By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
The Miami Dolphins 21-13 win over San Francisco the first week of the ’73 season raised several questions. Foremost among them was “What happened to the offense?” After three quarters the Dolphins had scored just six points. Only AFTER the oppressive heat forced several 49er starters to the sidelines did Miami finally score 15 fourth quarter points to win the game.
Head coach Don Shula knew there was no chance a heat wave would come to his team’s rescue when Miami flew to California to play an outstanding Oakland Raiders team. Shula had to find a way to ramp up his offense as they prepared to meet one of the NFL’s best defenses.
The Oakland Raiders were the eighth and final charter member of the fledgling American Football League. In late 1959 managing partner F. Wayne Valley hired ex-Navy coach Eddie Erdelatz to be the Raiders first head coach. Oakland finished 6-8 in their debut season. Ownership conflicts prevented Oakland from signing ANY of their top college draft picks in 1961. (Most of those picks signed with the rival NFL during this era of fierce competition between the two leagues.) When Oakland lost their first two games in the ’61 season by a combined score of 99-0, Valley fired Erdelatz and elevated O-Line coach Marty Feldman to head coach. Feldman led Oakland to a miserable 2-12 record. His successor, Red Conkright, presided over an awful 1-13 team in 1962. Oakland management was desperate. In 1963, little known Al Davis, age 33, was hired to be both the GM and head coach of the Raiders. Davis immediately installed his “vertical game” passing attack, an aggressive passing strategy developed earlier by Chargers’ head coach (and future Hall-of-Famer) Sid Gillman. Under Davis, Oakland improved immediately to a 10-4 record after going 3-25 the previous two years. Davis was voted the AFL’s Coach of the Year in 1963. The Raiders slipped to 5-7-2 in 1964 but rebounded to 8-5-1 in 1965. Davis’ promising coaching career came to an abrupt end when he was named Commissioner of the AFL in early 1966.
Davis was instrumental in bringing about the AFL-NFL merger. When the deal was finalized, Davis returned to the Raiders as a part owner (he bought 10 per cent of the team for $18,000) and head of football operations.
In 1967, Davis’ hand-picked coaching successor, John Rauch, led Oakland to a 13-1 record. They destroyed the Houston Oilers 40-7 in the AFL Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl II in the historic Orange Bowl. On January 14, 1968, Rauch’s Raiders fell to Vince Lombardi’s Packers 33-14 in what was Lombardi’s last game with Green Bay.
The Oakland Raider teams of the 1970’s were thoroughly dominant (and nasty) for much of the decade. They produced 8 Hall of Fame inductees plus a Hall of Fame coach in John Madden. Oakland made the NFL playoffs in 1970 (where they defeated Shula’s Dolphins 21-14). From 1972 through 1977 the Raiders made the playoffs for SIX CONSECUTIVE SEASONS. The highlight was the 13-1 1976 team. After defeating New England in the AFC semi-final game, they defeated their arch-nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to advance to Super Bowl XI. The Raiders led the Minnesota Vikings 16-0 at halftime and coasted to a 32-14 victory, claiming their first Super Bowl title.
Oakland’s reputation for dirty play went to a new level in the 1978 preseason when Patriots’ wide receiver Daryl Stingley was paralyzed for life by a hit from Raiders FS Jack Tatum. However, a critical loss by Oakland to the Miami Dolphins late in the season kept the Raiders out of the playoffs.
In 1980, the Raiders, under 2nd year coach Tom Flores, advanced to Super Bowl XV where they easily defeated the Eagles (quarterbacked by Ron Jawaorski) 27-10. Two years later, Al Davis moved the team to the L.A. Coliseum after the courts ruled the NFL was wrong to deny his move. In 1983, the Los Angeles Raiders destroyed the Washington Redskins 38-9 to claim their THIRD Super Bowl Championship.
In 1989 Al Davis opened negotiations with the city of Oakland to return the Raiders to that city. In mid-1995, a deal was reached. This time the NFL did not stand in Davis’ way. Since 1996, this franchise has again been known as the Oakland Raiders.
All Davis passed away during the 2011 season, ending one of the most colorful, litigious and controversial careers in NFL history. His signature phrase, “Just Win, Baby,” has become a registered trademark of his bad-boy Oakland franchise.
On Sept. 23, 1973, the Dolphins met the Raiders NOT at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum (as wrongly reported in some inaccurate renditions) but in the University of California’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Upgrades and repairs at the Raiders’ home stadium forced this change of venue. It was bright, sunny, and 62 degrees at kickoff. A sellout crowd of boisterous Raider fans was waiting for Miami. And Don Shula was worried. His offense struggled on opening day against San Francisco. And All-Pro wideout Paul Warfield was unavailable due to an injury. New offensive coordinator Bill McPeak (who replaced Howard Schnellenberger when Howard became the new head coach of the Colts) knew he’d have to pull a few rabbits out of the hat to confuse and fool the highly rated Raiders’ defense.
Oakland decided to pound the football time after time after time. They ate up the clock with long drives on several occasions. Their first drive ate up over half of the first quarter. It ended at Miami’s 5 yard line when 46 year old placekicker and back-up QB George Blanda booted a 12 yard field goal. (At this point in NFL history, the goal posts were still on the goal line, NOT the end line as today). Oakland stuffed Miami’s subsequent drive and the opening quarter ended with Oakland leading 3-0.
Raider running backs Marv Hubbard and Charlie Smith took turns running the football behind future Hall of Fame linemen Jim Otto and Art Shell. After another long drive, a penalty forced Oakland to attempt a long field goal. Blanda’s 46 yard field goal made the score 6-0 at half time. Miami’s offense was dead in the water.
Shula and McPeak made some half time adjustments. More flare passes were called for the Dolphin running backs, especially Mercury Morris and his back-up, Charlie Leigh. McPeak hoped this might free up wide receiver Marlin Briscoe and tight end Jim Mandich for some intermediate passes from Griese.
But Oakland’s ground game kept Miami’s offense off the field for most of the second half. Another time-consuming drive engineered by QB Darryl LaMonica ended at the Miami 12 yard line. Blanda’s 19 yard chip shot expanded Oakland’s lead to 9-0 after three quarters.
Miami was having little luck with their running game. Morris would run for just 48 yards; Csonka for just 47. So Griese switched to the passing game. But the Dolphins were forced to punt again. One final time Oakland marched down the field, using the pass sparingly. The drive ended at Miami’s 3 yard line. Blanda’s fourth field goal gave Oakland a seemingly insurmountable 12-0 advantage.
With only 1:05 left, Griese completed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jim Mandich. But it was too little, too late. Oakland ran out the clock
and Miami’s 18-game winning streak was over. The Raiders had won 12-7. Raider nation was ecstatic! On the day, Griese was 12 for 25 for just 90 yards. And the ground game produced only 105 yards. “Their offensive line was exceptional and their defensive line took away our running game,” said a disappointed Don Shula. Left unsaid was the absence of Paul Warfield. No crack-back blocks to spring the running backs. And no double-teaming of Warfield by the defensive backs to free-up other Miami receivers. It is a fact that during this two-year run, Miami was UNDEFEATED in games played by Paul Warfield.
For the first time since Super Bowl VI (19 months ago) the Miami Dolphins had tasted defeat. But better days were on the horizon. The New England Patriots, a team Miami had dominated in 1972, were coming to town.
The 1973 Miami Dolphins were now 1-1.