Historical Perspective 9 - 1976

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Continuing a re-publication of my Historical Perspective series, looking back at the history of the Miami Dolphins. Today, we go back to the 1976 season. This was originally published as a Fan Post February 8, 2010.

1976

Super Bowl X in the Orange Bowl had ushered in a dominant dynasty in the NFL. After appearing in Super Bowl VI and winning Super Bowls VII and VIII, the Miami Dolphins had set themselves up to be the "Team of the Decade." But Super Bowl X had brought all of that crashing down. With the Dolphins having missed the playoffs for the first time under Don Shula, the Pittsburgh Steelers had defeated the Dallas Cowboys, and just three years removed from the only perfect season in NFL history, the Dolphins were an afterthought.

The Dolphins began the 1976 season with a trade and the reception of several compensatory draft picks leading up to the NFL Draft. The first of these trades came on April 6th, with the Dolphins sending Linebacker Rodrigo Barnes to the St. Louis Cardinals for a 12th round pick in the forthcoming draft. On the same day, the New York Giants forfeited two 3rd round draft choices (in the 1978 and 1979 Drafts) for signing Fullback Larry Csonka after the World Football League folded.

Two days later, the Dolphins again received a couple of draft choices, as the Cleveland Browns provided the Dolphins with their 3rd and 7thround picks in 1978 for signing Wide receiver Paul Warfield (again after the WFL's collapse). The reception of draft choices continued on April 10th, as the Dolphins received a 1978 12th round pick and a 1979 9thround pick from the Denver Broncos when they signed running back Jim Kiick (the final of the big three WFL defectors from the Dolphins).

The 1976 NFL Draft took place on April 8th and 9th, and included the initial draft choices for the NFL's two newest franchises, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks. Focusing on rebuilding the team after the previous two disappointing season, the Dolphins looked to get younger.

Rnd

Overall Pick

Name

Position

School

Games Played

Season Starter

All Pro 1st Team

Pro Bowl

HOF

Remarks

1a

17

Larry Gordon

LB

Arizona State

100

7

0

0

No

From Washington for QB Joe Theisman (1/25/1974)

1b

19

Kim Bokamper

DE

San Jose State

127

8

0

1

No

Injured Reserve in 1976

2

49

Loaird McCreary

TE

Tennessee State

55

0

0

0

No

3

80

Duriel Harris

WR

New Mexico State

127

5

0

0

No

4a

98

Melvin Mitchell

G

Tennessee State

34

0

0

0

No

4b

111

To Philadelphia for FB Norm Bulaich (7/9/1975)

Drafted DE Mike Smith

5

145

To Detroit for 4th round pick (9/7/1975 - Also sent LB Larry Ball)

Drafted LB Steadman Scavella

6

174

Gary Davis

RB

Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo

79

0

0

0

No

7a

185

Joe Ingersoll

G

UNLV

0

0

0

0

No

From New Orleans for WR Mel Baker (9/9/1975)

7b

200

John Owens

DE

Tennessee State

0

0

0

0

No

8

230

Bob Simpson

DE

Colorado

5

0

0

0

No

9

257

Norris Thomas

DB

Southern Miss

112

5

0

0

No

Quit Training Camp in 1976, Activated in 1977

10a

281

Gary Fencik

DB

Yale

164

10

1

2

No

10b

282

Don Testerman

RB

Clemson

49

2

0

0

No

11

312

Dexter Pride

RB

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

No

12a

338

Randy Young

T

Iowa State

9

0

0

0

No

12b

341

Darryl Brandford

DT

Northwestern

0

0

0

0

No

From St. Louis for LB Rodrigo Barnes (4/6/1976)

13

366

Bernie Head

C

Tulsa

0

0

0

0

No

14

396

Bob Gissler

LB

South Dakota State

0

0

0

0

No

15

423

Ron Holmes

RB

Utah State

0

0

0

0

No

16

450

Mike Green

K

Ohio

0

0

0

0

No

17

480

Jeff Grantz

QB

South Carolina

0

0

0

0

No

Did not report - Coached at South Carolina

(Bold players on Miami active roster at some point in career)

The Dolphins continued to make roster moves through trades in August, when, on August 24th, they sent RB Mercury Morris to the San Diego Chargers for a 1977 4th round pick and Safety Jake Scott and their original 1977 4th round choice to the Washington Redskins for Safety Bryant Salter.

Miami's final trade before the start of the season sent a 6thround 1977 Draft pick to the New York Giants for Linebacker Andy Selfridge.

The 1976 NFL Season opened on the weekend of September 12th and 13th. Miami traveled to Buffalo for a Division rivalry game on Monday night. The Dolphins would strike first, with third-year running back Benny Malone rushing 5-yards for the score. The Bills struck back in the second quarter with a 53-yard pass from Joe Ferguson to John Holland, tying the game at seven. The back-and-forth style of the game would continue throughout the game, as every time Miami gained a lead, Buffalo would find a way to answer. The Dolphins finally claimed a 10-point lead in the third quarter, only to see the Bills close to within six in the fourthperiod. Miami sealed the game with a late 30-yard field goal from Garo Yepremian, winning the game 30-21. The game saw Miami trying to find the Csonka, Kiick, Morris magic at running back with Norm Bulaich (19 carries for 107 yards), Don Nottingham (10 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown), and Malone (10 carries for 31 yards and the early touchdown).

Week 2 saw the Dolphins fall to the Patriots in New England. The Patriots put the pressure on the Dolphins early, and coasted to a 30-14 victory. Bob Griese threw 3 interceptions during the game, and the Dolphins coughed up the ball on a fumble as well.

Following the loss, the Dolphins packaged their 3rd and 4th (the pick received from San Diego in the trade for running back Mercury Morris) round draft picks for 1997 on September 21stand dealt them to the Houston Oilers in exchange for cornerback Ken Ellis.

The next week would prove to be easier for the Dolphins. Hosting the New York Jets on September 26th, Yepremian kicked three field goals and Jim Mandich caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Griese as Miami shutout the Jets 16-0.

Sunday, October 3rd, witnessed the Dolphins hosting the Rams in a high scoring affair. The Dolphins dominated the first half of the game, leading at the half 14-0 thanks to rushing touchdowns from Malone and Bulaich. The Rams scored first in the third quarter witha 58-yard touchdown reception from James Harris to Ron Jessie. The Dolphins answered with a 1-yard rush from Stan Winfrey, only to watch the Rams' Harris complete another long touchdown pass, again to Jessie. The fourth quarter turned ugly for Miami, as Los Angeles scored two quick touchdowns to begin the period. The Dolphins scored another touchdown when Griese connected with Nat Moore for 47-yards - tying the game at 28. However, the Rams finally put the game away when Tom Dempsey kicked the game winning field goal, lifting Los Angeles to a 31-28 victory.

A week later, Miami traveled to Baltimore, only to once again taste defeat. The Colts scored 21-points in the second quarter, while Earl Morrall, subbed in for the injured Bob Griese, could only lead the Dolphins to a single touchdown. Each team added an additional 7-points in the third quarter, and the Colts cruised to a 28-14 win, dropping the Dolphins to a game under .500.

In Week 6, Miami welcomed the Kansas City Chiefs to the Orange Bowl. In an extremely even game, the Chiefs took a 10-0 lead into the half, only to see the Dolphins roar back to end regulation tied at 17. However, Miami'scome back would end just short, as Kansas City kicked a game winning field goal in overtime. The two teams were almost equal in every stat throughout the game, with the Chiefs finishing with 453 total yards as compared to Miami's 441. The Chiefs were 22 for 33 for 267 net passing yards, while the Dolphins saw Bob Griese return to go 25 for 35 for 262 net passing yards. Even the number of rushing attempts was nearly identical, as Kansas City ran the ball 39 times for 186 yards, compared to Miami's37 attempts for 179 yards. The difference in the game came down to the turnovers, with Kansas City coughing up the ball twice (1 fumble, 1 interception) compared to the five giveaways by the Dolphins (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions).

Now two games under .500, the Dolphins realized that, not only was the Division title slipping away, but they were once again looking at missing the playoffs. Traveling to Tampa Bay, Miami looked to turn around their season. The Dolphins rode two rushing touchdowns and three Yepremian field goals to down the winless expansion franchise with quarterback Steve Spurrier in his final season in the NFL.

The climb back to .500 continued as Miami began their second swing through the AFC East, this time hosting the New England Patriots. In what proved to be a defensive struggle, all the scoring was relegated to the second quarter, where the Dolphins put up 10 points compared to New England's 7. Suddenly back at .500, the Dolphins found themselves only a game back of the Patriots for second in the division.

Miami continued to rebound from a miserable early season, once again facing the hapless New York Jets, winning the game 27-7. The Dolphins missed a season shutout of their Division rival by one touchdown in the final of the eight quarters the two teams face off.

Feeling good and playing on a roll, in Week 10 the Dolphins traveled to Pittsburgh to face the team replacing Miami as the "Team of the Decade." With both teams entering the game at 5&4, the game promised to be an equally matched struggle. It did not fail to live up to that promise, as the Dolphins were only able to score once in a 14-3 loss to the defending Super Bowl champions.

Reeling from the loss to the Steelers, the Dolphins would head into a Monday Night showdown withthe Baltimore Colts in Miami. After a Week 5 28-14 loss to the Colts, and struggling to stay in the playoff picture, Miami looked to once again rebound. With another evenly matched game, in which the Colts outgained the Dolphins 340 yards to 338, Miami spotted the Colts with14 early points, answering with 10 of the own to finish the first haldown 14-10. The second half, however, would not be as fruitful as Miami had hoped, with both teams failing to find the endzone. Miami would out kick the Colts in the second half, two field goals to one, but would come up one point short in the final score, losing 17-16.

Once again on a losing streak, Miami traveled to Cleveland to face the 7&4 Browns. After his brief stint in the WFL, Paul Warfield would be facing his former team, and would lead the Browns in receptions. With his four catches and the first points in the game on a 12-yard touchdown catch, Warfield would lead the Browns past the Dolphins, who once again fell to 2 games under .500.

With a sense of déjà vu, Miami looked the climb back from 2 games below .500. The Dolphins hosted the 2&10 Buffalo Bills in Week 13 and, although the Dolphins would allow Buffalo's star running back, O.J. Simpson, to rush for 203 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts, the Dolphins would prove victorious, winning 45-27.

One game under .500, with one game to play, Miami welcomed the Minnesota Vikings to the Orange Bowl on Saturday, December 11th. The game, however, was never in doubt. Vikings' quarterback Fran Tarkenton threw for three touchdowns, and running back Brent McClanahan ran for another one. Although he missed the first two extra points, the Vikings' kicker, Fred Cox, would rebound to hit the last two extra points and a 30-yard field goal. Miami's only points came in the fourth period, when third year quarterback Don Strock found running back Stan Winfrey for a two yard score. With the 29-7 loss, Miami finished the season 6&8, their first losing season since 1969 and coach Don Shula's first losing season ever.

Game Date

Team

Score

Result

September 13, 1976

@ Buffalo Bills

30-21

Win

September 19, 1976

@ New England Patriots

14-30

Loss

September 26, 1976

New York Jets

16-0

Win

October 3, 1976

Los Angeles Rams

28-31

Loss

October 10, 1976

@ Baltimore Colts

14-28

Loss

October 17, 1976

Kansas City Chiefs

17-20

Loss

October 24, 1976

@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

23-20

Win

October 31, 1976

New England Patriots

10-3

Win

November 7, 1976

@ New York Jets

27-7

Win

November 14, 1976

@ Pittsburgh Steelers

3-14

Loss

November 22, 1976

Baltimore Colts

16-17

Loss

November 28, 1976

@ Cleveland Browns

13-17

Loss

December 5, 1976

Buffalo Bills

45-27

Win

December 11, 1976

Minnesota Vikings

7-29

Loss

The Miami Dolphins' had been on the verge of establishing a dominant dynasty in the early 1970's. After being the first team to ever make three straight Super Bowls and winning two straight Super Bowls, to include the 1972 Perfect Season, Miami had dropped off the face of NFL relevance. The team ‘s decline, while rapid, was progressive. With the team losing in the first round of the playoffs in 1974, to the defections of Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield and missing the playoffs in 1975, to now a losing record in 1976, the Miami Dolphins had a lot of gaping holes to fill and problems to fix.

Don Shula would quickly correct the franchise's direction, beginning with 1977.

References: www.pro-football-reference.com, www.wikipedia.org, www.miamidolphins.com, www.profootballhof.com, www.sportsencyclopedia.com

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