By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
GAME 3: NEW ENGLAND @ MIAMI. SEPT. 30, 1973
The 1973 Miami Dolphins football season started with more of a whimper than a bang. The offense, ranked #1 in the NFL in 1972, was struggling. They accounted for only six points during the first three quarters of the opening game victory over San Francisco (a game Miami eventually won 21-13 in the deadly heat). Things got worse for Miami’s offense in the second game. Oakland’s outstanding defense held Miami scoreless until Griese hit Jim Mandich with a touchdown pass with only 1:08 left to play in a 12-7 Raiders’ victory. The offense appeared virtually dead in the water.
But head coach Don Shula did not panic. He cast aside calls to start 39 year old Earl Morrall at quarterback. He rejected those who wanted to install more trick plays into the play book. Shula believed that more hard work and better preparation would turn things around. Getting Paul Warfield back on the field was also a big key to improving the offense. And playing the struggling 0-2 New England Patriots wouldn’t hurt, either.
Shula and his staff knew that the Patriots had given up an astounding 360 yards rushing to O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills on opening day. And they also knew that New England was vulnerable to power sweeps and runs around the periphery.
Shula’s game plan called for Csonka to bulldoze between the tackles to soften up the middle of the Pats’ defense. When New England made adjustments to stop Csonka, Griese was instructed to call Mercury Morris’ number for a series of power sweeps and end runs. All-pro tackle Larry Little was licking his chops at the prospect of crushing New England’s undersized cornerbacks and safeties while Morris danced downfield. And returning all-pro wideout Paul Warfield was ready to deliver several of his devastating crack back blocks at the knees of unwary New England linebackers.
On the day of the game, Miami’s defensive captain, Nick Buoniconti, told Mercury Morris that New England was going to try to knock Morris out of the game with late hits, cheap shots and dirty play. Buoniconti, who had been acquired from New England in 1969, told Morris he still had several friends on the Patriots team. And they allegedly said that Morris was #1 on their “hit list.”
Morris’ response? That’s “the kind of thing I respond to. I won’t retreat from anything like that. What Nick said psyched me up!” Was this a manufactured ploy used by Buoniconti to further motivate Morris? Or, was he reporting real comments from Patriot players? It really didn’t matter. As kickoff approached, Mercury Morris was determined to put on the performance of his lifetime.
Those seated around me expressed varying opinions. Some worried that the Dolphins just weren’t the same team they were in ’72. Some wondered if Warfield was too banged-up to be a factor. “What’s wrong with Griese” asked another fan.
I was not worried at all. “We kicked the livin’ crap out of these guys TWICE last year” I told my brother-in-law Jim. Indeed, the 52-0 and 37-21 Miami beatings COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE had the starters remained in for all of both games. And new head coach Chuck Fairbamks was still learning about life in the NFL after his team started 0-2. I firmly believed this agitated Miami team would crush New England again at the historic Orange Bowl.
Miami home wins over the Patriots were becoming a common occurrence. From 1970 to 1986 the Miami Dolphins would win 17 consecutive games over New England at the asylum on Biscayne Bay. New England’s hopes rode on the strong right arm of third year quarterback Jim Plunkett. The wide receiver corps was led by ex-Brown Reggie Rucker, Randy Vataha and the ill-fated Darryle Stingley. Tight end Bob Windsor was a very reliable receiver. And Sam “The Bam” Cunningham put some punch into the Patriots’ running game, along with veteran John Tarver. The offensive line was led by future Hall of Famer John Hannah, perhaps the best guard of his era.
On defense, the Patriots had DE’s Julius Adams, Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton, and not much else. I was confident Miami would run up a lot of points on this defense Sunday afternoon.
However it was the Patriots who started strongly on offense. But cornerback Curtis Johnson recovered a fumble in the end zone to stop New England’s first drive. Their second drive likewise ended in frustration when Miami’s Lloyd Mumphord blocked a Bill Bell FG attempt.
Miami’s offense rolled into high gear in the second quarter. A 40 yard Yepremian FG was followed by a 36 yard 3-pointer. Then, the Mercury Morris show began in earnest. A long 73 yard drive ended when Morris scooted wide, cut back behind a Warfield block, and scored from 24 yards away. Garo’s conversion made it 13-0.
The Pats’ next drive produced a three-and-out. On the very next play from scrimmage, Morris exploded around end and broke free for a 70 yard touchdown sprint as gasping Patriot defenders looked on in amazement! THIS was what the capacity crowd at the Orange Bowl came to see, a Dolphins offensive explosion! The “ROAR” was back! Miami led 20-0.
New England narrowed the gap to 23-16 in the third quarter, thanks to two touchdown runs by John Tarver. Once, again, Morris responded. His 35 yard touchdown jaunt early in the fourth quarter gave Miami a comfortable 30-16 lead. A 17 yard TD pass, Griese to Warfield, was followed by a Nick Buoniconti 13 yard return of a fumble for yet ANOTHER touchdown! When the smoke cleared, the Miami Dolphins had found their offense. AND they had rediscovered their championship swagger. They had just crushed New England once again, this time by a 44-23 margin.
On the day hard-nosed Larry Csonka rumbled 80 yards on 18 carries. Jim Kiick had 4 carries for 15 yards plus a couple of key pass receptions. But this day belonged to Mercury Morris. He had 15 carries for a whopping 197 yards, breaking the Dolphins’ single game record set by Abner Haynes in 1967. And his 70 yard touchdown romp was the longest in Miami’s brief 8 year history.
When asked if his pre-game chat with Morris had anything to do with Miami’s victory, Nick Buoniconti chuckled and said “We won the game, didn’t we?” —Next up, a key AFC East showdown in the historic Orange Bowl against the hated New York Jets.
The 1973 Miami Dolphins were now 2-1.
|Net pass yards||213||53|
Passing, Rushing, & Receiving
Defense & Returns
|Def Interceptions||Fumbles||Kick Returns||Punt Returns|
|Def Interceptions||Fumbles||Kick Returns||Punt Returns|
Kicking & Punting