By: Randy Campbell (Old Dolfan)
GAME 3: OCTOBER 1, 1972 – MIAMI at MINNESOTA
The NFL schedule makers provided few favors for the Miami Dolphins during the early portion of The Perfect Season. Week #1 featured a date with the very powerful winners of Super Bowl IV, the Kansas City Chiefs, at brand new Arrowhead Stadium. After a week #2 game at the Orange Bowl against Houston. The schedule makers sent Miami back on the road to play one of the strongest teams in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were a franchise on the cusp of greatness. In January 1970 they advanced to Super Bowl IV as double-digit favorites to defeat the Chiefs. But, for the second straight season, the AFL representative conquered the NFL’s best. Vikings Hall of Fame head coach Bud Grant said,”Now I know how Don Shula felt when he lost the Super Bowl to the Jets.” Like Shula, Grant vowed to get back to the Super Bowl.
Indeed, Bud Grant would return. But, unlike Shula, Grant would never win pro football’s ultimate game. Four times during the decade of the ’70’s Grant would get his Vikings to the Super Bowl. Four times he would suffer the agony of defeat. However, from the late ’60’s through the late ’70’s, the Vikings were among the very best franchises in the NFL. The 1972 Minnesota Vikings were loaded with Hall of Fame talent. The defense, known as the “Purple People Eaters” (after the Vikings bright purple jerseys) had Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Alan Page, who would go on to be a Minnesota state supreme court justice after a stellar NFL career. The offensive line was anchored by huge rookie tackle Ron Yary (a future HOF inductee) and by Mick Tinglehoff, one of the leagues’s best centers for over a decade and a likely future Hall of Famer. Brute strong fullback Bill Brown was Minnesota’s featured running back. Receivers Gene Washington and speedy John Gilliam were legitimate deep threats. But the man who made Minnesota go, their prodigal son, Fran Tarkenton, had just returned to Minnesota after five solid years with the Giants. It was Tarkenton who had taken this franchise to prominence when he quarterbacked this team from 1961 to 1966. In 1972 he left the Giants toreturn home — to the absolute delight of hard core Viking fans. By the time he retired, Tarkenton would own many all-time NFL passing records, including most career yards passing (47,003) and most career touchdown passes (342). His records would stand for over 20 years until broken by Dan Marino. Simply put, these Vikings were a dominant football team, especially at home. The prior week, Minnesota crushed the Detroit Lions 34-10. Thus, it was little wonder the Vikings were a touchdown favorite over the visiting Dolphins.
The game started poorly for the undefeated Miami team. Just over four minutes into the game an amazed Tarkenton saw an unguarded John Gilliam wide open down the field. “Tarks” 56-yard bomb was right on target and the Vikings had an early 7-0 lead. This could have started the Dolphins downfall. But, it didn’t. Miami receiver Marlin Briscoe, traded to the Dolphins from Buffalo for a first round draft choice, said,”if this was Buffalo, the first thing we’d do is PANIC!! Then, we’d throw the bomb. Our quarterback would get sacked and the game would be over. But things are different here in Miami. We knew, deep in our hearts, we’d win!” Bob Griese’s calm deliberate approach failed to produce results. But Miami’s “No Name Defense” stood firm and the second quarter concluded with the score still stuck on 7-0.
The Dolphin’s offense began to show signs of life in the third quarter. Mixing passing and running plays, Griese twice got the Dolphins into Viking’s territory. The first drive produced a 38-yard Yepremian field goal. The next drive ended when the left-footed Cypriot connected on a 42-yard effort. Late in the third quarter Minnesota produced their first meaningful drive since scoring on a long bomb early in the game. But before the drive ended, the gun sounded ending the third quarter. Minnesota led 7-6 with one quarter to go. The Vikings concluded their drive with a 1 yard touchdown run by Bill Brown. Trailing 14-6 it appeared the Dolphins were going to lose their first game. Midway in the last quarter Miami took over on their own 20. An 18 yard pass, Griese to Morris, was followed by a double-reverse that culminated in Marlin Briscoe’s 22 yard pass to tight end Jim Mandich. A few plays later Garo Yepremian lined-up a 51 yard field goal attempt. If good, it would be the longest of his career! The ball just cleared the crossbar and the Dolphins now trailed by only 14-9. But it was late, very late.
Now, the “No Name Defense” had to stop the Vikings ONE MORE TIME! Two runs by Oscar Reed went nowhere! On third and long, Tarkenton’s pass was tipped away by Tim Foley! The Dolphins would have ONE FINAL CHANCE! The drive started on Miami’s 41. Morris’ run got only two yards. But on the next play the Vikes’ Bob Lurtsema hammered Griese with a late hit. The 15 yard penalty moved the ball to Minnesota’s 42. Expecting a pass, the Vikings dropped back into coverage. So Griese switched the call to an end sweep, resulting in a 14 yard scamper by Mercury Morris to the 28. In clutch situations, Griese liked to go to Howard Twilley, ashort, average speed receiver who NEVER seemed to drop a pass. Reliable Howard was true to form, catching two passes for 25 yards. The Dolphins were now 3 yards from victory. Everyone in Metropolitan Stadium was standing and screaming! Tight end Jim Mandich said “I thought we’d just pound the ball to Csonka with less than two minutes to go”…so did the Vikings. Instead, Griese faked a hand-off and threw a short pass to a totally wide open Jim Mandich for the winning touchdown! Fins Win 16-14! The Perfect Season was still alive!
Miami’s late drive for a touchdown grabbed the headlines. But, in truth, the “No Name Defense” was responsible for this upset victory. The “No Names” sacked the elusive Tarkenton five times. They intercepted Tarkenton three times, including a pick on Tarkenton’s desperate heave on the game’s last play. After giving up a 56 yard bomb on Tarkenton’s first pass, the “No Names” held Tarkenton to just 50 YARDS PASSING THE REST OF THE GAME!!! It was an awesome performance. In the post game locker room, Bud Grant told reporters, “There were no excuses, no breaks. They just beat us. At the end, they were stronger than we were.” In Miami’s locker, Shula said, “We take great pride in our conditioning. Today I believe it made a difference.”
The Dolphins were now all alone in first place in the AFC Eastern Division and they were now the ONLY undefeated team in the National Football League. Miami’s two upset road wins over Kansas City and Minnesota had put them squarely in the limelight. Everybody was following the Dolphins. Next up: the schedule makers had the Dolphins on the road versus the second place team in the AFC East, the HATED NEW YORK JETS, their rabid fans, and their all-world quarterback, Joe Namath! The 1972 Miami Dolphins were now 3-0.