By: Randy Campbell (Old Dolfan)
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins, Oct. 7, 1973
The New York Jets-Miami Dolphins rivalry had a nasty edge to it right from the get-go. This was especially true for those games played in the historic Orange Bowl. Jet fans typically outnumbered Dolphin fans in the pre-Shula days, mostly because of all the ex-New Yorkers who migrated to Florida in the 1950’s, ’60’s and, later, in the 1970’s.
The very first game in this bitter rivalry took place in early September of 1966. It was Miami’s second official game of their existence. New York scored early and often, taking a 19-0 lead into the final quarter. By this time, Jet fans insults had led to dozens of fights and many arrests.
Miami returned a Namath interception for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Then QB Rick Norton hit TE Dave Kocourek with a 47-yard touchdown bomb and the Dolphins trailed only 19-14 to the delight of beleagured Miami fans. Eventually, the Jets stopped Miami’s final drive, preserving an unimpressive win over an AFL expansion team. More fights followed during the Jet fans post-game celebration. Miami mayor Robert King High called Jets fans behavior “inexcusable.” The rivalry “was on!”
The misery continued as Namath and the Jets swept the first eight games in this rivalry, most by lopsided scores. But, in 1970, new head coach Don Shula promised things would be different. Indeed, they were. Under Shula, the Dolphins won five of the next six contests, including two classic narrow victories during the 1972 season. The second win against New York in 1972 was, and IS, considered one of the greatest games ever played in the historic Orange Bowl! The Dolphins would go on from this come from behind 28-24 victory to complete the NFL’s one and only Perfect Season!
As the 1973 season dawned, Jet fans obsessed on one thing. –REVENGE against the Dolphins! But that would have to wait. The Jets lost their opening game at Green Bay. Then, the first half of their next game against Baltimore, Namath suffered a serious knee injury. It would cause him to miss about half of the 1972 season.
Trailing 10-3 at halftime, back-up Jets QB Al Woodall took control of the New York offense. Two Woodall touchdown passes plus a FG by Bobby Howfield gave the Jets a 20-10 lead. The Jets’ defense did the rest, returning two Bert Jones interceptions for “pick-six” touchdowns. The Jets had crushed Baltimore 34-10 without Joe Namath for most of the game. Would Al Woodall become the next Earl Morrall? Woodall, a 2nd round pick in the ’69 draft out of Duke, had seen limited action in his first four seasons behind Namath.
Next for New York was a trip to Buffalo to play O.J. Simpson and his powerful Bills’ team. Could Woodall maintain the hot hand and produce another upset? Three John Leypoldt field goals gave Buffalo a 9-0 lead early in the 4th quarter. But Woodall connected on a 34-yard bomb to speedy Jerome Barkum, narrowing Buffalo’s lead to just two points. New York was unable to score again, thus Buffalo escaped with a 9-7 win that was in doubt until the games’ final play.
Even without Namath, Don Shula knew these Jets were a dangerous team. New York’s top two runners, Emerson Boozer and big John Riggins, were among the best duos in the NFL. Wide receiver Eddie Bell was having a solid season. And tight ends Richard Caster and Jerome Barkum had the speed to go deep. Defensively, the Jets had allowed just 36 points total during their first three games.
Shula believed the key to beating the Jets rested on two factors. First, the Dolphins offense had to get off to a fast start. His plan was to open up the passing offenseto offset the Jets strong run defense. Secondly, he believed a strong pass rush against Woodall would pay huge dividends. Woodall lacked Namath’s quick release. And he wasn’t a threat to run the ball. So Miami’s defensive ends were told to pin their ears back. Shula’s plan worked to perfection.
Last week Mercury Morris ran for a Dolphins’ record 197 yards. On the first play of this game, Morris bolted for 25 yards in the blink of an eye! Griese followed with a 17-yard completion to Jim Kiick and the Dolphins were already in Jets’ territory. Runs by Morris, Kiick and Csonka moved the ball to the three yard line. Morris scooted the final three yards putting the Dolphins ahead 7-0.
Defensive captain Nick Buoniconti recovered a Jets’ fumble on their next series. Morris sprinted around end for 9 yards. Griese hit Marlin Briscoe for 15 yards. Two plays later Bob Griese threw a low pass to Briscoe who laid out to make a sensational diving catch for another touchdown! 14-0, Dolphins, after the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ pass rush was totally intimidating Al Woodall. Defensive end Bill Sttanfill constantly hounded the Jets quarterback. By games’ end, Stanfill had recorded FIVE sacks and close to a dozen tackles. He was, in a word, unstoppable!
Griese, Briscoe and Paul Warfield continued to shred the Jets’ secondary in the second quarter. A long drive produced a 19-yard FG by Yepremian. Then, just before halftime, Griese tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Warfield, making the score a shocking 24-0 at intermission! The usually noisy and profane Jets fans were stone quiet.
Shula saw no reason to let-up on the passing game in the third quarter. A long 40-yard bomb, Griese to Warfield, turned this game into an absolute (and unexpected) blowout. The Dolphins led 31-0 heading into the final quarter.
By this time everyone agreed that Al Woodall was NOT the next Earl Morrall. Woodall was unceremoniously yanked after completing just 4 of 15 passes for 45 yards and two interceptions. Woodall’s back-up, Bill Demory, completed 2 of 5 passes and led the Jets to a field goal in the final moments of this lopsided 31-3 Dolphins’ victory.
And what of the REAL Earl Morrall? He entered the game in the fourth quarter and completed 2 of 4 passes for 46 yards, 1 yard more than Woodall achieved in over three quarters.
On the day, Miami passed for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns, a season’s high at that point. They also ran for 151 yards and another TD against a Jets’ defense that previously had yielded only 12 points per game.
Shula praised his offense, his defense and his special teams’ play. “It was our best effort of the year so far,” said the smiling Don of Miami.
In the Jets’ locker room a somber Weeb Ewbank said “We were totally outclassed today. This Dolphin team may be even better than the ’72 team.”
The 1973 Miami Dolphins were now 3-1. And they had just crushed the hated New York Jets, a thought that was foremost in my mind as I drove back home to West Palm Beach to continue my celebration!