One. Just one. That is how many teams in NFL history a team has completed a perfect regular season, postseason, and NFL championship. The 1972 Miami Dolphins completed the feat, one that has never been matched by any team before or since.
Super VII, the capstone to Miami's perfection, came a year after the Dolphins were trounced in Super Bowl VI by the Dallas Cowboys. The Dolphins reacted to losing the championship game after the 1971 season by not losing again until the 1973 regular season.
Super Bowl VII was held on January 14, 1973 at Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California in front of 90,182 fans. The game was played at 3:30pm EST (12:30 locally in the PST) with a game-time temperature was 84 degrees and the Dolphins entered the game as 1-1/2 point underdogs. The game proved to be a more defensive struggle than was anticipated, as the Dolphins, with the top offense in the league, battled the Washington Redskins, with the seventh ranked offense. Coach Don Shula, recognizing the difference in the energy and efficiency of his team upon the return of Bob Griese, who missed most of the season with a broken ankle only to return in the second half of the AFC Championship game, decided to start the returning quarterback in the Super Bowl.
Miami started the scoring early, with two touchdowns in the first half. Howard Twilley scored on a 28-yard pass from Griese in the second longest play of the game (Larry Csonka had a 49-yard run in the third quarter). In the second quarter, Jim Kiick found pay dirt with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Meanwhile, the Miami "No-Name Defense" focused on stopping Washington running back Larry Brown. The effort was so effective due to LB Nick Buoniconti's audibles throughout the game, shifting the defense so it was strongest where he believed Brown would attempt to run. The result was so dominating that defensive tackle Manny Fernandez finished the game with 17-tackles, and was a strong candidate for game MVP. Buoniconti wrote, "It was the game of his life - in fact, it was the most dominant game by a defensive lineman in the history of the game, and he would never be given much credit for it. They should have give out two game balls and made Manny Fernandez the co-MVP with Jake Scott.
The Redskins failed to get anything going for most of the game. Their only points came off of one of the most infamous plays in Miami Dolphins history. With just over two minutes to go in the game, the Dolphins lined up to kick a 42-yard field goal. As Garo Yepremian kicked a low-line drive, the ball was blocked by the Redskins' Bill Brundgie. Holder and backup quarterback Earl Morrall attempted to reach the ball, but Yepremian beat him to it. Yepremian picked up the ball and, as Brundgie steamed towards him, attempted to throw a pass to Csonka. However, the ball slipped out of Yepremian's hand and went straight up into the air. Yepremian stayed with the ball and attempted to hit the ball out of bounds, but wound up hitting it straight up in the air, allowing Redskins' cornerback Mike Bass to grab it. Yepremian made a kicker's tackle attempt, but Bass avoided it and returned the ball 49-yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, instead of having the only shut-out in Super Bowl history, the Dolphins were clinging to a 14-7 lead with 2:07 left in the game.
Upon returning to the sideline, Yepremian had to face immediate criticism from his teammates. Defensive lineman Manny Fernandez told Yepremian, "You son of a b****, we lose this game, I'm gonna f***ing kill you." Nick Buoniconti informed the kicker that if they lost, he would "Hang [him] up by one of [his] ties." Yepremian was so distraught after the play that he had to be escorted out of the team's post-game party by his brother when he started experiencing debilitating stress induced pains in his side. The kicker immediately went into a self-imposed isolation as his depression continued to deepen. He continued this seclusion until a few weeks following the game, he received a letter apparently written by coach Shula, expressing his gratitude for the contributions to the Dolphins that Yepremian had made and telling him to forget about the play and the criticisms. Yepremian kept the letter, talking to Coach Shula in 2000 about it - Shula said he never sent a letter. The two decided that it was actually written by Shula's wife Dorothy who had signed her husband's name. Dorothy Shula died of breast cancer in 1991.
Following the touchdown, many expected the Redskins to attempt an onside kick; however, Washington kicked the ball deep and left it to the defense to try to get possession back. The defense held the Dolphins to a five-play drive, but was forced to use all of the team's timeouts. Miami punted from their own 36-yard line, a punt that was nearly blocked, with just over one-minute left on the clock.
The Redskins' offense returned to the field, looking to drive down the field for the game tying touchdown. However, the No-Name Defense was not going to let the dream of a Perfect Season die. After two straight incomplete passes, the defense forced a 4-yard loss on a swing pass. Facing fourth down with 14-yards to go, the Redskins came out looking to pass. Miami defensive end burst through the offensive line and sacked Redskins' quarterback Billy Kilmer for a 9-yard loss as time expired. The Dolphins won the game 14-7, in the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever. Yepremian's missed field goal in the 4th quarter prevented the team from finishing the game with the score matching the team's season record, 17&0.
The Miami Dolphins had completed the only perfect season in NFL history - a feat that has yet to be repeated. The closest teams were the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears, both of whom lost the Championship game to the Giants and Redskins respectively, and the 2007 New England Patriots, who were embarrassed by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. The only other professional football team with a perfect regular and post-season record was the 1948 Cleveland Browns, who went undefeated in the All-American Football Conference - which folded the next year and, even though the Browns entered the NFL, the NFL did not incorporate AAFC records.
Miami Safety Jake Scott was named the game's Most Valuable Player for his two interceptions. Scott got his first interception at the start of the second quarter, returning the ball eight yards. His second interception of the game was in the fourth quarter, when Scott intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 55 yards to the Dolphins' 48-yard line. He ended the game with those two interceptions, totaling 63 return yards. Dick Schaap, editor of SPORT magazine, selected the game's MVP. Later, Schaap admitted that he had been out late the previous night and had found it difficult to watch the defensive game. He stated that he did not realize that Fernandez had 17-tackles in the game when he selected Scott.
The Dolphins would look to repeat during the 1973 season, ultimately becoming the first team to appear in three straight Super Bowls when they faced the Minnesota Vikings in Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas the following year.