By: Randy Campbell (Old Dolfan)
Game 1: Sept. 17, 1972 – Miami at Kansas City
2012 marks the 40th Anniversary of the greatest achievement by any team in the storied history of the National Football League. In 1972 the Miami Dolphins did what no other team had ever done before AND what no other team has ever done since. They ran the table. They were perfect. They were 17 and 0.
The Perfect Season had its roots in the 1971 campaign. Young head coach Don Shula had guided the Dolphins into the playoffs. Then, on Christmas Day 1971, the underdog Dolphins visited the Kansas City Chiefs in what would be the last football game ever played at Municipal Stadium (the former home of the Kansas City Athletics baseball team). The Chiefs had crushed the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. In 1971 They were still regarded as one of the very best teams in all of football. Few outside of South Florida gave the Dolphins any chance in this game. It was a high-scoring contest. When regulation time was completed, the score was 24-24. What would happen in sudden death overtime? Both teams failed to score in the first overtime. Then, midway through the second overtime, Larry Csonka burst through a gaping hole, running for nearly 40 yards near the Chiefs’ 30 yard line. Miami lined-up for a 37-yard field goal attempt. Earlier, future Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud had missed a shorter field goal that would have won it for the Chiefs. The winds swirled. Garo Yepremian’s 37-yard kick WAS GOOD!! The longest game in NFL history WAS OVER! It took 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.South Florida football fans had received an extra special Christmas gift — the gift of Miami’s first ever playoff victory!
Eventually, the thrill of this historic overtime victory gave way to the bitter taste of defeat. The Dolphins were embarrassed in Super Bowl VI, losing 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys. Shula and his players vowed this would never happen to them again. They wanted another shot at the Super Bowl. They wanted revenge.
On opening day, Sept. 17, 1972, the Chiefs also wanted revenge. And why not? Brand new Arrowhead Stadium was a madhouse as nearly 80,000 fans came to the game with one thing on their minds: REVENGE!! Tickets were selling for 10 to 20 times face value in the parking lots and side streets on game day. The intensity of these fans was unbelievable! Psychologically, the Chiefs had the advantage. But the Dolphins also had some advantages on this sultry day inKansas City. In no particular order they had: 1) The Brain; 2) The 53 defense; and 3) The Heat. Calm, cool, collected Bob Griese was The Brain for Miami’s grind-it-out ball control offense. The key was Griese’s belief that Miami needed to run BETWEEN, not OVER, the Chiefs’ huge defensive linemen. Griese’s clever play-calling produced a huge running game advantage for the Dolphins. Fullback Larry Csonka repeated his “Longest Game” heroics by rushing for 118 yards. Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris also gained important yardage. The raging late summer heat provided Miami with an extra edge. Dressed in all-white uniforms (which repelled some sunlight) the Dolphins had an advantage over the red-clad Chiefs (whose dark colors ABSORBED more of the heat). The temperatures on Arrowhead’s artificial surface approached 120 degrees that day! “We were dying at the half so you know how they must have felt,” said Mercury Morris. “We feel we’re in better shape than any team we play.” Shula’s fearsome 3-A-Day workouts in pads during summer camp were paying off. “This was a real hot one,” said the Don of Miami. “We felt our preparation gave us an advantage.”
Two Kansas City mistakes led to both Miami touchdowns. On KC’s first possession, Ed Podolak fumbled and Dick Anderson recovered at Miami’s 43. After several running plays, Griese lofted a perfect 14-yard TD pass to his newest target, Marlin Briscoe, who’d been acquired from Buffalo for a 1st round draft choice.
After a 47-yard Yepremian field goal, Len Dawson was picked-off by Jake Scott near the Chiefs’ 40. A 30-yard pass, Griese to Paul Warfield, set-up Csonka’s 2-yard TD run. Miami had a commanding 17-0 halftime lead in front of a stunned sell-out crowd at Arrowhead.
Miami’s famed 53 defense was created during the preseason of 1972. Injuries to two defensive ends forced defensive coach Bill Arnsparger to play #53, Bob Matheson, at either defensive end (on a 4-3 defense) or linebacker (on a 3-4 defense). Miami sprung this new defense on the Chiefs in the 2nd quarter. In the 3-4 alignment,Miami dropped back 8 defenders in the pass coverage, throttling the KC passing game. It worked to perfection. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson appeared confused and indecisive.
The two teams traded field goals in the 3rd quarter as Miami led 20-3. It was incredibly hot. Not too hot though, for 265 pound Miamiguard Larry Little who SPRINTED down to the other end of the field as the 3rd quarter came to a close! “That was the sweetest sight” said a smiling Don Shula. The Chiefs finally scored their lone touchdown with just 9 seconds left on the clock. The final score, 20-10, was deceptively close. In fact, Miami was in total control of this football game.
Losing coach Hank Stram commented “I didn’t think either team played with much enthusiasm.” It was a listless game throughout.” When told of Stram’s comments, Shula broke into a wide grin and replied, “I was very happy with our enthusiasm.”
The road to Absolute Perfection had begun with a most impressive road win over one of the best teams in the National Football League. The 1972 Dolphins were now 1-0.