Photo credit Miami Dolphins

The 1970s produced plenty of fond memories for the Miami Dolphins. Although there were no Super Bowl victories, the 1980s did as well.

The first win of the decade came on this day 40 years ago and in dramatic fashion. Miami rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to stun the Cincinnati Bengals, 17-16.

Setting the Stage

After falling 17-7 to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the Miami Dolphins hosted the Bengals on Sept. 14, 1980 for their home opener. The Dolphins were looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since 1969.

Cincinnati was also 0-1. The Bengals dropped their opener to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That first win however, looked like it was going to be in the cards for the Bengals.

The Comeback

Seven quarters into the 1980 season, the Dolphins had managed just seven points. Miami entered the final quarter of its home opener down 14-0 when Don Strock found Nat Moore early for a 15-yard touchdown early in the period to cut the lead in half.

That however, appeared to be all for naught when Cincinnati linebacker Reggie Williams tackled Miami’s Steve Howell for a safety with just over six minutes to go. The safety gave the Bengals a 16-7 lead and looked to be Miami’s undoing.

Cincinnati looked as if it was set to get the ball back as Miami’s Greg Roberts lined up for a free kick. Instead, he kicked the ball short and the Dolphins recovered at their own 35-yard-line.

It took Miami just four plays to hit paydirt on a pass where disaster was diverted. Strock was able to hit Duriel Harris for a big play, but Harris fumbled before reaching the end zone. Luckily for the Dolphins, rookie running back Nick Giaquinto pounced on the fumble for a touchdown. The Cincinnati lead was just two.

About two minutes later, Miami’s Bill Barnett blocked the punt of Cincinnati’s Pat McInally. That set the Dolphins up in Bengals’ territory. With less than two minutes to play, kicker Uwe von Schamann connected on a 39-yard field goal to give Miami its first lead of the day.

On the ensuing Cincinnati drive, Miami’s Gerald Small intercepted Bengals’ quarterback Jack Thompson to seal the victory.

Top Performers

Miami won despite just 249 yards of offense with 145 of those coming from the arm of Strock. Devin Williams led Miami with 102 yards from scrimmage, including a game-high 65 yards rushing.

Williams added an interception to go with his tackle for a safety for the Bengals’ defense. Pete Johnson and Don Bass scored the two touchdowns for Cincinnati.

In Hindsight

The rally at the Orange Bowl remains one of the more underrated comebacks in Miami history. The season however, wasn’t one for the ages. Miami went just 8-8 in 1980, missing the playoffs for just the third time in 11 seasons.

The Bengals go on to finish 6-10 that season. For the Dolphins, the Week 2 contest would be the closest game all season. It happened on this day four decades ago.


Ocala Star
Miami Dolphins
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.