By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
GAME 15: Cincinnati @ Miami, Dec. 23, 1973
THE AFC SEMI-FINALS
The Miami Dolphins opponents in the 1973 AFC Semi-Final Playoff Game were the 10-4 Cincinnati Bengals, winners of the AFC Central Division. The Bengals had closed the regular season by winning their last six games. The streak included a 27-0 thrashing of the eventual NFC Champions, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bengals were led by quarterback Ken Anderson, one of the NFL’s most accurate passers. His top receivers were future Hall-of-Famer Charlie Joiner and Isaac Curtis, who led all rookie receivers in 1973. The running game was paced by AFC Rookie of the Year “Boobie” Clark who, like Miami’s Larry Little, was an alum of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.
Unquestionably, the best known name associated with this franchise wasn’t even a player. Instead, the most famous member of the Bengals was the team’s legendary head coach and general manager, Paul Brown. Paul Brown was the greatest innovator in the history of football. PERIOD! Brown was the first coach to use game films to scout opponents. He also used college game films to scout college football talent prior to the draft. Brown was the first to hire a full time staff of assistants and the first to test players on their knowledge of the playbook. He also gave intelligence tests to prospective draftees long before the Wonderlic Test was created. Brown invented the modern face mask plus a system of hand signals to call plays and defensive formations. He also developed a system of messenger guards who would bring in each offensive play from the sidelines. The passer’s protective pocket and the draw play were also Paul Brown creations, as was the short pass system we now call the West Coast Offense. Brown taught this offense to one of his assistants, Bill Walsh, who would go on to use it with great success in San Francisco with stars Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
At age 24, two years after graduating from Miami of Ohio, Brown was hired to be head coach of Massillon (Ohio) high school, the very high school he had quarterbacked just six years earlier. After an ordinary 5-4-1 first season, Brown’s Massillon Tigers would go an astounding 75-4-2 over the next eight seasons, including a 35 game winning streak!! In 1939, Massillon built a 20,000 seat stadium, naming it after Brown.
In 1941 Brown was hired to coach the Ohio State Buckeyes. In 1942, he led Ohio State to their first national championship. In 1944, Brown was commissioned as a Navy first lieutenant. His job? Coach the Great Lakes Naval Training Station’s football team (which he led to a 9-2-1 record) against a schedule of major, established, football programs.
After the war, Brown took over the Cleveland All-American Football Conference franchise. The owner, Arthur McBride, named them the “Browns,” in honor of their highly successful coach. Brown would win all four league titles in the four year existence of the AAFC, losing only a total of four games in those four years.
In 1950, the Browns, Colts and the ’49ers of the now defunct AAFC were absorbed by the NFL. Amazingly, Brown’s team WON THE NFL TITLE IN THEIR VERY FIRST SEASON IN THE NFL!! They would go on to reach the NFL title game THEIR FIRST SIX YEARS IN THE NFL, winning three and losing three title games! In all, the Browns had made it to a record 10 straight title games, counting their four prior years in the AAFC! And Paul Brown had become the first coach ever to win a college football national title and an NFL championship!
In 1961 advertising executive Art Modell purchased the Browns. Paul Brown no longer had sole control of football decisions. A furious Brown was fired by Modell not long after Modell had agreed to extend Brown’s contract for another seven seasons! For the next seven years Paul Brown was paid $82,500 a season by Modell while he checked-out other coaching possibilities.
His search ended with the new AFL expansion Cincinnati Bengals, a franchise he invested a large sum of money in. The Bengals took the field in 1968, just two years after the Miami Dolphins, the AFL’s first expansion franchise. By 1973, Paul Brown had this Bengals franchise in the chase for the Super Bowl.
It was a bright, cool, 55 degree day in the historic Orange Bowl. Nearly 75,000 screaming fans crammed into every nook and cranny of the old stadium. Even the temporary seats installed in the east end zone were completely packed. A deafening roar greeted the white clad Dolphins as they jogged out on the field. It was PLAYOFF TIME and I was as thrilled as I could be to witness football history!!
Head coach Don Shula believed his team would have great success running the football. The Bengals’ D-Line was a bit undersized. And they lacked quality depth. Shula also believed Miami’s running game eventually would open up opportunities for the passing game, in general, and for Paul Warfield, in particular. Warfield, of course, was fresh off his spectacular four touchdown performance in the first half of Miami’s blow-out win over the Detroit Lions.
The Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive. Starting from the 20, Griese employed a variety of running plays. Csonka ran inside. Morris ran outside. Then, from the Bengals’ 13 yard line, Griese spotted an open Paul Warfield. Warfield cradled the precious touchdown pass and the Dolphins had a quick 7-0 advantage.
The Bengals Horst Muhlmann connected on a 24-yard field goal, narrowing the margin to 7-3. Again, Muhlmann’s kickoff went through the end zone, forcing Miami to start from their 20.
No problem. Just as before, Miami marched down the field. Csonka, Kiick and Morris were having a field day behind Miami’s awesome offensive line. From the one yard line, Larry Csonka scored easily, ending a second long drive and giving the Dolphins a 14-3 lead after one quarter.
Cincinnati’s defense stopped Miami on their third drive. So Griese decided to take to the air on his fourth series. A 48-yard bomb to PAUL WARFIELD brought the Orange Bowl crowd to an absolute frenzy! Two plays later, Mercury Morris scooted in for a touchdown and the Dolphins seemed in complete control leading 21-3.
Again, Miami’s “No Name Defense” stopped the Bengals in their tracks. After a punt, Griese took his offense onto the field. I was thinking, “One more touchdown will put this game away!” Well, I got my touchdown. Problem was, the WRONG TEAM SCORED THE TOUCHDOWN!! A Bob Griese pass was picked-off by Cincy’s Neal Craig and returned 45 yards for a touchdown. The Bengals’ bench exploded as they finally had something to cheer about. Even Paul Brown was smiling!
After stopping Miami’s next drive, the Bengals confidently moved across midfield. Muhlmann’s long 46 yard field goal narrowed the gap to 21-13! On the ensuing kickoff, Mercury Morris FUMBLED!! Another Muhlmann 3-pointer made the score 21-16 at halftime. The Orange Bowl was in a state of shock!!
Quarterback Ken Anderson confidently led his Bengals out onto the polyturf surface for the first possession of the third quarter. But another Anderson, Miami’s Dick Anderson, had other plans. He intercepted the Bengal quarterback’s pass near midfield and returned it all the way to the Cincy 28 yard line!!
Quickly the Dolphins moved the ball to the seven. Griese’s perfect slant pass to tight end Jim Mandich was good for a touchdown! Miami had regained the momentum and now led 28-16! Late in the third stanza, Garo Yepremian lined-up a very long 50-yard field goal. Morrall’s hold was perfect. The kick was in the air. It was GO-O-O-OD!!! Out came the white hankies as Dolfans throughout the Orange Bowl celebrated a 31-16 lead at the end of the third quarter!!
The fourth quarter mostly consisted of Miami running plays which ate up lots of time. First down followed first down. The clock kept moving. A Yepremian 46 yard field goal expanded the lead to 34-16.
One final stop by Miami’s defense put an end to it. The Dolphins had easily defeated Paul Brown’s Bengals for their 23rd consecutive win in the historic Orange Bowl!
Miami registered a playoff record 27 first downs. Csonka, Kiick and Morris combined for 241 yards rushing ON EXACTLY 50 RUNNING PLAYS behind Miami’s dominant offensive line. Throw in 159 yards passing by Griese and the Dolphins had exactly 400 yards total offense to the Bengals 194 total yards.
Paul Brown passed away in 1991, 24 years after his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. His son, Mike Brown, succeeded him as club president. In 2000, the Bengals opened a new football facility on the banks of the Ohio River. They named it Paul Brown Stadium.