As we approach what looks to be an extremely promising season (details to come in my NFL Season Preview this August), it's time we look back at the best teams from the Miami Dolphins illustrious 44-year history.
The Phins went from an AFL expansion team in 1966 to being the best post-merger team in the NFL based on winning percentage, along with making it into the postseason 22 times, winning 14 AFC East titles, participating in seven AFC Championship games, winning five AFC Championships and two Super Bowls.
But what are the five best teams the franchise has had? Logic would dictate that it would be the five Super Bowl teams, but are they really? Read on to find out, and whether you agree, disagree, or are just a B/R troll (or Jets or Patriots or Bills fan) leave a comment!
Finished 10-6, second in the AFC East. Defeated Buffalo in the Wild Card round before losing to Denver in the Divisional Round.
Highlights: Beating Buffalo in the Wild Card round, Marino throwing touchdown pass No. 400 against the Saints on November 29.
Lowlight: Losing to Denver in the Divisional Round, getting swept by the J-E-T-S, which turned out to be the difference between first and second place.
Finished 10-5-1, first in the AFC East, lost in the divisional round to San Diego in arguably the greatest game ever played, not just in Miami Dolphins history. That game was both the highlight and lowlight of the season.
Finished 12-4, first in AFC East. Defeated Cleveland in the Divisional Round, lost to New England in AFC Championship game.
Lowlight: losing in the AFC championship game for the first time in team history (5-0 prior to that game) thanks to six turnovers that the Patriots converted into 24 points.
Highlight: And this is what makes that loss even more painful to this day, as the phins were the only team to defeat the Bears all season, winning 38-24.
Finished 11-5, first in AFC East. Defeated San Diego 31-0 in the Divisional Round, lost 29-10 to Buffalo in the AFC Championship game.
Highlight: After having to switch their bye week to Week One due to Hurricane Andrew (and most overlooked, because the Patriots booked the Rolling Stones to play Foxborough that weekend, bastards), they began the season 6-0 en route to their first AFC East title in seven years and a first-round bye.
Lowlight: the fact that Buffalo still owned us at the time and defeated the Phins in the AFC Championship game.
Finished 11-3, first in AFC East.
Highlights: Won fourth straight AFC East crown.
Lowlights: The Sea of Hands game.
Finished 10-3-1, first in AFC East, plus an AFC Championship.
Highlights: winning what was then the longest game in NFL history, defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 on Christmas Day, then followed that up the next week by beating the Baltimore Colts, the defending Super Bowl Champions and Don Shula's former team 21-0.
Lowlight: losing the Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3. They're still the only team in Super Bowl history to not score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. That right there is enough for me to only have them as an honorable mention, considering that five Super Bowls were played before this one, and another 37 Super Bowls have been played since, and they're still the only Super Bowl participant to not score a touchdown.
Finished 11-5, first in AFC East.
Lowlight: the playoff game against Baltimore.
Highlight: Just the whole regular season. First team to go from 1-15 to the playoffs in one year. I know Mike Smith did a tremendous job in Atlanta, but, Sparano took over a 1-15 team and lead them to a division title! Yes, I think he was robbed, as was Pennington, who should've at least finished second in MVP voting that year.
Season 6 of Dancing with the Stars-Jason Taylor finished second to Kristi Yamaguchi. Just kidding.
Coming off a 10-5-1 season where they lost arguably the greatest game in NFL history, the Dolphins, lead by the Killer B's Defense, had high hopes for 1982, and began the season at 2-0.
Then came the strike. Unlike in 1987, there were no replacement players, and the games just weren't play. The strike lasted 57 days: from September 21 until November 16th.
The players came back on the field on November 21st, and the Dolphins finished out the season 5-2, and one of those two losses was the infamous Snow Plow game. With the abbreviated season, division standings didn't decide playoff spots, conference standings did, and the Dolphins finished second in the AFC.
In the first round they avenged the snow plow game by defeating the Patriots 28-13. In the second round they avenged their classic from the year before, defeating San Diego 34-13.
The AFC Championship game came against the hated, and at the time, speedy New York Jets. However, due to torrential rains the night before, the Orange Bowl field was extremely slippery, and the Jets, ranked third in the NFL in scoring and second in the NFL in takeaway/giveaway differential, were held scoreless throughout the game with six turnovers, including three interceptions by AJ Duhe, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Sadly the Dolphins' run to the Super Bowl ended thanks to the God-like running of John Riggins, the MVP of Super Bowl XVII, which the Dolphins lost to the Redskins 27-17.
Offensive MVP: FB Andra Franklin. 701 yards in 177 attempts, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He had 7 TDs during the season.
Defensive MVP: Nose Tackle Bob Baumhower. The anchor of the "Killer Bee's" and the only one to go to the Pro Bowl that season. Recorded 3.5 sacks on the season. I'd love to tell you how many tackles he had but pro-football-reference.com doesn't even have that total.
I'm biased and I'll admit it. I could write a full article on this season, and don't think I won't. It was the first time my grandfather and I had season tickets to the Dolphins (sadly also the last, thank you Wayne Huizinga for raising prices).
It was Marino's comeback from that Achilles injury that many thought could've ended his career. I'm still thankful Detroit overpaid for Scott Mitchell, if not, he would've been Dolphins QB, Marino would've been shipped out, and we'd miss out on a fantastic season with so many great memories. Like the duel with Bledsoe in Week One, watching Art Shell actually come to life and arguing with Jeff Hostetler during a Week Seven game against Oakland. The two games against the Chiefs, including Joe Montana's final game. And of course, the moment captured somewhat by the picture I selected.
The Fake Spike against the Jets. At the time of the game, the Dolphins were 7-4 and had a one-game lead on the Jets. The Jets had a 24-6 lead. Then the Dolphins came back, and finished with said fake spike play.
The Jets weren't the same, they went into a tail spin that season and finished 6-10 (they were 6-5 going into the game).
The Dolphins finished 10-6 and won the AFC East. This is where it gets tough for me, as this season broke my heart more than any other Dolphins season. It was the AFC Divisional playoff, Dolphins leading 21-6 at halftime to San Diego. Then came the safety, then Natrone Means running up and down the field, Stan Humphries somehow becoming Joe Montana, and Pete Stoyanovich, the most accurate kicker in the NFL, missing a field goal that he normally makes, 11-year-old Tommy crying over a sporting event for the first time ever.
This was also the game that made me hate Fox Sports forever, thanks to their "McDonalds Game Break" during The Simpsons, I go from laughing at the antics of Homer and the residents of Springfield, to tears in about five seconds. I'll never forgive Fox Sports for doing a sports update they never had to do in the first place because THERE WERE ONLY TWO F$#KING GAMES PLAYED THAT DAY!
Sorry for yelling, see, this season made me run the gamut of emotions, and had it not been for our defense, which was our weak spot that year, blowing the game, the Dolphins would've gone up to Pittsburgh and beaten the Steelers, then, been the first team to have home field advantage in a Super Bowl.
Much like I know that in '85 the Phins would've given the Bears a better game than the Patsies did, I know that in '94 Marino would've hoisted up his first ring, and Steve Young would've retired with the monkey still hanging on his back.
Finished third in offense, 17th in defense.
Offensive MVP: Dan Marino. 385/615 62.6 completion percentage, 4,453 passing yards, 30 Touchdowns, 17 interceptions, an 89.2 passer rating. NFL Comeback player of the year. By the way, he was 33, and had just come off an Achilles Tendon Injury. Patriots fans who say Brady wasn't right this year because of his knee, just shut up already.
Defensive MVP: Well it was Bryan Cox, but I refuse to acknowledge such a thing with a 17th-ranked defense that made Marino have so many comeback victories and blew a shot at the Super Bowl for us, plus got us swept by the Bills, who were 7-9. The D had plenty of talent, meaning there should've been no excuse for that mess. God I hate Tom Olivadotti.
I'm going to take a lot of heat for this. I have a team that got blown out during a Super Bowl ahead of a team that not only won the Super Bowl, but all of the games leading up to it.
Why are they my No. 3 you might ask? Well, it's a ranking, sorta like the BCS. The question has to be asked of, who did they play? They came from an easy division for one.
How easy? The second place New York Jets were .500. What about their schedule? Want to take a guess at when they played a division winner that year for the first time? The AFC Championship game. No seriously. Every team on their schedule that year was .500 or worse. Yet they had to come from behind in five of those games (granted two of them in the playoffs but still).
They did finish first in the NFL in both offense and defense (first team to do so), but again, strength of schedule. As far as history goes, I mean, it's tough to compare teams from the '70s to teams of today, probably the only teams I could do that with pre-1980 are the '73 Dolphins, the Steelers from '74-80, and that's it.
This team was great, but I hate when it comes up in greatest team in NFL history arguments (that's another subject for another day, but I'd have to go with the '84 49ers for that title) when to me at least, it's No. 3 all time amongst Dolphin teams.
And let's not get started on their Super Bowl win either. Great defense by the No-Names in not allowing a touchdown, but fact is, they were giving up six points to a Redskins team so old they were dubbed the "Over The Hill Gang" and almost lost it thanks to Garo Yepremian's blunder, which sadly overshadowed both the game and the season.
Offensive MVP: Larry Czonka. 213 attempts for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns, averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro.
Defensive MVP: Jake Scott. 5 INTs and a Fumble recovery. Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP.
One little, ok BIG, annoying thing keeps 1984 from being the greatest season in Dolphins history. That big thing of course being one Joe Montana, as he took the sting out of the Killer Bee's. They were never the same after that Super Bowl. But I digress, let's get to the great things about this season, of which there were many.
First off, you could make the argument that in 1984 Miami was the center of the football universe. On January 1st, The U won its first National Title. Marino lead the Dolphins into the playoffs with a division title the year before, as a rookie. Then came what is still the greatest single season by any quarterback in NFL history: 362/564. That's a completion percentage of 64.2! Add to that 5,084 yards (single season record), 48 touchdowns (at the time a record, now third overall), 17 interceptions, and a 108.9 passer rating (10th all time). The important number: 14-2, AFC Champions.
Now I have more arguments for this team being No. 2, but first let me remind members of Team Peyton and Team Brady (and possibly this season Team Brees, Team Schaub, etc) that 1984 didn't have the same rules to benefit offense. There was no Brady Rule, Marino avoided sacks by being quick in the pocket and relying on his offensive line, not by having pass rushers live in fear of committing a penalty and taking dives when the pass rusher grazed his leg (and only got sacked 13 times, Brady in 2007 got sacked 21 times with his vaunted O-line and spread offense, which is actually supposed to get you less sacks, while in 2004 Manning got sacked 13 times like Marino, so there it's a wash).
Secondly, cornerbacks in his day bumped with receivers. Frequently. You had to commit a robbery and a homicide in 1984 to draw a pass interference flag. Now it seems like if you just get within a yard of the intended receiver, the flag comes out.
Now I know Team Peyton and Team Brady will point to the interception stats. Again, different rules.
It wasn't all Marino, though, as would be evidenced between 1986 and 1991 (averages from those years: 321/551 58.2 completion percentage, 4,002 yards, 28 TDs, 18 INTs, and most importantly, because he had to throw the ball so much due to lack of a running game, 8-8, one playoff appearance during that time span).
In 1984, the Dolphins did have a running game. No seriously. There was a solid running game behind the greatest single passing season by a quarterback in NFL history.
As a team, they rushed for 1,918 yards in 484 carries. Now this was more of a running back by committee setup lead by Woddy Bennett (144 attempts, 606 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns), Tony Nathan (118 attempts, 555 yards, one TD, 4.7 yards per carry), and Joe Carter (100 attempts, 495 yards, one TD, 5.0 yards per carry). The TD numbers by the Phins' RBs are skewed not just by the number of Marino TDs, but also the fact that in short yardage situations in the Red Zone they called on Fullback Pete Johnson to take it in (nine TDs).
You can't talk about Marino's greatest season without talking about the Marks Brothers. At first I was going to post their numbers separately but you just can't, they'll forever be the Marks Brothers, so I shall post their combined numbers (144 receptions, 2,695 yards, 18.7 yards per catch, 26 TDs, 2,703 all purpose yards).
Then there was Tony Nathan catching passes out of the backfield (61 receptions, 579 yards, 9.5 yards per catch, two TDs, 1,137 all purpose yards), Nat Moore (43 receptions, 573 yards, 13.3 yards per catch, six TDs). If you wanted to build a great offense for that era, this would be the one (with apologies to the Phins RB by committee set up at the time, the RB core could've been improved a little bit. I'm just saying).
Overall this was the No. 1 offense in the NFL in yards and in points.
The Defense gets overshadowed by the horrendous showing in Super Bowl XIX. Walsh, Montana, and the West Coast Offense tore through what would turn out to be an antiquated defense in that game, and the Killer Bees were never the same, as it seemed they got very old very quickly.
However during the season, while they did allow enough yards to only be ranked 19th in a 28-team league, they managed to finish seventh in the league in points allowed, and that combined with the high powered offense allowed them to finish second in point differential. The '84 Dolphins also finished fifth in turnover differential at plus-8.
Unlike in '72, '84 also presents a tougher schedule, with six games against teams with winning records (5-1 against those teams), and the fact that they didn't trail in the playoffs until the second quarter of the Super Bowl (sadly this is where this season went to crap).
It was a season full of promise that was never fulfilled. 26 years later we're still trying to get back to the Super Bowl, and this Super Bowl would be Marino's first and final SB appearance.
However, considering the era and the Super Bowl opponent (a 15-1 San Francisco 49ers team lead by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana that would go on to win two more Super Bowls that decade, while finishing second to the Dolphins in total offense and first in total defense and in point differential) along with the fact that in their two AFC playoff games they outscored Seattle and Pittsburgh 76-38), this team is the No. 2 pick.
They'd beat the '72 Dolphins, but would have their hands full with our No. 1.
Offensive MVP: Dan Marino. Stats already listed, Pro Bowl, All-Pro, 1984 Regular Season MVP.
Defensive MVP: Doug Betters. 14 Sacks.
How can you possibly top an undefeated season? The pressure that was on this team was probably more pressure than any other NFL team has faced. They were perfect the year before, and as a reward they get new expectations, and a tougher schedule (five opponents over .500, three division winners, 4-1 against all above .500 opponents, 2-1 against the division winners).
Of course those expecting back-to-back perfect seasons were disappointed after the Dolphins traveled to Oakland for Week Two and lost to the Raiders, but they were able to get that one back.
If there was a time that showed where the NFL was headed in the '70s, the 1973 season was that. Miami won the East handedly as expected, Pittsburgh won the AFC Central, Oakland won the AFC West, Dallas won the NFC East, Minnesota the NFC Central, and the LA Rams won the NFC West. That was the order of business in the NFL in the '70s pretty much. The Steelers were a year away from their first Super Bowl, the Raiders three years away from their first, while Dallas was two years removed from their first, and the Vikings were about to become the '70s version of the Buffalo Bills.
During this season, the Dolphins played each of those teams except the Rams, including the Raiders twice (once in the regular season and again in the AFC Championship game) and their final record against the NFL power clique of that year: 4-1.
Griese was healthy for a full year and made the Pro Bowl, as he lead a fifth-ranked offense that again boasted a solid running game (Czonka-plus-Morris ran for a combined 1,957 yards on 368 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards a carry, and 15 TDs, then Kiick contributed another 257 yards).
The passing game was what you would expect from a '70s team, mainly used to keep defenses honest. And their defense was the best in the NFL that year, better than doomsday, better than the Steel Curtain (for that year).
Then comes the playoffs, still the most dominant postseason stretch in Dolphins history, outscoring the Bengals (10-4), Raiders (9-4-1), and Vikings (12-2) 85-33 and never trailing at any point during the postseason.
Of course this season isn't without black marks. The first one came after the season when Czonka, Kiick, and Warfield fled to the WFL's Memphis Southmen. They'd be in Miami for one more year after this season, but after that, Coach Shula went into his first rebuilding mode with the Dolphins.
The second was the fact that they lost two games. While the first game was understandable (defending and future AFC West Champion Oakland on the road), the second loss was the truest of aberration, against a 4-10 Baltimore Colts team in Baltimore. But, how's that any worse than say, the eventual Super Bowl champions losing a Monday Night game to a team that had a backup QB and an interim coach? (Yes it happened, and yes there's video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riFY4A6wXIU)
Fact is, those losses happened, even to the best teams of all time, and the '73 Dolphins are the best Dolphins team of all time. And the best part is, there's no Garo Yepremian highlight to tarnish it!
Offensive MVP: Larry Czonka and Mercury Morris. Stats listed already.
Defensive MVP: Dick Anderson. Eight INTs