GAME 6: BUFFALO @ MIAMI, OCTOBER 21, 1973
After starting the 1973 season slowly, the 4-1 Miami Dolphins built up some serious momentum by defeating New England (44-23), the New York Jets (31-3) and the Cleveland Browns (17-9). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills also had gotten off to a hot start by defeating the Patriots, Jets, Eagles and Colts. A loss at San Diego was the only blemish on their 4-1 record. The Buffalo Bills, one of the eight charter members of the American Football League, won the AFL Championship in both 1964 and 1965. They were led by stars like QB Jack Kemp, Fullback Cookie Gilchrist and Linebacker Mike Stratton. That 1965 title, however, is the last championship won by any major league Buffalo-area sports team.
The long 100-game rivalry between Buffalo and Miami has had some interesting twists and turns (currently, Miami leads 57-42-1). The Dolphins played Buffalo twice during their inaugural season as an AFL expansion team. The Bills slaughtered Miami that first year by scores of 58-24 and 29-0. From 1967 through 1969 the two teams evenly split their six meetings.
Don Shula’s arrival in Miami in 1970 drastically changed the course of this increasingly intense rivalry. In 1970, Shula’s young Dolphins crushed O. J. Simpson and his Bills team by scores of 33-14 and 45-7. Beginning in 1971, Miami would win the next 18 games in this series! Buffalo would go “0 for the ’70’s” versus the Dolphins as Miami ran off 20 CONSECUTIVE WINS over the frustrated Buffalo Bills and their equally frustrated fans! This 20-game streak still stands as the longest of its kind in NFL history! And every Buffalo fan KNOWS IT!!
On Oct. 22, 1972, the Miami Dolphins narrowly defeated Buffalo 24-23 in a nail-biter in the Orange Bowl. A few weeks later, the Dolphins defeated the Bills 30-16 in Buffalo on their way to the NFL’s one and only Perfect Season!
This first 1973 meeting between these two teams took place in the historic Orange Bowl on a picture perfect 80 degree day. It was, unquestionably, THE game of the day in the National Football League.
All eyes were on the most publicized player in the NFL. By this time, Buffalo’s star running back, O. J. Simpson, had surpassed Joe Namath as the #1 star in the league. In Buffalo’s opening day win over New England, Simpson rushed for an all-time record 250 yards in one game! By the time Simpson rolled into the Orange Bowl he had already amassed 813 yards in just five games! Simpson would go on to rush for 2003 yards in 1973, breaking Jim Brown’s old NFL record. Although Simpson’s rushing records have since been broken, he remains the ONLY BACK IN NFL HISTORY to rush for over 2,000 yards in a 14-game regular season!
Miami’s defensive genius, coach Bill Arnsparger, believed the key to stopping Simpson was to “swarm him like a swarm of bees” so that he’d have no avenue of escape. It was the finest form of gang tackling.
Simpson’s offensive linemen, known collectively as “The Electric Company” because they turned on “The Juice,” believed they had the strength and power to clear the way for Simpson’s assault on the NFL record books. Linemen Reggie McKenzie, Mike Montler and Joe DeLamielleure believed they could control Miami’s defensive line and literally run the Dolphins right out of the Orange Bowl! My buddy of over 40 years, Pasquale Fragnito, told me “that will happen when hell freezes over!” How RIGHT he was!
Nearly 80,000 screaming Dolfans crammed the historic Orange Bowl to see a game that was hyped as if it was a Super Bowl!! Emotions ran high. Just before kickoff, the public address system played “the Miami Dolphins’ Fight Song.” The place went absolutely nuts!! Several banners hung from the upper deck. One of them featured a doll of Simpson hanging from a hangman’s noose! A fan behind me had one of those huge spongy hands with an extended MIDDLE finger saying “Buffalo is #1!!” An unusually large contingent of Miami’s finest was present to maintain some semblance of order.
The game, essentially, would be over at halftime! Starting from the Miami 25, Griese mixed passes to Jim Mandich and Paul Warfield with some tough running from Csonka and Morris. From the 2, Griese found an open Jim Mandich for an easy touchdown! The Orange Bowl erupted as the Dolphins took a 10-3 lead!
Defensive ends Bill Stanfill and Vern Den Herder continued to pursue Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson mercilessly. Two sacks killed Buffalo’s next drive. Griese maintained Miami’s momentum, driving his team 61 yards in seven plays down to the Buffalo 24. Again, the confused Bills’ defense paid too much attention to Warfield while Jim Mandich ran down the seam in the zone wide open! Griese’s perfect pass caught Mandich in stride for their second touchdown of the quarter! The Dolphins had scored on three consecutive possessions to take a 17-3 lead.
Yet, again, the Dolphin defense stopped Simpson and the Bills, producing a 3-and-out. Punter Spike Jones, a Georgia alum, kicked the ball away to a fellow Georgia alum, Miami’s Jake Scott. Scott took the ball at his own 45 and bolted all the way to the Bills’ 33 yard line! Mercury Morris scampered the final four yards of the drive and, unbelievably, Miami had a 24-3 lead as they trotted into the halftime locker room! “If this had been a fight, they would have stopped it,” said the voice of the Dolphins, Rick Weaver.
The teams returned for the second half to a crowd that was less noisy and far less boisterous. The Bills knew they absolutely had to get something going, and SOON! But it was the Miami Dolphins who scored first in the second half.
Early in the final quarter, a bruised and battered O. J. Simpson was helped to the Buffalo sidelines. He had gained only 55 yards. Cat calls, hoots and various insults were shouted his way by celebrating Dolphin fans! A meaningless 50 yard field goal by John Leypoldt made the final score 27-6, Miami. The predicted shoot-out had ended in a blow-out! The Miami Dolphins had taken complete control of the AFC East for the third consecutive season.
The statistics sheet told the story. Buffalo had only 8 first downs to Miami’s 18. The Bills rushed 32 times for ONLY 75 YARDS!! Miami rushed for almost 190 yards plus another 127 yards passing. The Bills completed only 6 of 18 passes for a paltry 60 yards. However, Miami sacked Buffalo’s two quarterbacks NINE TIMES FOR 59 YARDS IN LOSSES!! Thus, Buffalo had 1 net yard passing and 76 total yards offense FOR THE WHOLE GAME!!
In the post game locker room, both Vern Den Herder (5 sacks) and Bill Stanfill (3 sacks) had HUGE smiles on their faces. Defensive lineman Manny Fernandez said “Everything is fitting into place for us. I don’t see any reason for us to lose another game!”
The 1973 Miami Dolphins were now 5-1.