By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
By Dec. 3, 1973, the Miami Dolphins had completed the second longest winning streak in their brief eight year history. Since losing to Oakland by 5 points in week #2, Miami had ripped-off 10 consecutive wins. (Indeed, that Oakland loss was the only thing separating Miami FROM A 29 GAME WINNING STREAK). Most of those 10 games had been won by lopsided scores. However, the Dolphins last two victories, 14-7 at Dallas and 30-26 over Pittsburgh, had pushed this team to the absolute limit. Don Shula guessed some of the players on his team were tired. But, in the 1970’s, there was no such thing as a bye week.
Shula believed his next opponent, the Baltimore Colts, offered him a chance to rest some of his star players. After all, Miami had shut out Baltimore during their last four meetings by a combined score of 104-0!! Most observers expected a fifth consecutive Miami blowout win over the 2-10 Colts. Shula’s decision to rest Bob Griese and start back-up Earl Morrall barely raised an eyebrow. Shula also said several reserve players from his 40 man squad would see plenty of action in this game.
Colts rookie head coach Howard Schnellenberger (who’d been Shula’s offensive coordinator during the 1972 Perfect Season) asked his Colt players to show some pride. He said “Miami’s going to play some back-up players because they don’t RESPECT YOU! If you guys don’t play a lot better, many of you won’t be playing pro football next year!” Left unsaid was the assumption Schnellenberger wouldn’t be a head coach in the NFL next year unless the Colts staged a miracle turn around.
Cold, dreary, weather greeted the two teams at the 2:00 PM kickoff. The temperature was 42 degrees (and falling into the 30’s during the second half). Winds of 15-20 MPH gusted around the full house at Memorial Stadium. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their dreary performance this Sunday was a perfect match for the weather.
Quarterback Earl Morrall hoped to put on a shining performance for what he suspected would be his only start of the season. Morrall needed only 82 yards passing to become the 19th quarterback in NFL history to reach 20,000 yards passing for a career. But, by halftime, he had only 27 yards through the air.
Late in the third quarter, Morrall found Marlin Briscoe (subbing for Warfield) with a 53-yarder that put him exactly at 20,000 yards. That play would lead to an early fourth quarter field goal by Garo Yepremian. But it would not be enough. Not nearly enough.
Head Coach Don Shula observed “well we made every mistake in the books today.” Penalties, fumbles, interceptions and blown assignments were among the sins. Yepremian even missed a short field goal!!
Miami’s usually reliable ground game featured Csonka running for 70 total yards. But Kiick and Morris combined for just 14 yards on 12 carries! And the back-ups were worse!
Undoubtedly, the biggest disappointments of the day were serious injuries by star players Bob Kuechenberg and Manny Fernandez. “Kooch” fractured both his radius and his ulna in his left arm. The medical staff declared him “out for the year!!!”
“The hell I am,” responded tough as nails Kuechenberg. Eventually, surgeons partially hollowed out the two long bones in his left forearm. They inserted rods held in place by plates that were screwed into the length of his bones. A thick cast covered his injured forearm. After the surgery, Kuechenberg said “I’ll miss the last regular season game vs. Detroit. But I’ll be ready for the playoffs!” Few doubted him.
In the Baltimore game, the Colts scored three times on Miami mistakes. Kicker George Hunt booted a 19-yard field goal in the first quarter. Following a turnover, Colts running back Bill Olds scored on a two yard touchdown run late in the second stanza. Then, in the third quarter, Tom Mitchell caught a one yard TD pass from Marty Domres for a 16-0 Colts lead. Garo’s field goal early in thee fourth quarter made the final score 16-3, Baltimore. Miami’s 10-game winning streak was over.
A jubilant Howard Schnellenberger shook Don Shula’s hand as the game ended. Howard said, “Coach, I KNOW you’ll have Miami ready to play next Sunday!” “Indeed, I will, said a determined Shula. Little did Shula know that NEXT WEEK one of Miami’s greatest players in history would have the GREATEST GAME of his Hall of Fame career!!
POST SCRIPT: Howard Schnellenberger’s Colts would go on to defeat New England on the final day of the ’73 regular season. But Colts’ management decided to fire him after his 4-10 season. Baltimore’s loss was Miami’s gain as Schnellenberger later would lead the University of Miami to their first football National Championship in a 31-30 upset win over Nebraska Jan. 1, 1984 in (where else?) the historic Orange Bowl.