The Miami Dolphins have gone more than 20 years without a playoff win. Their first playoff victory however, came on this day 50 years ago in the longest game in NFL history.
It took two overtimes, but the Dolphins ultimately persevered past the Kansas City Chiefs. Garo Yepremian kicked the winning field goal as Miami prevailed, 27-24.
Setting the Stage
Fresh off a 10-3-1 finish to the regular season and an AFC East title, the Miami Dolphins were looking for their first playoff win ever as they arrived at Kansas City Municipal Stadium on Dec. 25, 1971. Miami was making just its second playoff appearance.
The Kansas City Chiefs were just a season removed from a Super Bowl victory. Like Miami, the Chiefs had also gone 10-3-1 in the regular season and won the AFC West.
Miami Finds a Way
The Dolphins had never led in the contest, but had been counterpunching all day as the game entered its pivotal moments. After Ed Podolak scored his second touchdown of the night for Kansas City, the Dolphins trailed 24-17 with less than seven minutes remaining. On an important drive, Miami quarterback Bob Griese was clutch.
The drive started with a 15-yard strike from Griese to tight end Marv Fleming. Three plays later however, the Dolphins faced a critical 3rd-and-13. Griese hung in and hit Paul Warfield for 17 yards to keep the march alive.
On the next third down, Griese and Warfield hooked up for 26 yards to the Kansas City 12-yard-line. Two passes later, Griese had hit Fleming for the game-tying touchdown with 1:42 to play.
With the score knotted at 24, overtime seemed inevitable, but Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards. That put kicker Jan Stenerud in position to win the game with a 31-yard field goal, but his kick sailed wide. To overtime, they went.
In the extra period, the Chiefs took the ball first and marched to the Miami 35. Again, Stenerud had the chance to play hero. After missing two field goals to that point, his 42-yard attempt was blocked by Miami standout linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
Over their first three possessions in overtime, the Dolphins managed just two first downs. They were unable to take advantage of an interception of Len Dawson by safety Jake Scott late in the first overtime period. Following another defensive stop, Miami began the game’s final drive at its own 30.
On the second play, Larry Csonka rumbled 29 yards to the Kansas City 36-yard-line. The drive ultimately stalled at the 30, but the Dolphins were in range for Yepremian to end the contest.
That’s what he would do.
After 82 minutes and 40 seconds of football, Yepremian split the sticks. The Miami Dolphins had prevailed, 27-24.
Through one quarter, the Chiefs led 10-0. After Stenerud connected on a 24-yard field goal, Dawson hit Podolak for the game’s first touchdown. Miami answered with 10 points in the second quarter.
Csonka’s 1-yard run got the Dolphins on the board before Yepremian’s 14-yard field goal late in the first half tied the game. In the third quarter, Kansas City’s Jim Otis and Miami’s Jim Kiick traded 1-yard touchdown runs.
Despite the loss, Podolak set an NFL playoff record with 350 all-purpose yards that still stands today. Griese passed for 263 yards while Dawson threw for 246. Both tossed a touchdown and were intercepted twice.
Warfield led all receivers with seven catches for 140 yards. Csonka powered the Miami ground attack with 86 yards. Kansas City’s Wendell Hayes led all rushers with a game-high 100 yards in the loss.
The Chiefs’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion. Perhaps more heartbreaking was that it took Kansas City 15 years to return to the postseason.
Miami would go on to beat the Baltimore Colts in the AFC Championship before falling to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, 24-3. Still, it was a year to remember.
The Dolphins’ first-ever playoff win came on Christmas Day in what remains the longest game in NFL history. It also came on this day a half-century ago.