By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
The city of Boston, Massachusetts, was awarded an NFL franchise on July 9, 1932. George Preston Marshall and three other investors owned the franchise. The new team took the name “Boston Braves,” the same name as their baseball landlords at Braves Field. This new franchise amassed over $46,000 in financial losses during their inaugural season. The three investors divested themselves, leaving Marshall as the sole owner of the Braves. Marshall moved the team to Fenway Park for the 1933 season. He hired “Lone Star” Dietz, a self-professed part Sioux Indian, as his head coach. In honor of Dietz, Marshall changed the team’s nickname to the “Redskins.” After three mediocre campaigns (1933-1935) Marshall hired Ray Flaherty to be the next head coach for the 1936 season. The Redskins won the Eastern Division crown with a 7-5 record. Unfortunately, only 4,813 fans showed-up for Boston’s final home game so an angry Marshall voluntarily gave up the home field advantage for the NFL Championship Game. The game was moved to New York’s Polo Grounds where the Green Bay Packers defeated the Boston Redskins 21-6. In 1937 Marshall moved the team to Griffith Stadium in Washington, the home of the Washington Senators baseball team. It was in the course of moving to Washington that the Redskins drafted, then signed, strong-armed TCU quarterback “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh, perhaps the greatest all-around player in NFL history. At one point in his Hall of Fame career, Baugh was the best quarterback, the best cornerback and the best punter in the game. As a quarterback he led the league in passing yards per game 6 times; 9 times he led the NFL in completion percentage. As a defensive back, Baugh is the only player in NFL history to throw four touchdowns in a game and INTERCEPT FOUR PASSES IN THE SAME GAME while playing defense!! As a punter, Baugh led the league in punting average four straight years (1940-1943). In 1940, Baugh averaged 51.4 yards per punt, an all-time NFL record! In 1941, he averaged 48.73 yards, the third best in NFL history! When Baugh retired he owned 13 NFL records. He is an original charter member of the NFL Hall of Fame!! Under Baugh’s guidance, the Redskins advanced to the 1937 NFL Championship Game IN HIS ROOKIE SEASON!! The Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears 28-21 in Wrigley Field to claim their first NFL title. In 1940 the Bears got revenge, annihilating Washington 73-0 (even though the Redskins had defeated the Bears a few weeks earlier in the regular season)! The 1942 title game saw Washington edge Chicago 14-6. The following year, Chicago defeated the ‘Skins 41-21. In 1943, Baugh led the NFL in passing, punting and interceptions. In 1945, Washington met the Cleveland Rams (soon to be the L.A. Rams) in the NFL title game. The Rams won a 15-14 squeaker. From his rookie year in 1937 through 1945, Baugh led the Redskins to 5 NFL Championship Games, winning 2 and losing 3. Beginning in 1946 the Redskins organization fell into disarray. In 1961, Washington moved into the new D. C. Stadium (renamed RFK Stadium in 1969). But the mediocrity continued. Many blamed George Preston Marshall’s racist views for the ‘Skins inability to field another championship team. Marshall steadfastly refused to integrate his football team. Finally, under immense pressure from the Kennedy administration, and from the D.C. government (which OWNED D. C. Stadium), Marshall relented and acquired African-American future Hall of Fame back Bobby Mitchell from the Cleveland Browns. Mitchell, who had a frosty relationship with Marshall, amassed 14,078 combined yards and 91 touchdowns in his brilliant career as a rusher, pass receiver and kick returner. Marshall died Aug. 9, 1969. Within a few months, famous attorney Edward Bennett Williams gained control of the franchise. He hired legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who directed Washington to a 7-5-2 record in 1970. Shortly after the season, Lombardi died of colon cancer. In 1971 Williams hired ex-Rams coach George Allen as head coach. Allen, who was partial to seasoned veterans, developed a team known as the “Over the Hill Gang.” Allen’s Redskins lost to the ’49ers in the NFC semi-finals that season. Hopes were very high for the Redskins’ faithful as the 1972 season began. Allen’s team included quarterbacks Sonny Jurgensen and Bill Kilmer; star running back Larry Brown; center Len Hauss; receiver Charley Taylor; linebacker Chris Hanburger and safety Pat Fischer. Washington won their first two games of the season before suffering an agonizing 24-23 loss to New England (a team Miami defeated by scores of 52-0 and 37-21). After the loss Allen replaced Kilmer with Jurgensen. Jurgensen’s season ended three weeks later he tore an achilles tendon. Bill Kilmer was reinstated as the starting quarterback and led the Redskins to a 6-2 mark over the final eight weeks. Their overall season record was 11-3. Washington hosted its first post-season game IN 30 YEARS when they played Green Bay in the NFC semi-finals. The Redskins strong defense paced them to a 16-3 victory. Then, in the NFC Championship Game, Washington crushed the Dallas Cowboys 26-3. Soon after this game the gambling parlors in Las Vegas established the 13-3 Redskins as 3-point favorites over the undefeated Miami Dolphins (a fact Don Shula brought to his players’ attention during the two weeks of preparation). And what to make of Don Shula? Four years earlier, his Baltimore Colts were three-touchdown favorites over Joe Namath’s Jets. Shula referred to his loss in Super Bowl III as his “darkest moment.” Then, just one year ago, Shula’s young Dolphins were blown-out by the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Many believed Shula simply could NOT win a Super Bowl. That belief helped make Washington the favorite in Super Bowl VII. Former Colts’ owner Carroll Rosenbloom repeated his famous comment that “Shula always freezes-up in the big game. Washington will win easily.” Rosenbloom made these comments despite the fact that Shula’s Colts had gone 11-1-2 in 1967 and 15-1-0 in ’68 before losing Super Bowl III to New York. Shula’s two-year record of 26-3-2 was, and still IS, the best two-year run in Colts’ franchise history. Shula’s decision to start Bob Griese drew fire from some observers. Griese had not played a full game in over 3 months. And, in Super Bowl VI, Griese completed only 12 of 25 passes for 105 net yards passing. And his Dolphins’ offense produced an all-time record low 3 points in a Super Bowl. Add to that was the fact that Miami struggled to win two very close playoff games. Washington, on the other hand, dominated their two playoff foes. It seemed like the Redskins were peaking at just the right time. Then, just to throw a little more fire onto the Super Bowl flame, President Richard Nixon came out publicly in favor of the Washington Redskins. He said, “I always root for the home team and, right now, the Redskins are my home team.”
While many skeptics doubted Shula and his Dolphins, I did NOT. This was NOT Super Bowl III nor Super Bowl VI. This was the ’72 Dolphins vs, the ’72 Redskins. The ’72 Dolphins crushed New England twice during the season while the ’72 Redskins LOST to New England. The ’72 Dolphins beat Buffalo TWICE while the ’72 Redskins lost to Buffalo. The ’72 Dolphins, statistically, had the best rushing team in NFL history; the ’72 Redskins did not. And the ’72 Dolphins had the league’s #1 ranked offense and #1 ranked defense; the ’72 Redskins did NOT. The ’72 Redskins were playing for a championship. The ’72 Dolphins were playing for FOOTBALL IMMORTALITY! I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt the Miami Dolphins would win this game! According to Nick Buoniconti, Miami’s top priority was to stop Larry Brown and force Kilmer to pass. Miami shifted their defense so it was strongest where they felt Brown would run. It worked! Washington’s center Len Hauss simply could not handle defensive tackle Manny Fernandez. “Fernandez beat their center like a drum,” said Buoniconti. And the Redskins’ running game suffered. Shula and his coaches devised a way to control Kilmer’s passing game. They set-up a defense that took away Kilmer’s favorite play, the slant-in pass. Arnsparger wanted to force Kilmer to beat them with sideline out-passes. In truth, the 33-year old Kilmer lacked the arm strength required to throw those sideline bullets. These defensive strategies were effective. Washington would fail to score a single point on offense THE ENTIRE GAME!! Miami won the toss and decided to receive. But the drive stalled. Each team punted on their first two possessions. The Dolphins got the ball on their own 37 with 2:55 left in the first quarter. Two Jim Kiick running plays garnered 11 yards and a first down. Bob Griese then stepped back and tossed a perfect 18-yard pass to Paul Warfield, who beat double coverage and got the ball to Washington’s 34! On 3rd down and 4 from the 28, Griese looked down field for reliable Howard Twilley. Twilley faked an inside route then scampered to the outside and caught Griese’s long pass at the five yard line. He dragged Pat Fischer into the end zone giving Miami a 7-0 lead with one second left in the opening stanza. “Griese read us real good all day” Fischer would say in the post game locker room. The Redskins tried to rally. But on the third play of their ensuing drive, safety Jake Scott intercepted Kilmer’s long pass intended for Charley Taylor and returned the ball to Washington’s 47. On the very next play, Griese hit tight end Marv Fleming with a 20-yard pass to the ‘Skins 27. But a questionable illegal man downfield penalty against Bob Kuechenberg nullified the play. Again, Washington’s offense was stopped cold by the “No Name Defense.” After a Redskins punt Griese and his offense went to work. Larry Csonka roared for 13 yards and a first down. Jim Kiick scampered for 8 yards. On the next play, Griese threw a deep, gorgeous, 47-yard bomb that PAUL WARFIELD PULLED IN FOR A TOUCHDOWN!! But, there was yet another flag!! An illegal procedure penalty on Marlin Briscoe NULLIFIED THE TOUCHDOWN!! That would be Briscoe’s one, and ONLY, play of the game. Eventually Miami was forced to punt. Washington moved the ball from their own 17 to Miami’s 48 (their first time in Dolphin territory) with under two minutes to play in the half. On third and 3 from Miami’s 41, Kilmer’s pass was picked-off by Nick Buoniconti! He returned the interception 32 yards to Washington’s 27 yard line! Kiick and Csonka each had 3 yard runs. Then, from the 21, Griese completed a 19 yard pass (his sixth completion in six attempts) to tight end Jim Mandich who made a fingertip catch AT THE TWO YARD LINE!! Two plays later Larry Little and Larry Csonka led Kiick through a hole for a 1 yard touchdown run with just 18 seconds left in the half. The Dolphins had a 14-0 halftime lead that, but for a Briscoe penalty, would have been 21-0! Meanwhile, the “No Name Defense” held Washington’s offense to just 49 yards rushing and 23 yards passing in the first half. It was a dominant first half performance by the underdog Dolphins!! Washington’s offense would have more success in the second half. Starting from their own 30, the ‘Skins offense drove to Miami’s 17, mostly on the passing arm of Bill Kilmer. On the next play, Kilmer’s top receiver, future Hall of Famer Charley Taylor, was open near the goal line. Kilmer threw him a pass. Taylor stumbled on the turf and the ball deflected off his hands. On third down, Manny Fernandez SACKED Kilmer for an 8 yard loss! Place kicker Curt Knight’s 32-yard field goal attempt was WIDE RIGHT!!! “That was the obvious turning point,” said a dejected George Allen. Late in the third period Miami drove 78 yards to the Redskins’ 5 yard line. The key play was a 49 yard run by Larry Csonka. With the ball at Washington’s 5, Miami was set to take an insurmountable 21-0 lead. But Griese’s pass into the end zone to Marv Fleming was intercepted by Brig Owens. AGAIN, Miami had been turned away when a score seemed likely. It was now the fourth quarter. Washington mounted their best drive of the day, going 79 yards in 12 plays down to the Dolphins’ 10-yard line. Kilmer saw a wide-open tight end Jerry Smith in the end zone! But his pass hit the crossbar and fell harmlessly to the ground! On third down Kilmer threw to Charley Taylor. But Jake Scott intercepted it in the end zone and ran it back to the Washington 48 yard line! The Dolphins advanced the ball to the 34 with just under 2 and 1/2 minutes to go. It was fourth down and four. Garo Yepremian lined-up a 42 yard field goal attempt. If good, Miami would wrap-up a 17-0 season with a 17-0 victory. But huge defensive lineman Bill Brundige BLOCKED Garo’s attempt! Garo tried to pass the ball to Csonka, who blocked on field goals. But the ball slipped out of Garo’s hands and went straight up in the air. Mike Bass of the Redskins snapped the ball out of the air and ran it back ALL THE WAY FOR A REDSKINS TOUCHDOWN!! It was 14-7 with 2:07 left to play! To nearly everyone’s surprise, Washington did NOT try an on-sides kick! Miami’s subsequent 5-play drive after the kickoff forced the ‘Skins to use all of their remaing timeouts. Seiple punted the ball back to Washington with 1:14 left on the clock! Now, just one more stop by the “No Name Defense” was all that separated Miami from football immortality! The Dolphins’ ferocious pass rush hurried Kilmer into two incompletions. On third down, Kilmer tried a swing pass. The “No Names’ stuffed it FOR A FOUR YARD LOSS!! WE WERE ALL STANDING AND SCREAMING OUR LUNGS OUT!! THE CLOCK WAS TICKING!! Kilmer dropped back for one final play!! BILL STANFILL AND VERN DEN HERDER COMBINED TO SACK KILMER AND, THEN, IT WAS OVER!!! — IT WAS OVER!!! —WE WENT CRAZY!! — WE WENT ABSOLUTELY NUTS!!! Horns were blowing!! Dolfans ran up and down the streets of South Florida screaming like crazy!! — IT WAS PARTEEEE TIME, BIG TIME!!! — The Dolphins had completed THE PERFECT SEASON!!! — THE PERFECT SEASON WAS NO LONGER A DREAM!!! — It was REALITY!!! THE PERFECT SEASON WAS OURS’ TO ENJOY!!! AND ENJOY IT WE WOULD!!
Dolphins players hoisted Don Shula up onto their shoulders. A photograph most of us have seen a thousand times shows Shula with his right arm raised and a smile as big as Grand Canyon as he’s carried out onto the field. “This is the ultimate” Shula said later in the locker room. He continued, “it was especially nice to win in Los Angeles where a certain man lives.” He was referring to former Colts’ owner Carroll Rosenbloom who, essentially, traded the Colts franchise for the L. A. Rams and lived in L. A. Rosenbloom’s statement that “Shula always freezes-up in the big games” now seemed like a distant memory. The Don of Miami had been vindicated. And he wasn’t done. In 1973, Shula and his team would win their second consecutive Super Bowl, this time as favorites. A few minutes later, Commissioner Pete Rozelle presented the Lombardi Trophy to Dolphins owner Joe Robbie and to head coach Don Shula. In the franchises’ very first play of their very first regular season game, Joe Auer ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown in the historic Orange Bowl. Now, seven years later, the Dolphins had won the NFL Championship Trophy by completing a PERFECT SEASON!! Dolphin fans world-wide were celebrating!! Boy, were they celebrating!! It was a day none of us will ever forget! On the day, quarterback Bob Griese was 8 for 11 for 88 yards and a touchdown to Howard Twilley. Paul Warfield had 3 receptions for 36 yards. A fourth reception for 47 yards and a touchdown was nullified by Briscoe’s penalty. As a team, Miami rushed for 184 yards on 37 carries, a 5.0 average per rush. Larry Csonka led the way with 112 yards on 15 carries. The Dolphins “No Name Defense” did an outstanding job controlling Washington’s offense. Bill Kilmer was 14-28 for only 104 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Ace receiver Charley Taylor had only 26 yards on 5 receptions while top running back Larry Brown got only 72 yards on 22 carries, an average of less than 3.3 yards per carry. Dick Schaap, editor of SPORT magazine(and future host of ESPN’s “THE SPORTS REPORTERS”) was given the task of selecting the MVP of Super Bowl VII. Schaap selected Miami’s #13, Jake Scott, for his two game-changing interceptions. Schaap later admitted he had been out late the previous night and that he struggled to stay awake during the game. He was observed spending quite a bit of time in the restroom during the festivities. He claimed he was totally unaware that the man who REALLY WAS THE MVP, Manny Fernandez, had an amazing 17 tackles (11 solo) in Super Bowl VII. Another side note: When Garo Yepremian made his infamous blunder late in the game he was so traumatized that he had to be helped from a post-game party complaining of pain up and down his side. He remained in seclusion for two weeks until he was cheered-up by a letter, apparently from Shula, praising him for his contributions to the team and urging him to ignore criticism. In the year 2000 Yepremian mentioned the letter to Shula who said he had no knowledge of it. Shula concluded it was actually sent by his first wife, Dorothy,who died of breast cancer in 1991. Dorothy Shula was a Garo fan. She didn’t want to see him suffer while others were celebrating.
The next day, Monday, January 15, 1973, was your author’s 26th birthday. I was STILL CELEBRATING the previous day’s historic victory. I grabbed a copy of THE MIAMI HERALD. Sports editor Edwin Pope, the dean of Florida sportswriters (still alive and writing part time at age 83) covered the game for his paper. On page one of the front section the headline read “17 and 0 – – – That’s Perfectly Super!” A very large photo of Shula being carried onto the field covered almost half of the front page, along with a story written by Pope. Also, on page one was a story titled “4 Watergate Suspects Reportedly Urged to Enter Guilty Plea” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of THE WASHINGTON POST. Page one of THE HERALD’s sports section carried the headline “Dolphins Rule Football World,” by Luther Evans. It featured two large photos of Twilley’s touchdown catch. Edwin Pope’s article at the bottom of the page was titled “A Cakewalk; Dolphins Should Have Strolled 24-0″ Pope wrote, Washington, a three-point favorite? Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha, he, he, he … a piece of cake, that’s what it was … This was a clog dancer against Nureyev, a hog-caller against Caruso”. Indeed, despite the score, Miami was by far the better team. Now, on January 15, 1973, there were no doubters, no detractors. Most agreed the ’72 undefeated Miami Dolphins were the greatest team they’d ever seen. That was true in 1973. It is still true today! I will leave you with the very same words I used to begin this report on ABSOLUTE PERFECTION back in game #1: 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. It has been my supreme pleasure to write this modest overview of the one and only Perfect Season. May we all live long enough to witness ANOTHER MIAMI DOLPHINS’ PERFECT SEASON! I’ll see you at the stadium! Go-o-o-o ‘Fins!!