Spot On: Better Days for the Redskins and Dolphins
By Brandon Fazzolari
Special to Pro Football Guru
When the Washington Redskins visit the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, this won’t be billed as the marquee of the weekend. Yet there was a time when these were two model franchises of the National Football League. In fact, they faced off in two very compelling Super Bowls a mere 10 years apart.
All photo credits: Wikimedia Commons
Super Bowl VII: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
Washington’s 1972 season was their finest in 27 years. Fiery George Allen coached this roster that was littered with veterans and castoffs. In fact, Allen’s bunch was dubbed, “The Over-the-Hill” gang. While quarterback Billy Kilmer was known for his guts and heart, running back Larry Brown was an all-world talent. Brown made the All-Pro team in each of his first four seasons and won league MVP due to his 1700 yards from scrimmage and eight rushing touchdowns. Add to the mix Charley Taylor, who was possibly the best wide receiver in the NFC, and Washington fielded a solid offense. On the flip side, the Skins finished third in the NFL in total defense. In their two playoff games, the Skins allowed a meager total of six points to Green Bay and Dallas.
There are not enough superlatives to describe how good the Dolphins were in the early 1970’s. Don Shula’s masterpiece was his 1972 season especially since starting quarterback Bob Griese missed nine games due to injury. In the AFC Championship Game, Griese came off the bench for the ineffective Earl Morrall to rally Miami to a 21-17 victory at Pittsburgh one week after the “Immaculate Reception.” Their date with history was to take place in Los Angeles against the Redskins and somehow they were tabbed as a one-point underdog.
From the outset, it was Miami’s defense that dictated the action. Kilmer and Brown were absolutely punished. Conversely, Miami was able to move the ball behind their powerful offensive line and led by Larry Csonka, rushed for 184 yards on the day. The Dolphins’ first score came as a result of two perfect throws by the gallant Griese, one to Paul Warfield along the sideline and the next to Howard Twilley for a 28-yard touchdown. The Dolphins intercepted Kilmer twice in the first half with linebacker Nick Buoniconti’s pick setting up a Jim Kiick touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
In the second half, Washington moved the ball well but were unable to get in the end zone. Miami cornerback and game MVP Jake Scott seemingly put the nail in the coffin with a late interception. However, with just over two minutes to play, Washington blocked Garo Yepremien’s field goal attempt. The tiny kicker retrieved the ball and attempted to throw a pass and the effort turned into an utter comedy/horror show. The pigskin bounced into the air to be grabbed by a Redskin. Mike Bass took the trophy home and the lead was 14-7. It was too little, too late, though, for the Redskins as Miami held on to win by that score. Special team gaffe aside, Miami completed the perfect season.
Super Bowl XVII: Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
In a strike-marred 1982 season, the Redskins showed vast improvement under head coach Joe Gibbs. They were a fun team. They had fullback John Riggins who was known as “The Diesel,” an offensive line nicknamed “The Hogs” and wide receivers dubbed “The Smurfs.”
Washington finished with a league-best 8-1 record and was awarded the top seed in the NFC in the league’s Super Bowl Tournament. In the first round, they pummeled the Lions. One week later, they had they took a 21-7 lead vs. the Vikings and then just handed the ball to Riggins, who rushed for 185 yards on 27 carries. In the NFC Championship Game, the Redskins knocked Dallas quarterback Danny White out of the game and eventually, knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs.
The key play of this game occurred late in the fourth quarter. With the Skins leading 24-17, Dallas had their opportunity. But, when backup QB Gary Hogeboom attempted to set up a screen play, Dexter Manley ran at him like a bull and deflected the pass into the air for Darryl Grant to pick off and rumble home. RFK Stadium literally shook. Washington was off to their second-ever Super Bowl.
The Dolphins weren’t as consistent as the Skins during the regular season as they were so dependent on their top-ranked defense. On offense, their quarterbacking situation revolved around David Woodley and perennial backup Don Strock, who were often referred to as “Woodstrock” due to Strock finishing so many games that Woodley started.
Miami outscored their three postseason opponents 82-26 and were installed as a slight favorite for Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena. The Fins didn’t wait long to score. In a game where they totaled 176 yards, they got 76 of those on their fifth play from scrimmage when Woodley connected with Jimmy Cefalo for their lone big offensive play of the game. Miami led 10-3 late in the first half when things got interesting. Joe Theismann threw a fade to tiny Alvin Garrett to tie the score which was followed by the first-ever kickoff return for a touchdown in the history of the Super Bowl. The late Fulton Walker needed just one block to take it 98 yards for the score. In the second half, Miami’s offense was awful. Their defense battled gamely to stay ahead.
In the fourth quarter, one of the iconic Super Bowl moments occurred. On a fourth-and-one from the 43, Riggins ran to his left, plowed over defensive back Don McNeal, and raced down the far sidelines for a go-ahead touchdown. Washington added a late score by Charlie Brown and the Redskins claimed their first Super Bowl championship!
So, this Sunday, we won’t be watching the two best teams in the NFL. But take a look back at the clubs’ respective histories and you will find several outstanding football players, coaches and teams.
Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.