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Dashed Dreams: The 1971 Miami Dolphins




History remembers the victors much better than it does the losers. the teams that win it all are instantly immortalized as one of the sport's greatest while the loser can only stand on the sidelines watching as their legacy is forever tarnished all the while thinking: "Was all that work wasted?". Sometimes they find redemption, but for the most part, the losers of the Super Bowl never return. But this article is not about what happened before or after the Super Bowl. Instead, this is the story of a single, forgotten team: the 1971 Miami Dolphins.


The Lead-Up


Don Shula's young team was on a role. After turning around a 3-10-1 team into a playoff contender in a single season, his wide-eyed Dolphins were humbled by the Raiders in the first round of the 1970 NFL playoffs, losing by a touchdown to one of the most talented teams in the league.


Despite the loss, the Dolphins had a lot to look forward to in the near future, having drafted well since the franchise's birth in 1967. In 1968 alone, they took both Jim Kiick (Wyoming) and Larry Csonka (Syracuse) in the AFL Draft, giving their backfield a lethal one-two punch. the following year, they plucked fleet-footed Mercury Morris from West Texas State, giving them much needed speed in their running back room.



But in an era where the pass was still a foreign concept, the Dolphins found the perfect quarterback for their system when they drafted Bob Griese from Purdue in 1967. While it took a few years to develop their run-heavy approach, he was named an AFL All-Star in his first two years in the league. After Shula traded for Cleveland's dynamic receiver Paul Warfield, Bob Griese's life would never be the same.


In five years as a Dolphin, Warfield would gain an average of 21.51 yards per catch. In 11 games that first year, Paul Warfield caught 28 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns, helping Bob Griese earn his first Pro Bowl invite. With all their pieces in place, the Dolphins knew that the future was bright and were determined to go further in the playoffs. Perhaps even the Super Bowl.


The Season



After beginning their season by tying the lowly Broncos 10-10, Miami briefly righted the indignity by pummeling the Bills by 15 a week later. Csonka and Kiick were in full bloom that afternoon, with each rushing 20 times for more than 100 yards while Warfield caught four passes for an incredible 165 yards. But their high spirits were quickly tamped down as the Dolphins offense again stumbled in a 14-10 clunker versus the Jets.


It would be their last loss for the next two months. Paul Warfield's 43-yard catch-and-run to open their win against the Bengals kicked off Miami's eight game winning streak. Against the lackluster Patriots in Week 5, Bob Griese displayed his value as a passer by tossing three touchdowns to Paul Warfield and Howard Twilley in the first quarter.


He would further cement his greatest day (at the time) as a pro by throwing his fourth touchdown pass of the day to Warfield in the third quarter. All told, Bob Griese completed nine of his fourteen passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns in the 41-3 stomping.



They avenged their earlier loss to the Jets the following week but it came in most unusual manner. Like a kettle slowly simmering on the stove, the Dolphins waited to unleash their fury as the Jets took an early 7-0 lead. It was all Miami from that point on as they went on to score 27 unanswered points from the second quarter up until the middle of the fourth, the deadly combination of Csonka (two touchdowns), Warfield (one touchdown) and Garo Yepremien (two field goals) proved to be too much for Gang Green.


Two touchdowns by Warfield and Twilley along with a Yepremien field goal gave the Dolphins a 20-point lead that they wouldn't squander against the Rams the following week. Only two late touchdowns by the Rams in the fourth quarter kept the game close.


After drubbing the Bills 34-0 a week later, the Dolphins faced off against the Steelers. After years of irrelevancy, the Steelers were on the rise, having drafted well over the past three years. Still, there were growing pains that they yet to go through as they were not quite yet playoff contenders.


From the middle of the first quarter to early in the second, quarterback Terry Bradshaw tossed three touchdown passes, burying the Dolphins in a 21-3 deficit. Down by 18, Griese took charge, throwing touchdown passes of 12, 86 and 60 yards to his trusty receiver Bob Warfield, leading his team to a thrilling 24-21 victory.


After a workmanlike 17-14 win over the Colts and a 34-3 throttling of the Bears in the next two weeks, the Dolphins had stretched their win streak to eight games. They were flying high and were beginning to feel like no one could stop them. But Bob Griese had hurt his left (non-throwing) shoulder in their dominant win versus Chicago. It was an injury that would haunt the team for the rest of the season.


The Dolphins were already riding high on their eight game winning streak and felt good about their chances against New England when Mercury Morris returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for the game's first points. That would be the highlight of their day as the Patriots went on to win 34-13. After winning eight straight games, the Dolphins lost two out of their final three regular season games, limping their way into the playoffs.



The Playoffs


Having lost two of thier previous three games, the Dolphins were starting to forget how to win. To make matters worse, they had to travel to Kansas City for the first round in the playoffs in what would end up begin the final game ever played in Municipal Stadium.


With a roster filled with players that had won the Super Bowl two years earlier, the Chiefs were rightfully confidant against the Dolphins, scoring the game's first 10 points in the first quarter on that Christmas Day game. The Dolphins answered in the second quarter with a short Csonka run and a 14-yard Yepremian field goal.


In the third quarter, Kansas City's Jim Otis scored on a one-yard plunge into the endzone. Riding on a big pass completion, Kiick scored on a plunge of his own to tie the game heading into the fourth. The Chief's Ed Podolak was having quite a gam. Largely due to Miami's constant double teaming of rangy receiver Otis Taylor, Podolak quickly became the focal point of the Chiefs attack, having already caught several long passes and rushing for numerous yards as well as scoring the game's first touchdown on a seven-yard reception.


Before the day was done, he would amass a playoff record 350 total yards ( 85 rushing, 110 receiving and 150 on returns. He would add to this impressive performance in the fourth quarter, scoring on a three-yard rush. After Marv Fleming caught Griese's five-yard touchdown pass and Jan Stenerud missed a late field goal that would have ended the game, the two teams were forced to play in overtime.



Back and forth the two teams went, deep into overtime and with neither defense willing to let up against a fierce rushing attack. Finally, in the second overtime, Garo Yepremian lined up, took a couple of strides forward and kicked the perfect kick. Even as the ball traveled the 37-yards toward the uprights, Garo knew that he made it. The Dolphins won 27-24 and Larry Csonka, like many of his teammates, had lost some weight. By the time Garo had ended the game, Csonka had lost 18 pounds in a league record 82 minutes and 40 seconds.


The AFC Championship was just as anticlimactic as their legendary game in Kansas City had been climactic. After Paul Warfield fielded a 75-yard touchdown lob from Bob Griese in the first quarter, the Dolphins waited two quarters to score more as their defense took care of Johnny Unitas and the Colts. Finally in the third quarter, Miami safety Dick Anderson returned Unitas' pass 62 yards to clinch the Dolphins' first conference crown. Csonka's five yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the exclamation point on the game. The Dolphins beat Don Shula's former team 21-0 and were on their way to the Super Bowl where destiny awaited them.


Super Bowl VI


After years of falling just short of the title, the Dallas Cowboys came into Tulane Stadium ready to stake their claim as pro football's best. Despite their incredible season and one of the league's best rosters, the Dolphins were treated like a fly on a windshield for most of the afternoon.


Still, the first half was a defensive struggle for both teams as the Cowboys entered their locker room up only 10-3. But they quickly put things to bed with two more touchdowns in the second half to finish off the Dolphins. Burned in their minds was not. Csonka's and Kiick's paltry 40 yard rushing but rather Bob Griese's deflating 29-yard sack. The Dolphins lost 24-3.




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