By: Randy Campbell (Old Dolfan)
GAME #5: OCT. 15, 1972 – SAN DIEGO at MIAMI
The Chargers franchise was the brain child of hotel heir Barron Hilton, the team’s original owner and son of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton, one of the richest men in the World. In 1959 Hilton made the decision to place his team in the potentially lucrative Los Angeles market. He signed former L. A. Rams head coach Sid Gillman, an offensive minded innovator and future Hall of Famer, to be his head coach. Star players for the inaugural 1960 AFL season included quarterback Jack Kemp (from tiny Occidental College) and future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Mix, from USC. Unfortunately, only 17,724 persons paid to see the opening game against Dallas in the mammoth Los Angeles Coliseum (a game the Chargers won 21-20). A few months later, when the Chargers clinched the AFC Western Division crown with a 41-33 win over the Denver Broncos, only 9,928 souls were present. On January 1, 1961, the Chargers lost the very first AFL Champioship Game to George Blanda’s Houston Oilers 24-16. Soon after the title game, Barron Hilton announced his team was leaving Los Angeles and moving to tiny Balboa Stadium in San Diego. Famous San Diego sportswriter Jack Murphy convinced Hilton to make this move. (When San Diego eventually built a new modern football stadium, they named it “Jack Murphy Stadium” in the sportwriter’s honor.) A year later, the Chargers hosted the Oilers in the second AFL Championship Game. 29,000 fans in Balboa Stadium left disappointed as, once again, the Oilers prevailed, this time by a 10-3 score. After a poor 1962 season, the Chargers rebounded in 1963 with new quarterback Tobin Rote. A 58-20 blowout win over Denver put San Diego in their third AFL title game in January of 1964. Halfback Keith Lincoln recorded 349 yards of total offense pacing the Chargers to a 51-10 pounding of the Boston Patriots in the AFL Championship Game played in front of 30,000 delirious fans at Balboa Stadium. That game produced the City of San Diego’s LAST professional sports title in any major sport!
In 1970 and 1971 the Chargers struggled. The 1970 team went 5-6-3; the 1971 squad was 6-8. By ’72, San Diego boasted star players like future Hall of Famer David “Deacon” Jones, quarterback John Hadl and running back Mike Garrett. Charger fans hoped 1972 would see their team return to the positive side of the ledger. After losing their opener to the ’49ers, San Diego defeated Denver 37-14, tied the Raiders 17-17 and beat the Colts 23-20. Nobody expected an easy win for the Dolphins. But absolutely NO ONE could foresee the catastrophic injury that would impact Miami the day they played the Chargers in the historic Orange Bowl. Fourteen plays into the game, Bob Griese rolled out to his left, searching for an open receiver. Jim Kiick broke free as Griese’s pass headed downfield. Most eyes followed the ball. Behind the play, “Deacon” Jones and Ron East simultaneously crushed Griese. “I didn’t need to see the stretcher to know I was going out,” said the Dolphin’s All-Pro quarterback. The diagnosis was a dislocated right ankle and a broken bone in the same ankle. GRIESE WAS DONE for the rest of the regular season, at a minimum!One TV network commentator said, “Well there goes the Perfect Season now! There’s no way Miami goes undefeated without Bob Griese!”
Back-up quarterback Earl Morrall trotted onto the field. Morrall and Don Shula had been through this before. Back in 1968, Shula chose Morrall to replace the injured John Unitas as the Colts starting quarterback. All Morrall did was win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award as he guided Baltimore to a date with destiny in Super Bowl III versus the underdog Jets.
But this situation was different. From 1969 through early 1972 Morrall played sparingly. In April of ’72, Morrall was released by Baltimore. Shula picked-up Morrall for the $125 waiver wire price in one of the greatest bargains in NFL history!Could the 38 year old crew cut Morrall shake-off the rust and still produce at the highest level? On his first drive Morrall guided Miami into San Diego territory. Yepremian’s 37-yard field goal gave the ‘Fins a 3-0 lead. San Diego’s Dennis Partee countered with a field goal, tying the game 3-3.
Early in the second quarter safety Dick Anderson grabbed a fumble by the Charger’s Mike Garrett and scampered 35 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Later in the quarter, fifth defensive back Lloyd Mumphord intercepted a John Hadl pass, returning it to the San Diego 34. Two Larry Csonka runs produced 14 yards. After a short run by Jim Kiick, Morrall threw a perfect pass to reliable Howard Twilley, good for an 18-yard touchdown. It was 17-3 Miami at halftime. Shula warned his players NOT to ease-off the gas pedal in the second half. “We’ve got a point to prove and we’re going to prove it,” said the Don of Miami. Methodically, Earl Morrall took the Dolphins on a 65-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter. A 23-yard bullseye to Twilley got Miami into San Diego territory. The drive concluded when Morrall arched a gorgeous 19-yard touchdown strike to Paul Warfield. Yepremian’s PAT gave the inspired Dolphins an insurmountable 24-3 lead. A late fourth quarter Charger’s score made the final 24-10, Miami. But the game was not that close. On the day, Miami’s “No Name Defense” limited Hadl to just 110 yards passing. It would be his lowest yardage total for any game the entire season! More importantly, Earl Morrall had steadied the ship. His near-perfect 8 for 10 passing effort was good for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He walked off the Orange Bowl field with the confident smile of a winner.
Appreciative Dolphin fans, and Dolphin players, roared their approval as Earl Morrall strode into the Dolphins’ locker room, his arms raised in victory! Next up: a date with the Buffalo Bills in what would prove to be the most bizarre game of the season.