coaching luminary, wasted no time shaping the Dolphins into a formidable force. He made several key acquisitions that would be instrumental in the team’s future success. Among these acquisitions, quarterback Bob Griese, fullback Larry Csonka, and defensive end Bill Stanfill are pivotal additions to the team’s roster.
- Bob Griese: One of the most important pieces of the puzzle, Griese was a quarterback with remarkable poise and precision. He possessed a keen football mind and could read opposing defenses, making him a crucial figure in Shula’s offensive schemes.
- Larry Csonka: Csonka, a powerhouse of a fullback, provided the Dolphins with a formidable ground game. His bruising running style and ability to break tackles made him essential to the team’s offense.
- Bill Stanfill: On the defensive front, Bill Stanfill was a standout talent. He displayed a knack for disrupting opposing quarterbacks and wreaking havoc in the backfield as a defensive end. His presence on the defensive line added an intimidating dimension to the Dolphins’ defense.
The Long Road to Greatness
The Dolphins’ journey to perfection was not an overnight success. Under Shula’s guidance, the team steadily improved, learning from their experiences and working towards a common goal. Their progress was evident as they reached the playoffs for the first time in Shula’s debut season as head coach.
- 1970 Season: The team showed progress in Don Shula’s first year with the Dolphins. Although they did not make the playoffs, they finished with a respectable 10-4 record, a significant improvement over previous seasons.
- 1971 Season: The 1971 season marked a pivotal moment in the franchise’s history. The Dolphins made the playoffs and secured their first-ever playoff victory. This win, a 21-14 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs, marked a significant milestone on their path to greatness.
- The Perfect Season: The crowning achievement came in 1972 when the Miami Dolphins embarked on a historic journey to perfection. They achieved a flawless regular-season record of 14-0, an unprecedented feat in the NFL’s history. But their quest for perfection didn’t end with the regular season; they went on to win three more playoff games, culminating in a Super Bowl victory. The 1972 Dolphins became the first and only team in NFL history to have an undefeated, perfect season.
The 1972 Season
The 1972 Miami Dolphins embarked on a season with a singular and audacious goal in mind: a perfect season. Their journey began with a sense of determination and an unwavering commitment to achieving something that had never been done in the National Football League (NFL) history.
The season kicked off with a formidable challenge, as the Dolphins faced the Kansas City Chiefs in the first regular-season game at Arrowhead Stadium. In this game, fans and the football world got a glimpse of the historic season that was about to unfold. Under the leadership of head coach Don Shula, the Dolphins displayed their defensive prowess right from the start. Safety Dick Anderson’s recovery of a crucial fumble set the tone for what would come. Quarterback Bob Griese’s touchdown pass to Marlin Briscoe solidified their 20-10 victory in that opening game, and it was the first step in a remarkable journey that would captivate the football world.
The path to perfection is often fraught with challenges and unexpected twists, and the 1972 Dolphins’ journey was no different. In week 5 of the season, starting quarterback Bob Griese suffered a significant setback when he broke his ankle. This injury could have derailed the Dolphins’ aspirations for a perfect season, but it instead provided an opportunity for backup quarterback Earl Morrall to step into the spotlight.
Earl Morrall, a seasoned veteran in the NFL, had often played the role of backup throughout his career. However, he rose to the occasion admirably, proving his mettle and resilience. Morrall’s steady hand at the helm of the Dolphins’ offense was instrumental in maintaining the team’s momentum and guiding them through the challenges of the regular season. He would prove to be a linchpin in the Dolphins’ remarkable season, showcasing the depth and versatility of the team.
Record-Setting Duo: Csonka and Morris
One of the defining features of the 1972 Miami Dolphins was their formidable running back duo, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. These two exceptional athletes became the first teammates in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. Their remarkable performances were a testament to the team’s offensive capabilities.
Larry Csonka, a powerhouse of a fullback, bulldozed through opposing defenses with his physical style of running. He could break tackles and gain crucial yardage, making him an invaluable asset to the team. Csonka’s brute force and determination epitomized the Dolphins’ ground game, and he was a vital part of their offensive strategy.
Mercury Morris, on the other hand, brought a different dimension to the running game. He possessed exceptional speed and agility, allowing him to evade defenders and break away for big gains. Morris’s ability to complement Csonka’s power with his finesse made the Dolphins’ rushing attack multidimensional and challenging for opposing defenses to contain.
Together, Csonka and Morris formed a dynamic and record-setting tandem that contributed significantly to the team’s success and left an indelible mark on NFL history.
Unleashing the No-Name Defense
The 1972 Miami Dolphins were renowned for their formidable defense, a unit that came to be known as the “No-Name Defense.” This moniker, coined by Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, was a testament to the defense’s lack of high-profile stars. The Dolphins’ defense stood out for its collective strength and unity in a league where star power often dominated the headlines.
The “No-Name Defense” was characterized by its exceptional teamwork, discipline, and versatility. While it may not have featured household names, it was a well-coached and cohesive unit that worked seamlessly to stifle opposing offenses. The only eventual Hall of Famer on the defense, Nick Buoniconti, achieved much of his success with the New England Patriots, further highlighting the lack of individual star power on the Dolphins’ defense.
Dominance on Both Ends
The 1972 Miami Dolphins achieved a level of dominance that extended beyond their perfect regular season. They completed the regular season with an unprecedented 14-0 record and led the league in both points scored and fewest points allowed. This remarkable feat showcased their balanced approach, excelling in offense and defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dolphins displayed versatility and efficiency. With Bob Griese and Earl Morrall at quarterback, they could adapt to different situations, making the most of their running game with Csonka and Morris while also showcasing a potent passing attack when needed. Their ability to move the ball effectively and put points on the board made them a formidable force in the league.
The defense, as previously noted, was suffocating. They consistently prevented their opponents from scoring and created turnovers that swung the momentum in their favor. The “No-Name Defense” lived up to its name, proving that collective excellence could outshine individual stardom.
The Road to Perfection
Clinching the AFC East Title
With Earl Morrall leading the way in Griese’s absence, the Dolphins clinched the AFC East title in week 10. Morrall’s experience and composure at quarterback were instrumental in maintaining the team’s momentum.
Perfect in the Regular Season
The Dolphins’ regular-season performance was nothing short of extraordinary. They achieved an unblemished 14-0 record, a feat that had never been accomplished before. The team’s dominance was evident in every game they played.
The 1972 Dolphins didn’t just settle for regular-season perfection; they carried their dominance into the playoffs. They won all three postseason games, culminating in a perfect 17-0 season.
Week 1: Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The 1972 NFL season started with the Miami Dolphins facing the Kansas City Chiefs at the newly opened Arrowhead Stadium. This match followed their historic Divisional Round showdown from the previous year, where Miami triumphed in double overtime.
In this season opener, the Dolphins’ defense shone brightly. Safety Dick Anderson’s fumble recovery on the Chiefs’ opening drive set the stage for a touchdown pass from Bob Griese to Marlin Briscoe.
Miami’s defense continued to dominate, with Lloyd Mumphord blocking a field goal, and late in the second quarter, they scored two quick touchdowns, sealing a 20-10 victory.
Week 2: Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Oilers
Facing the Houston Oilers at the Orange Bowl, the Miami Dolphins encountered challenging weather conditions with intermittent rain. Nevertheless, they made a strong statement by capitalizing on turnovers.
Bill Stanfill’s fumble recovery set up a touchdown, and another score followed when Houston’s Dan Pastorini muffed a punt formation. Despite Garo Yepremian’s missed extra point, the Dolphins maintained their dominance, securing a 34-13 victory with touchdowns by Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick.
Week 3: Miami Dolphins vs. Minnesota Vikings
Week 3 saw the Miami Dolphins facing the Minnesota Vikings for the first time. The game began with a long first-quarter touchdown pass from Fran Tarkenton to John Gilliam, putting the Vikings in the lead, 7-0. This lead held until halftime.
In the third quarter, Tim Foley intercepted Tarkenton’s pass, setting up a 51-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian. Another field goal by Yepremian narrowed the Vikings’ lead to just one point. But Miami responded with a crucial drive, ultimately securing a hard-fought 16-14 win.
Week 4: Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
Week 4 brought the Miami Dolphins to Shea Stadium to face the New York Jets. The Jets took an early lead but were quickly matched by a touchdown pass from Bob Griese to Howard Twilley. Jim Kiick’s touchdown run just before halftime gave Miami a 14-7 lead.
The Dolphins extended their lead with a field goal in the third quarter. The Jets managed an 18-yard field goal of their own, but Miami capitalized on a pass interference penalty, sealing a 24-17 victory with a second Jim Kiick touchdown run.
Week 5: Miami Dolphins vs. San Diego Chargers
In Week 5, the Miami Dolphins encountered the San Diego Chargers, with a significant turning point as Bob Griese suffered an early ankle injury. Earl Morrall stepped in as his replacement. The Dolphins and Chargers traded field goals, but Miami surged ahead when Dick Anderson returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Earl Morrall’s touchdown pass to Howard Twilley extended their lead to 17-3 at halftime. Another Morrall touchdown pass in the third quarter secured a 24-10 victory as the Dolphins moved to a perfect 5-0 record.
Week 6: Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
Staying at home for Week 6, the Miami Dolphins faced their interdivisional rivals, the Buffalo Bills. The game kicked off with a strong statement from Miami, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive via a five-yard run by Mercury Morris. However, Jim Kiick’s fumble led to a 35-yard field goal by John Leypoldt of the Bills.
The Dolphins’ quarterback, Earl Morrall, also struggled, resulting in a touchdown return by Bills linebacker Ken Lee. Miami managed to maintain its lead with a 54-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian, securing a 24-16 win with a 15-yard touchdown run by Morris in the fourth quarter.
Week 7: Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Colts
Week 7 took the Miami Dolphins to Memorial Stadium to confront the Baltimore Colts. The Colts initially took the lead with a Johnny Unitas touchdown pass to Eddie Hinton, which Miami countered with a 40-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian.
The Dolphins surged ahead with a touchdown pass from Earl Morrall to Paul Warfield, but the Colts answered with another Unitas touchdown pass. Miami’s dominance in the second half was marked by three field goals, securing a 19-14 victory and preserving their perfect season.
Week 8: Miami Dolphins vs. Boston Patriots
In Week 8, the Miami Dolphins clashed with the Boston Patriots at Schaefer Stadium, with kicker Garo Yepremian as the standout player. Yepremian scored all of Miami’s points, beginning with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter, expanding their lead with 30 and 31-yard field goals in the second quarter.
The third quarter saw another Yepremian field goal from 22 yards, making it 12-0. Despite the Patriots’ efforts, they couldn’t break through Miami’s defense. The game ended with Yepremian sealing a 15-0 victory, underscoring Miami’s strong defense and their reliable kicker.
Week 9: Miami Dolphins vs. St. Louis Cardinals
In the ninth week of the 1972 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins headed to Busch Stadium to take on the St. Louis Cardinals. The Dolphins maintained their dominance, combining robust defense and effective offense. The game commenced with a fumble recovery by Miami, leading to a 48-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian.
Shortly after, a touchdown pass from Earl Morrall to Paul Warfield increased Miami’s lead. The Cardinals managed a field goal, narrowing the score to 10-3, but the Dolphins extended their lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Morrall to Jim Mandich. The final score was 31-10, showcasing the Dolphins’ prowess with a 9-0 record in pursuit of perfection.
Week 10: Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
In Week 10, the Miami Dolphins clashed once more with the New York Jets, this time on their home turf at the Orange Bowl. The Dolphins swiftly seized the lead with a touchdown pass from Earl Morrall to Paul Warfield. In the first quarter, Miami’s defense contributed with a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown, courtesy of Manny Fernandez.
The Jets managed their lone game touchdown with a pass from Joe Namath to Emerson Boozer. Nevertheless, Garo Yepremian’s field goal extended Miami’s lead to 17-7 at halftime. The second half featured another field goal by Yepremian, securing a 28-24 victory for the Miami Dolphins and preserving their perfect 10-0 season.
Week 11: Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots
In Week 11, the Miami Dolphins faced the New England Patriots at Schaefer Stadium. The Patriots had a challenging day as Miami’s defense held them to just one touchdown, a one-yard run by Jim Nance.
Garo Yepremian had another strong performance, kicking four field goals for the Dolphins. The first three were 25, 27, and 42 yards, contributing to Miami’s 9-7 halftime lead.
In the second half, Miami’s defense continued to shine, and Yepremian added another field goal from 32 yards out. The Dolphins secured a 12-7 win, maintaining their perfect season record at 11-0.
Week 12: Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants
The Miami Dolphins faced the New York Giants in Week 12 at the Orange Bowl. Miami’s defense continued to be a force, intercepting Giants quarterback Norm Snead four times.
The game’s scoring began with a short touchdown pass from Earl Morrall to Marv Fleming. The Giants responded with a field goal to make it 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Larry Csonka ran for a one-yard touchdown, while the Dolphins’ defense kept the Giants at bay, holding them to just one field goal. Miami held a comfortable 14-6 lead at halftime.
During the second half, the Dolphins added two more touchdowns, extending their lead to 28-6. The final score remained the same, with the Dolphins securing a 28-6 victory, improving their record to 12-0.
Week 13: Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Colts
Week 13 brought the Miami Dolphins to the Orange Bowl to face the Baltimore Colts once again. This game was a rematch from earlier in the season, which the Dolphins won 19-14.
The Dolphins dominated from the start. They forced a safety, taking a 2-0 lead in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, Jim Kiick ran for a one-yard touchdown, giving Miami a 9-0 advantage.
In the second quarter, the Dolphins extended their lead with another touchdown by Kiick and a field goal by Garo Yepremian. Baltimore managed to score a field goal just before halftime, making it 19-3.
Miami continued to control the game in the second half, and their defense intercepted three passes. The Colts scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game ended with a 22-10 victory for the Miami Dolphins, maintaining their perfect season at 13-0.
Week 14: Miami Dolphins vs. Cleveland Browns
In Week 14, the Miami Dolphins traveled to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to face the Browns. The Dolphins continued their winning ways, securing a 20-14 victory over the Browns.
Jim Kiick ran for two touchdowns, and Garo Yepremian kicked two field goals for the Dolphins. The Browns put up a strong fight, but Miami’s defense was up to the task, holding them to 14 points.
The victory in Cleveland improved Miami’s record to 14-0 as they approached the final two games of the regular season.
The Legacy Lives On
The Presidential Honor
Decades after their remarkable achievement, the 1972 Dolphins received a long-awaited honor. In 2013, President Barack Obama hosted the surviving members of the team at the White House, acknowledging that they “never got their White House visit.” This recognition was a testament to their enduring legacy.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration
On October 23, 2022, the 1972 Dolphins were honored at halftime during a Sunday Night Football game, rekindling memories of their historic journey. The Dolphins wore throwback uniforms bearing a classic Dolphins logo, the number 50, and the years 1972 and 2022, marking the 50th anniversary of their perfect season.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins team’s journey to perfection is a story that transcends time. From their humble beginnings under George Wilson to the historic season under Don Shula, this team showcased determination, skill, and resilience. Their perfect season remains an indelible mark on the canvas of NFL history, and their legacy endures, reminding us that greatness is achievable through dedication and teamwork.
In a league filled with ups and downs, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are a shining example of what can be accomplished when a team comes together with a common purpose and unwavering commitment.
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