Photo via @DolphinsHistory on Twitter
It’s been nearly four decades since the Miami Dolphins last reached the Super Bowl. Their first appearance on Super Sunday however, was clinched on this day 50 years ago.
For head coach Don Shula, the win was extra sweet. Against his former team, Shula coached the Dolphins to a 21-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts for the AFC Championship.
Setting the Stage
A trip to the Super Bowl was on the line as the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Colts met in the AFC Championship on Jan. 2, 1972. The teams had split the two regular-season meetings with each winning at home.
Division foes, Miami had won the AFC East with a 10-3-1 record while Baltimore finished 10-4. Each team had won road games in the playoffs to reach the AFC Championship. The Dolphins topped the Kansas City Chiefs in the longest game in NFL history while Baltimore had defeated the Cleveland Browns, 20-3.
Led by head coach Don McCafferty, the Colts were the reigning Super Bowl champions and looking for their third appearance in four years. Their first appearance had come with Shula at the helm.
Shula had coached Baltimore for seven years from 1963 to 1969. Infamously, his Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III despite being nearly 20-point favorites. At the same location where the Super Bowl III upset had taken place, Shula had a chance to return to the Super Bowl by beating his former team.
Statistically, the Dolphins and Colts were largely even. The difference was big plays and Miami taking advantage of Baltimore miscues.
Miami drew first blood on the second play of its second possession as quarterback Bob Griese hit a crossing Paul Warfield. Warfield was able to avoid a tackle, hit the sideline and outrun defenders for a 75-yard touchdown.
Baltimore’s best scoring opportunity came in the second quarter as it faced 4th-and-2 from the Dolphins’ 9-yard-line. Linebacker Nick Buoniconti led the charge to stop running back Don Nottingham for no gain. On the next Baltimore drive, Lloyd Mumphord blocked Jimmy O’Brien’s field goal attempt and the Dolphins took a 7-0 lead to the locker room.
Miami would allow 298 yards, but intercepted future Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas three times. Early in the third quarter, Dick Anderson returned one of those picks 62 yards for a touchdown.
Down 14-0, Baltimore would again reach Miami territory late in the third quarter, but safety Jake Scott picked off Unitas on the final play of the period. After an exchange of punts, the Dolphins put the game away. Following a 50-yard completion from Griese to Warfield, Csonka’s 5-yard touchdown run capped the scoring with about eight minutes to play.
Mike Kolen put the exclamation point on the win by intercepting Unitas’ final throw of the day with less than six minutes to play. Csonka and Jim Kiick combined to run out the clock for Miami.
Those two combined for 129 yards rushing while Warfield led all receivers with 125 yards on two catches. Unitas passed for 234 yards in the loss.
The Miami Dolphins would go on to lose to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, 24-3. They would however, bounce back to win the next two Super Bowls, which included the first and only perfect season in NFL history in 1972.
After a slow start to this season, Miami has itself in position to make a late Super Bowl run. Its first Super Bowl appearance was clinched on this day a half-century ago.
Miami Dolphins Communications
Pro Football Reference
Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.