The Seven Greatest Super Bowl Teams of the Vietnam Era

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The Seven Greatest Super Bowl Teams of the Vietnam Era
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At the young age of 10 I was already a football freak.  Even though I knew little about the game and didn't play for fear of being hit really hard, I watched a lot of football on television, astounded by the running and the leaping and the hitting. 

When the games were over, I got the newspaper early the next morning and digested the sports page front to back.  I could not get enough.

That's why the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game captivated my interest.  The two leagues, one on NBC and the other on CBS, were playing for the first time for everything that is anything. 

It also meant a lot to me that one of Green Bay's receivers was Max McGee.  I was thrilled that a man with my name—or close enough—got in the game and burned the Kansas City d-backs for two scores.  How cool.

Football was, in those years, more than a sport to me.  The game was my solace as I dealt with the news of events from the nation and the world.  Even with my pre-teen eyes, I saw the news wasn’t good.  I like to describe the times with one of my father’s favorite phrases—it was as if we were all going to hell in a hand basket.

Apollo VIII orbited the moon on Christmas 1968.  Astronaut Frank Borman took a photograph of the earth rising over the lunar horizon, the first time anyone had seen our planet from that perspective. 

The photo moved my 12 year old heart—Earth, I thought, was beautiful; beautiful yet fragile, with its tribulations seemingly insurmountable: 

Vietnam (immortalized by the picture above) and the war's fierce protests, one of which was the massacre by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State leaving four students dead;

Middle East tension and the Six-Day War;

An awakening awareness to pollution as the air was chunky and the Cuyahoga burned;

The energy crisis, with prices skyrocketing as if we were going to run out of everything any day;

And, unending racial strife with all the misunderstanding among us, as if no one was listening to John Lennon’s “Imagine”…

The state of the world upset me, but football gave me something to look forward to.   The sport was simple and cathartic—the conflict was violent, but it would be settled in three hours.

Super Bowl I was played near the beginning of the madness as ominous storm clouds appeared on the horizon. 

Super Bowl X took us to the 1975 season during my 20th year, two years after I finally played the game and played it well, but the year the United States wisely yet shamefully bugged out of Saigon, the year our nation was recovering from a wicked jobs-ending recession, and the year we American citizens hardly believed in ourselves.

 

Top Seven Teams

My choices of the top seven teams in that 10 year era are ranked below.  I used Wikipedia as well as other Internet sites found while cruising Google.  Not to be ignored as a reference is my memory.  I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but Super Bowl VII comes through clear as a bell.

Of the rankings, please keep in mind that coming of age during that extremely difficult time may have left me a bit jaded.

That could explain why one team high on the list didn’t win its Super Bowl.

Here goes:

 

7.  1968 New York Jets  13-3

Every football fan knows this story.  New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath signed autographs while lounging poolside in Miami for Super Bowl III.  Then, later that week, as he received the Player of the Year award from the Miami Touchdown Club, he held a glass of Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch and said the famous words, "The Jets will win Sunday.  I guarantee you."

If only for that declaration, the '68 Jets belong in the annals of the greatest professional teams in any sport.  As 17-1/2 point underdogs versus the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, with the 1/2 point being added the day of the game, Namath and his Jets turned the football world on its head.

I sat in front of the television on Super Bowl Sunday with my father and my uncle.  My father was an ex-Marine, having fought on Guadalcanal, after which he served as a drill instructor on Parris Island.  It is not necessary to go over which side of the fence they were on.

My father and my uncle wanted to see Broadway Joe go down in flames.  With his hair and his sideburns and his brash behavior, the two men in my life said that Namath represented everything that is wrong with this country.

When asked, I announced I was a Colts fan.  However, I said nothing else as I silently rooted for the Jets, enthralled at age 12 by "The Guarantee. "

In Namath's early '70s autobiography, "I Can't Wait ‘Til Tomorrow...Because I Get Better Looking Every Day," he described how loose the Jets were as they prepared to take the field against the mighty Colts. 

Paraphrasing the author, head coach Weeb Eubank stepped up to deliver the pregame speech.  What the coach said went something like this, "After we win, when you guys carry me on your shoulders off the field, be careful because I have a bad hip." 

That was apparently enough.

The AFL was largely considered inferior to whatever football the NFL produced.  But, with regard to the Jets, the 12 victories before Super Bowl III were not just Joe Namath magic.

Namath had two Texans at receiver, the sticky-handed George Sauer, Jr. and the fleet of foot Don Maynard.  Running backs Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell ran behind a superior NFL-quality line. 

D-lineman Winston Hill and d-back Jim Hudson, another Texan, shored up the defense.  Straight-on kicker, the sure-footed Jim Turner, nailed them when the offense couldn't.  Turner, in fact, booted three field goals in Super Bowl III, scoring nine of the Jets' points in the 16-7 game.

Football in the ‘60s was played without coordinators screaming into wireless speakers in the quarterback’s headgear.  Namath called his game from the field and called it well, most of the time checking at the line after reading the Colts’ defense.

Coach Eubank, in a post-game interview with the press, said Namath called “a perfect game.” 

Upon hearing that, Namath countered, saying he made two mistakes: a) he called a pass at a time when he should have been burning the clock by running the ball, and b) he ran a play left when the play going right would have lined up Jim Turner in the middle of the field.

Call it nearly perfect.

Interestingly, with one of professional football’s elite passing quarterbacks directing the offense, ball control was the weapon Joe Namath used to win Super Bowl III.  Jets running back Matt Snell had 121 yards on 30 carries, helping New York hold the ball for well over 36 minutes.

Despite pulling off the greatest upset in the history of sport, I rank the 1968 Jets seventh in the Vietnam Era because a) the team had three losses that season, and b) the 1968 Colts choked three chances for three easy TDs and an easy field goal, all of which could have made Super Bowl III an entirely different game.

 

6.  1969 Kansas City Chiefs  14-3

As if the NFL gambling faithful didn't learn anything from the New York Jets' Super Bowl III upset, the NFL's Minnesota Vikings at 14-2 were installed as 13 point favorites against the 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL in Super Bowl IV.

There may have been a good reason for the point spread snub.  The Chiefs' 11-3 regular season record was a game-and-a-half below the Oakland Raiders, their division rivals.  Therefore, Kansas City’s road to the Super Bowl ran through Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

To get there, Kansas City barely beat the defending world champion New York Jets 13-6 at Shea Stadium.  That made the Chiefs essentially the first wild card team to play for a title. 

Oakland drew first blood with an early touchdown in the AFL title game, but Kansas City's stifling defense kept the Raider scoring machine out of the end zone to earn head coach Hank Stram the junior circuit’s berth in Super Bowl IV.

During the week of the Super Bowl, Chiefs' fans had to deal with troubling news surrounding quarterback Len Dawson.  Not only was Dawson injured and questionable for the game, he also faced accusations of career-ending involvement in a sports gambling ring. 

Ironically, the bookmakers themselves took advantage of Dawson’s alleged bookmaking misfortunes.  The Chief’s quarterback had to be unfocused as nothing would be resolved so close to Super Sunday.  Certainly these issues added to the bettors' verve on the Vikings side.

Well, two things happened:

Len Dawson overcame the injuries and the distractions, starting at quarterback and tallying 12 completions on 17 attempts for 142 yards and one touchdown.

The Chiefs’ strangulation defense led by lineman Buck Buchanan, linebacker Willie Lanier, and d-backs Johnny Robinson and Emmitt Thomas recorded three interceptions and two recovered fumbles.

Dawson ’s game plan was to take advantage of the Viking’s perceived weaknesses in the secondary.  Coach Stram felt Minnesota's corners were soft.  The quarterback attacked with “out” routes, gaining relatively short yardage with high percentage passes to Chiefs receivers who were superior athletes.

In the third quarter with Kansas City up 16-7, Dawson hit Otis Taylor on an out.  The future Hall of Fame receiver did a double juke move around the Vikings corner, stiff-armed a safety, and galloped 46 yards to put the game out of reach at 23-7.

At the time, the Kansas City Chiefs went against the National Football League trend of fielding teams with predominantly white players.  The American Football League, on the other hand, developed a philosophy of diversification. 

Kansas City led the way by drafting outstanding African-American athletes from small black colleges across the nation.  So, the Chiefs of the ‘60s set the standard for the new post-merger NFL of the ‘70s and beyond.

The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs' substance did not come without some style.  Coach Hank Stram had each player custom-fitted by a local tailor with a suit jacket and slacks to be worn on all road trips.  Chiefs…looking good.

And, the loquacious Stram, wired during Super Bowl IV by NFL Films, has been canonized by his non-stop chatter as he coached on the sidelines.

Stram is famous for "Let's go Lenny, keep matriculating that ball down the field," as well as the order given to a messenger receiver to which the coach told him, “Tell Lenny to run 65 Toss Power Trap.”

Stram didn’t stop there, "65 Toss Power Trap...watch it, boys, it's the 65 Toss Power Trap," the play that running back Mike Garrett rode four yards to the end zone for a 16-0 halftime lead.

“Whew!  Yeah!  65 Toss Power Trap, boys, I told ya! 65 Toss Power Trap!  Didn’t I tell ya, boys?  65 Toss Power Trap!”

 

5.  1966 Green Bay Packers  14-2

The legendary Green Bay Packers, one of the last of the small-town teams that dominated the league in the 1920s and 1930s (see Providence Steam Roller and Canton Bulldogs, among others), found success in the National Football League with nine league “world” championships since the franchise’s inception.

Green Bay’s 1966 NFL championship squad was one of the city’s better teams.  The ’66 Packers were the 10th in Green Bay history to win the title.

Quarterback Bart Starr, a lowly 17th round draft choice out of Alabama, patrolled the sidelines before becoming the leader of the team upon head coach Vince Lombardi’s arrival.

Starr had receivers Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler as targets along with the aging, yet reliable Max McGee. Elijah Pitts and the pounding Jim Taylor ran out of Starr’s backfield behind a punishing line led by guard Jerry Kramer and tackle Forrest Gregg.

The defense of the 1966 Packers was just as scary. End Willie Davis, linebacker Ray Nitschke, and safety Willie Wood provided big hits to their opponents.

Great teams do what it takes to win, even when they’re not playing well.

In the NFL Championship game the Dallas Cowboys racked up five scores.  Worse, the Packers were up a precarious 34-27 with 28 seconds remaining in their season.  The defense had its back to the wall with Dallas going for the tie from the Green Bay two.  Packer d-back Tom Wood stepped up and picked a Don Meredith pass in the end zone to preserve the win and the title.

Each league agreed that year to send its champion to Los Angeles for the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game.  The 13-2 Green Bay Packers were to face the Kansas City Chiefs, the 12-2-1 winner of the AFL Title Game.

The Packers, 14 point favorites, and the Chiefs, considered the “little brother," were very nervous in the moments before the championship game.

There was some throwing up in the tunnel as well as a few instances of players voiding.

Gross, but true.

Early in the game, however, one man brought sanity and calm to the field of battle.

The following story is about Max McGee’s Super Bowl printed from the online publication Barracuda Magazine .

“Max McGee traveled to Los Angeles with his teammates as they prepared to battle the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL-NFL World Championship, later to be named Super Bowl I. However, no one, including McGee himself, thought he was going to play.

“In fact, the big game was to be his last, as McGee was to retire from professional football.  Offers were coming in from the networks to work as a commentator.  Since McGee was approaching his 35th birthday, old for a receiver in the 1960s, the broadcast booth seemed safer than the gridiron.

“Once in The City of Angels, the Packers were under a strict curfew.  Anyone missing bed check would be fined $10,000. This was a particularly steep fine, as each player would only receive about $15,000 if they won the game.

 

“An assistant coach stopped by McGee’s room for bed check the night before the championship. He found McGee tucked quietly under the covers and said, ‘Good thing you’re here. Lombardi told me to check you first. Don’t you sneak out, you sonofabitch.’”

 

“When the coach closed the door, McGee sprung from under the covers, fully dressed in a suit; slacks, coat, tie and all.”

 

“’I practically ran him over getting out the door,’ says McGee. ‘I was strictly on standby the next day. I knew I wasn’t going to play. So, I went out and had a nice time in Hollywood. And technically, I wasn’t actually out that late. I made it to breakfast with the rest of the team in the morning. I told Boyd Dowler, ‘I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape.’ But Dowler just shrugged it off.’”

 

“As the game started, McGee was busy on the sidelines discussing plans for teammate Paul Hornung’s Las Vegas stag party when Lombardi started screaming for him.”

 

“’When I heard him hollering like that, I thought I was busted,’ says McGee. 'It went through my head that he was going to fine me the $10,000 right there. I didn’t know any other reason that he’d yell at me.’”

 

“As it turns out, three plays into the game, Boyd Dowler had gone down with a separated shoulder, and Lombardi was yelling for McGee to go in. McGee had not even brought his helmet out of the locker room. As he ran into the game with a helmet borrowed from a lineman, Max McGee was the oldest player on the field.

 

“Under pressure from a rush, Packers quarterback Bart Starr threw a wobbly pass downfield to McGee. ‘I stuck my hand back just to try to break up the interception, and the damned ball stuck to the palm of my hand. I had no idea I was trying to catch it,’ jokes McGee.”

 

“He tucked the ball under his arm, broke free from double coverage and ran. The run took him 24 yards downfield and into the end zone. The notorious playboy had scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.

 

“McGee would score another touchdown, juggling the ball on a crossing route, barely dodging the goalposts at the goal line.  After it was all over, the ‘senior citizen’ had pulled in seven receptions for 138 yards and two scores.

 

“With McGee’s help, Green Bay overcame a close game.  Kansas City was down only 14-10 at intermission, but the Packers laid the wood on the Chiefs in the second half with 20 unanswered points.”

 

Bart Starr was named the championship’s Most Valuable Player.  But even XLIV Super Bowls later, Max McGee has to have NFL history’s Most Valuable Hangover.

 

 

4.  1971 Dallas Cowboys  14-3

Head coach Tom Landry led his team on the field at Rich Stadium in Buffalo for the Dallas Cowboys' first game in 1971.  Dallas won a high scoring affair that day, but seven weeks later, coach Landry would stand on the sideline at Soldier Field facing defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears.

The Cowboys would be burdened in the Windy City with a so-so 4-3 record as well as being mired in a debilitating quarterback controversy.  Coach Landry had Dallas a field goal away from sudden-death overtime in Super Bowl V the previous year, but faced the prospects of missing the playoffs altogether in '71.

The coach tried several ways to figure out the best quarterback arrangement between Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. 

Morton was the QB in Super Bowl V, throwing the final interception that day to give Baltimore the chance to kick the winning field goal.  Staubach was the Heisman Trophy winner and Vietnam veteran who parlayed the skills honed at the Naval Academy to become a mobile, accurate-armed NFL passer.  He, however, was untested on the NFL field of play.

After alternating each QB play-by-play, surely sealing the loss to the Bears, Landry wisely ended the quarterback dilemma.  The coach chose Staubach, the winner in a close race, because Landry felt the Midshipman could deliver NFL-quality passes, scramble to buy time and, most importantly, knew how to lead men.

The rest, of course, is history.

Dallas' 1971 late season model left Chicago and went 7-0 to close out.  Roger Staubach proved to be the right choice at quarterback, jumpstarting offensive production to just under 40 points per game from week 11 to the season's end. 

World-class sprinter "Bullet" Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth were Staubach's targets. Roger the Dodger also handed off behind one of the Cowboys’ better offensive lines to Walt Garrison (a real cowboy), Yale divinity grad Calvin Hill, and the extremely talented Duane Thomas.

The Cowboys' Doomsday Defense, led by tackle Bob Lilly, linebackers Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan, and corners Herb Adderley and Mel Renfro, played off the offensive dominance to hold opponents to 11 points per game following week 7.

In the playoffs, Dallas' Doomsday held the three teams, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Super Bowl VI opponent Miami, to one touchdown total while the offense produced the necessary points with the efficiency of the famed Cowboy computer.

Regardless of the level of athleticism of the players that were molded into perhaps the best Dallas team, the Cowboys played through controversy a powerful computer could not eliminate. 

Duane Thomas wanted to renegotiate his contract after a great rookie year.  Management was not interested in doing that close to the 1971 season, so Thomas perceived he was being snubbed.  His reaction was to issue the silent treatment to the press as well as his teammates.

Thomas’ decision to isolate himself had to be stressful for the team, a distraction no one wanted.  As one of the most talented players, the Cowboys left Thomas alone, but the press kept after him for statements.  When asked about Super Bowl VI, for instance, Thomas relinquished his silence for one snide reply, “If the Super Bowl is so special, how come they play it every year?”

In Super Bowl VI, Staubach threw two touchdown passes as he led the attack on Miami in workmanlike fashion.  Duane Thomas also played a rather remarkable game as he ran hard for over a hundred yards at a five yards-per-carry clip and a score. 

When it came time to select the Most Valuable Player, the scribes in the press box knew hands down who should receive it, but the votes were cast for Staubach. 

It seems that nice guys can finish first.

 

3.  1975 Pittsburgh Steelers  15-2

After four decades of being the “lovable loser,” a moniker graciously accepted by Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner Art Rooney, Sr., the 1974 team finally took the big prize home.  The following year, Steelers players gazed at the Lombardi Trophy and decided one was not enough.

The Steelers of 1975, with their 12-2 season record, essentially dominated the AFC and the league.  The driver was the running game.  Franco Harris, Vietnam vet Rocky Bleier, and “Frenchy” Fuqua piled up over 2,000 yards on the ground behind an abusive line led by center Mike Webster.

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw used the rushing attack to set up the pass.  Wideouts Lynn Swann and John Stallworth pulled in 69 passes between them for a respectable 1,204 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The offense put points on the scoreboard, but the backbone of the team’s success was the “Steel Curtain” defense.  Pittsburgh’s D held each opponent to a league-leading 11.6 points per game with one shutout as well as five games yielding no touchdowns.

The leaders of these dominating stoppers were d-back Mel Blount, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, and the fan favorites on the line, LC Greenwood and “Mean” Joe Greene.

Pittsburgh handily won the AFC Central division.  Playing host to the Baltimore Colts in divisional play, the Steelers cruised to a decisive victory.  

Pittsburgh stayed at home again for the AFC Championship.  Steelers’ fans greeted the Oakland Raiders with a 16 degree biting cold afternoon.  In a tight game, Pittsburgh barely prevailed, winning the a berth in Super Bowl X to face the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys.

The two proud dynasties met in Miami, playing Super Bowl X in honor of the Bicentennial on the hideously plastic Astro-turf in the Orange Bowl. 

Dallas head coach Tom Landry decided his best chance to win was to line up the Doomsday Defense to negate the Steelers’ running game.  It worked.  Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were stopped, held to under 100 yards and no scores.

What Landry didn’t anticipate were a) two double cross-ups to the omnipotent Cowboy computer, b) Cowboys’ pugnacious safety Cliff Harris upsetting linebacker Jack Lambert so much Lambert would issue the most brutal game of his life, and c) Steeler wideout Lynn Swann producing four receptions for the ages.

First, tight end Randy Grossman caught a short touchdown pass out of a three tights formation that the computer told Landry the Steelers always ran from.  Then, Pittsburgh safety Mike Wagner played way out of position to intercept a Roger Staubach pass, setting up the go ahead Roy Gerela field goal.

Second, Harris tormented Roy Gerela as the Steelers’ kicker missed early field goals.  At one point, Harris grabbed Gerela by the neck.  Lambert saw that and retaliated by going after Harris, throwing the Cowboy to the turf.  The antics of Cliff Harris resulted in the rage and fury of Jack Lambert and definitely contributed to Lambert racking up 14 tackles.

Third, head coach Chuck Noll knew he had to loosen up the rush with the pass.  He directed Terry Bradshaw to put it in the breeze.  Lynn Swann, who spent two nights in a hospital recovering from a concussion presented to him by Oakland’s hit man George Atkinson, obviously recovered fully enough to make two absolutely awesome receptions.

Bradshaw took aim of Swann in the first quarter down the right sideline.  Swann leapt to pull in the 30 yarder, catching it while hovering out-of-bounds.  The wideout somehow torqued his body to scrape his feet within the line.  That catch set up Randy Grossman’s touchdown, and was honored by Chuck Noll as the best he’s ever seen.

In the second, Bradshaw stood in his end zone and did what God built him to do:  lock in and unload the long ball.  Swann, heading to meet the ball at mid-field, was heavily covered by Cowboy cornerback Mark Washington.  The ball was descending, yet still high.  Swann and Washington went up for it, with Swann seemingly climbing higher and higher. 

The Cowboy corner’s headgear knocked the ball out of Swann’s hands, sending it into a second arc ten feet up.  Swann’s feet found the ground.  He took one step up and another out in a dive, after which the ball met Swann’s hands as he hit the turf.

The catch set up a Gerela field goal attempt, which he missed.  That didn’t seem right, but Swann put the game away in fourth quarter by sprinting under a 64-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw.

A late and futile Staubach touchdown pass to Howard wasn’t enough, giving Pittsburgh back-to-back Lombardi's.

In the 38 seasons since the Immaculate Reception, many fine teams have come from the confluence of the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio.  The Steelers of 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008 won Super Bowls.  Of those six, the 1975 Steelers at 15-2 could be the best.

 

2.  1968 Baltimore Colts  15-2

The 1968 Baltimore Colts share with the 2007 New England Patriots the dubious honor of being the two best teams in the history of the Super Bowl to lose the Super Bowl. 

Enough said…but there is more to the story.  I’ll write about the 18-1 Pats in a later article.  Now is the time to discuss the enigma that is the 15-2 ’68 Colts.

What happened in Super Bowl III?  Well, there are several theories:

Colts quarterback Earl Morrall choked, creating a Colts’ culture of choking;

NFL fans grossly underestimated the quality of football played by the AFL;

Jets quarterback Joe Namath convinced his teammates and Jets fans alike that the Colts could not possibly have gone 13-1 in the AFL;

The Colts and everyone who gave up the 17-1/2 points thought Namath was a no talent blowhard who could not possibly back up his “I guarantee it” bravado;

Colts’ head coach Don Shula overestimated the advantage that the more experienced Baltimore would have over the more youthful Jets, and Earl Morrall really choked, I mean choked bad.

The Baltimore Colts team that played the first 16 games of the 1968 season and the Baltimore Colts team that played in Super Bowl III are essentially completely different teams. Because anyone can have a bad game, and the ’68 Colts laid a huge egg in Super Bowl III, I’m ranking 15-1 Baltimore No. 2 in the Vietnam era.

I’m tempted to put them at No. 1; they were that good. However, I can’t, because as hard as old Colts’ fans and I try, the reality of Super Bowl III reigns.

Let’s look at this No. 2 team in its era, the 15-1 1968 Colts:

Baltimore’s offense was a machine.  In Earl Morrall’s first 16 games, counting the two playoff games, he was an outstanding quarterback.  Morrall threw 182 completions on 317 attempts for 2,909 yards with 26 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions. As well, Baltimore runners helped out, keeping the pass defenses honest. All-everything back Tom Matte and running back Terry Cole combined for 1,000 yards.

On his 317 pass attempts, Morrall gained 9.18 yards, an outstanding average.  Receiver Jimmy Orr gained over 25 yards per catch while Willie Richardson got almost 19 yards every time he pulled in a pass.  Tight end John Mackey led the receivers as he caught 45 balls for a 14 yard average.

When the Colts had the ball in the first 16 games, the results were impressive: over 300 yards total offense and 29 points per game.

The Colts’ defense was a monster.  Led by tackle Bubba Smith, linebacker Mike Curtis, and defensive backs Rick Volk and Jerry Logan, Baltimore’s D allowed less than 10 points per game.  The defense scored four shutouts and kept opponents out of the end zone two other times.

All in all, the 15-1 1968 Baltimore Colts played only three games in which the scoring margin was 10 points or less.  The 10-4 Cleveland Browns defeated the Colts 30-20 in week six, the 10-3-1 Los Angeles Rams narrowly lost 28-24 in week 14, and the 8-6 Minnesota Vikings fell 24-14 in the conference championship.

Baltimore gained revenge against Cleveland in the NFL Championship by pounding the Browns 34-0 at Municipal Stadium.  New York defeated the Oakland Raiders 28-24 on a last minute pass in the AFL Championship game.  It seemed the Colts were prepared to assume the Super Bowl crown.

In Miami on January 12, 1969, the kicker for the 0-1 1968 Baltimore Colts, Lou Michaels, missed a chip shot early in the first quarter after a decisive drive.  Michaels went 48 for 50 for chip shot extra points in the 15-1 1968 season. That’s three. 

Then, after a Jets turnover deep in New York territory, Earl Morrall blew a sure scoring opportunity by throwing an interception to Jets’ defensive back Randy Beverly in the end zone, making it 10.

In the second quarter, Baltimore had the ball deep in the red zone on the Jets 15.  From there, Morrall threw to the Jets two where New York d-back Johnny Sample was waiting for the interception.  Count ‘em at 17.

And, in the most unfortunate play of the day for the Colts, Morrall used trickery to get Tom Matte wide open by an acre in the end zone only to inexplicably not see him.  Although the play was designed for Matte, Morrall chose to throw to the right to find the Jets’ Jim Hudson intercepting the pass for Morrall’s third pick of the first half.  Now it’s 24.

The Colts missed easy opportunities totaling 24 points at the half that if converted would have made Super Bowl III a completely different game for the 0-1 team.

Morrall screwed up so much he was eligible to be the Jets' MVP. 

Fortunately for the quarterback, Earl Morrall redeemed himself by leading Baltimore to victory in Super Bowl V and by leading 1972 Miami to a 9-0 record after Bob Greise’s broken leg during the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season.

 

1.   1972 Miami Dolphins  17-0

As the only team of the Super Bowl era to complete a season and the playoffs undefeated, one would think the 1972 Miami Dolphins would command respect in the professional football community.

But, no.

The professional football community has generally and essentially taken serious steps to minimize the value of the 17-0 season.  Here’s how, with Miami’s rebuttal in italics :

Football experts have been critical of the Dolphins’ 1972 schedule in which none of the 10 opponents (they played four divisional teams twice) had a record better than 8-6. 

No argument with the light regular season schedule, but the mantra of the NFL is ‘On any given Sunday…’  The Dolphins dodged 14 bullets, and beat 10-4 Cleveland in the divisional playoff, beat 11-3 Pittsburgh at Three Rivers in the AFC championship game, and took 11-3 Washington to task in Super Bowl VII.

Here’s a list of better teams in the history of the Super Bowl: 1985 Chicago at 18-1 a 10 point favorite in XX who manhandled New England 46-10; 1989 San Francisco at 17-2 which pounded Denver 55-10 in XXIV; 1998 Denver at 17-2 that cut a swath through that season’s playoffs; and the infamous 2007 New England Patriots which took an 18-0 record into XLII only to be edged by the New York Giants, a team of destiny.

Great teams they are, but the ‘on any given Sunday…’ bit each of them.  Let’s take a look:

1985 Chicago Bears: I’d like to see this team play the 1972 Dolphins.  Offense, defense, they were the same.  In the two playoff games and Super Bowl XX, ’85 Chicago allowed only one touchdown, registering two shutouts. Brutal. Of the four listed above, the 1985 Bears is almost perfect, but they lost a game.

1989 San Francisco 49ers: Lots of offense, an average defense…until the playoffs.  The ’89 Niners held Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Denver to two touchdowns total.  They’re another great team, but were burdened by two losses.

1998 Denver Broncos: Did 14-0.  That was pretty good, except they lost the following two.  Coaching staff may have been resting the starters for the playoffs. If so, it worked.  1998 Denver sliced through Miami 38-3, beat the Jets handily 23-10, then caught an extremely distracted 16-2 Atlanta to the tune of 34-19.  Still, two losses.

2007 New England Patriots: Won 18 consecutive games, then blew it in Super Bowl XLII.  You gotta win your Super Bowl.

For the purposes of this piece, the argument has been resolved: ’85 Bears, ’89 49ers, ’98 Broncos, and ’07 Patriots were not undefeated.  Stating the obvious, to be the best, you have to be undefeated.

The 1971 Dolphins showed much promise, but ran into a buzzsaw known as the 1971 Dallas Cowboys.  Review my writeup about the ‘71 ‘Boys and you’ll see why Miami didn’t have a chance in Super Bowl VI.

I n preparation for the 1972 season, individual players began to arrive separately at the same conclusion: this year could be a very special year.

Miami linebacker Nick Buoniconti said it best, "Who’s going to beat us?"

His teammates could not come up with a reason why any team would.  So, those expectations of success came to fruition long before the first game and got the ’72 Dolphins rolling early.

At quarterback, until his leg was broken during the fifth game, was future Hall of Famer Bob Griese.  Earl Morrall, the goat of Super Bowl III but the hero of Baltimore’s victory in V, took over at the helm for Griese.

In the nine games Morrall directed the offense, he completed over 55 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards with a very respectable 9.1 yards per attempt.  Most importantly, Miami went 9-0 during his leadership.

Morrall’s targets included wideout Paul Warfield with a 20.9 yards per reception, possession receiver Howard Twilley at 18.2 yards per catch, Marlin Briscoe with a 17.4 average, and tight ends Marv Fleming and Jim Mandich.

The 38-year-old experienced quarterback knew the value of sharing the wealth.  No Dolphin player caught more than 30 of Morrall’s passes while eight brought in over 10.

Keeping opponent’s defenses honest was Miami’s trio of running backs.  Fullback Larry Csonka and scat back Mercury Morris were the first two backs in the history of professional football to each gain 1,000 yards in a season on the same team.

Csonka and Morris each ran for an average of over five yards a carry.  Such running production must be attributed to the offensive line, led by Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Langer, and Larry Little.

In addition to Csonka and Morris, Jim Kiick was the first running back off the bench.  Kiick racked up over 500 yards for the season, crossing the goal line five times.  However, during the two playoff games and Super Bowl VII, Kiick was the Dolphins’ best end zone "sniffer," scoring four touchdowns.

You’ve certainly heard of Miami’s No-Name Defense, named the No-Name because professional football fans didn’t recognize their names.  Well, here they are:

Defensive line: Vern Den Herder, Bill Stanfill, Manny Fernandez, and Bob Heinz.

Linebackers: Doug Swift, Nick Buonticonti, Larry Ball, and Bob Matheson.

Defensive backfield: Tim Foley, Lloyd Mumphord, Dick Anderson, and Jake Scott.

Bob Matheson, wearing number 53, was the first nickel back in NFL history. He entered the game on passing situations as a rusher or linebacker in coverage.

Manny Fernandez had the game of his lifetime against Washington in Super Bowl VII, plugging recording 11 unassisted tackles and assisting on six others.

Nick Buonticonti intercepted a Bill Kilmer pass, and Jake Scott had two picks, one deep in Washington’s red zone.

Scott was named VII’s Most Valuable Player.

Super Bowl VII was not kind to Miami. After scoring two touchdowns in the first half, the Dolphins struggled offensively the rest of the game. 

The Redskins held the ball over 18 minutes in the second half, placing the championship directly in the laps of the Miami defense.

The No-Names came through, even after Dolphin kicker Garo Yepremian did his best to give the game away.

In fact, the No-Names are the only defense in Super Bowl history to shutout the opponent’s offense.

A perfect 17-0 record.

Miami fans love the sound of that. But, Super Bowl shutouts? That’s how the 1972 Miami Dolphins would prefer to be known.

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