The 50 Most Significant Plays in Miami Dolphins' History: Part One

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The 50 Most Significant Plays in Miami Dolphins' History: Part One

I just can't do it.  I can't get all worked up when Miami waves a linebacker named Brian Johnston or signs a seventh round pick (no offense Chris McCoy).  This is the slowest part of the football year and everyone knows it.

So, I thought about doing something different.  I have spent the last few weeks pouring over Dolphins history and have come up with 50 plays that I believe to be the most significant in team history.  These aren't the 50 best plays or even the 50 most memorable.  That's been done.  Some of these plays didn't even come in Dolphin wins, but they are no less important to remember.

These are the plays that have defined the Dolphins over more than four decades.  This project will be divided into a five-part series with 10 plays described in each article.  I haven't ranked these plays in a particular order because during this series I want your feedback.  At the end of the process I want you to vote for the 10 most significant plays.  So without further ado, here are 10 plays to start us off.

1972 Larry Seiple's fake punt

With the Dolphins trailing the Steelers 7-0 in the AFC Championship Game and the team's perfect season in jeopardy, Seiple lumbered 37 yards all the way down to the Pittsburgh 12-yard line.  Earl Morrall flipped a nine-yard pass to Larry Csonka for a 7-7 halftime deadlock.  Legendary Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll simply said of Seiple's run, "That play changed the game."  

Without the play 17-0 and the immortality of the 1972 team arguably never happen.

1982 John Riggins Super Bowl run

Many fans remember Riggins shrugging off Dolphin cornerback Don McNeal on his way to a 43-yard touchdown and a 27-17 Super Bowl victory for the Redskins.  But do you remember that the play, "70 chip," came on 4th-and-inches?  

I talked to McNeal years later about the play.  The missed tackle initially haunted him so much that he wound up buying a huge picture of the moment and put it up in his living room.  Poignantly, this was a big step in McNeal facing his demons and moving on with his life. 

In terms of significance in Dolphins history, Riggins' romp ended the team's best shot of ending its Super Bowl drought that has lasted since the 1973 season.   

1971 Larry Csonka's Christmas jaunt

On a play called 'roll right trap left' Csonka bruised for 29 yards to the Chiefs 36.  The run eventually put Garo Yepremiam in position to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day with a 37-yard field goal. 

In addition to being the NFL's longest game (82 minutes and 40 seconds), it was Miami's first-ever playoff win. 

1993 Marino Achilles Tendon Rupture

The previous year Miami had lost the AFC Championship game, but it was considered favorites to make it back and perhaps go the Super Bowl.  In game five of the season against Cleveland, after throwing a swing pass, Marino, who was untouched on the play, crumpled to the ground in pain with a torn Achilles tendon and was out for the season. 

The only major injury of Marino's career took away one of his last best shots to win a Super Bowl ring.  It also made the Hall of Famer very immobile, and, as Dolphin fans know, he wasn't "fleet of foot" to begin with.  

2008 Ronnie Brown and the birth of the Wildcat
Something had to be done to stop the 21-game regular season winning streak of the New England Patriots, but no one could have predicted how it would happen. 

Running back Ronnie Brown lined up in the Shotgun and ran for four touchdowns, but it was a skill that very few knew he had that put him on this list.  Rolling to his left, he pitched a 19-yard touchdown to a wide open Anthony Fasano. 

The Dolphins crushed the Patriots, 38-13.  In terms of significance the new formation, and being able to pass out of it on occasion, has given defenses more to think about every since.

1994 Stoyanovich is wide right

Miami blew a 21-6 lead, and the lost advantage is one of Miami's few memorable ones in the playoffs.  When Pete Stoyanovich, a great Dolphins kicker, lined up for a 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt with eight seconds left, I had the palpable sense that he would make it. 

Perhaps that's when paranoia about the Dolphins being cursed set in for some fans.  The primary significance was that the Chargers went onto the Super Bowl, and it could have, perhaps should have, been Miami. 

2000 Lamar Smith's career day and final touch

Lamar Smith had a productive 10-year NFL career with 4,853 yards and 38 touchdowns. 

Unfortunately, he is probably best known for a vehicular accident in which he had been drinking and driving.  The tragic car wreck left Carolina Panthers teammate Mike Frier paralyzed from the waste down. 

But for one day, Lamar Smith was able to shine as a player.  That day came against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs.  Smith carried the ball 40 times for 209 yards, but it was the last carry that was most significant. 

In overtime, with Miami safely in field goal range, Smith ran 17 yards and just crossed the goal line as his teammates celebrated wildly. 

The play was especially significant because it capped arguably the best performance by a non-star in Miami's history and was one of the most dramatic final plays in the team's lore. 

1974 Clarence Davis and the Sea of Hands

Miami's dream of three straight championships came to an abrupt nightmare when Oakland running back Clarence Davis somehow wrestled the ball away from three defenders in the end zone on a wobbly eight-yard pass from Kenny Stabler with 26 seconds left for a 28-26 Raiders victory. 

It was also the last game that Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield played for the Dolphins together. (Csonka returned for a year in 1979) The trio departed for the short-lived World Football League in 1975, and Miami's dream of a dynasty left too.

1966 Joe Auer's kickoff return

A franchise's first touchdown probably belongs on a significant play list.  When the score is a 95-yard kickoff return to open the game and your owner (Danny Thomas) is sprinting down the sideline with the player, the play makes the Top 50 list. 

1981 Hook-and-Lateral

With only six seconds left in the first half and the Fins trailing 24-10 with the ball resting at the San Diego Charger 40-yard line, Miami quarterback Don Strock threw a pass to wide receiver Duriel Harris.  The rest is what announcer Don Criqui called, "What a play! What a play!  Hall of Fame!  Hall of Fame football play!  That goes to Canton."

As he was about to go down, Harris lateraled the ball to running back Tony Nathan, who never broke stride on his way to the end zone.  That Miami eventually lost one of the greatest games ever played is important, but ask longtime Dolphin fans to associate one play with the Dolphins, and this is the most common answer.  I still get chills watching the play nearly 30 years later.

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