Tonight’s Phinsider Hump Day Flashback game is the 1972 AFC Championship game between your Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a prime example of how much the NFL has changed over these man years Miami was entering the Championship game with a 14-0 record versus the Steelers who had an 11-3 record but Miami was forced to travel to Pittsburgh for the game. I don’t know what sort of bone headed logic that was but that’s how they rolled back in the day.
This game presented Miami with perhaps the biggest challenge to their undefeated season that they would face having to travel north to a town with both an excellent team at the time and as rabid a fan base as you could find in those days. The Steelers were also fired up as a team coming off a game that featured one of the most famous plays in NFL history. The so called “Immaculate Reception” which resulted in a touchdown by fullback Franco Harris. The win handed the Steelers not only a victory over the Oakland Raiders but their spot in the AFC Championship game.
The game, held at Three Rivers Stadium was on an unseasonably warm day for that part of the country. Especially in mid winter at 63 degree when Pittsburgh might normally be covered in a heavy layer of snow. A fact that the now late Don Shula was most likely more than happy about although Miami was also built for cold snowy/icy games with their ground and pound offense that they featured at the time. Miami would start the Championship game with Earl Morrall at the helm as Bob Griese had gone down earlier in the season with an injury. Since the team had continued to win every game Shula saw no point in replacing what was working with Morrall leading the offense.
Miami received the ball first in the game but that first drive ended with a Morrall interceptions by then Steelers safety Glen Edwards, who then returned the ball to the Miami 48 yard line. Pittsburgh moved down the field on the back of Franco Harris to the Dolphins 3 yard line. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, attempting to score by rushing around the left end instead fumbled into the end-zone after a pop from Phins safety Jake Scott. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Steelers offensive tackle Gary Mullins recovered for the touchdown giving the Steelers the first score of the game and the early lead.
Both teams followed up the first Steelers drive by exchanging punts and due to the hit that he had taken Bradshaw had to be replaced by backup quarterback Terry Hanratty. As the first quater came to an end the Dolphins held the ball at their own 46 with a first down. Morrall managed to complete one more first down on a throw to then tight end Marv Fleming but the series stalled at the Steelers 43 yard line. And then on what would become perhaps the play of the game Miami punter Larry Seiple lined up deep to punt but instead took off running around the right end with the ball in hand. Seiple gained 37 yards on the trick play, setting the Dolphins up at Pittsburgh's 12 yard line.
Two plays following the trick play Morrall threw a touchdown to Larry Csonka, tying the game at 7 all. Both Miami and Pittsburgh spent the rest of the half trading punts with neither team ever crossing the 50, leaving the teams tied at the half. The ensuing kickoff went to the Steelers who drove the field before stalling at the Miami seven yard line forcing a 14 yard field goal, placing Pittsburgh back in front by three.
When Miami returned to the field for their next drive head coach Don Shula, on a decision that he had made at half time, sent Bob Griese out to run the offense. This would mark Griese’s first time on the field since going down in week five of the season. It has also gone down in history as one of the most intelligent moves coach Shula made in his long coaching career.
After receiving the kickoff, on a third down play, following two short runs, Griese connected with wide-out Paul Warfield for 52 yard all the way down to the Steelers 24 yard line. Griese then threw an interception but the play was nullified due to an off-sides call on the Steelers. After moving to the two yard line Griese pitched the ball out to Jim Kiick who ran it in for the touchdown putting Miami in front for the first time in the game 14-10.
The two team traded punts following the scoring drive by Miami as the third quarter came to an end. The Steelers began the fourth with great field position at Miami’s 48 after a 33 yard punt by Miami. Harris was able to gain seven yards rushing on first down but following two incomplete passes the Steelers decided to settle for a 48 yard field goal attempt. Miami blocked the attempt handing them the ball back at the Steelers 49 yard line. Miami drove the short field with Griese throwing the ball only one time over the eleven play drive before scoring on a Kiick run for three yards, widening Miami’s lead to 11 points.
On the ensuing drive the Steelers sent starter Bradshaw back out with the offense, taking over at their own 29. Bradshaw quickly moved his team downfield, finishing the drive with a 12 yard touchdown pass, cutting Miami’s lead to four. Miami returned to the field following the kick off but went three and out forcing another punt back to the Steelers. On the ensuing possession by Pittsburgh Bradshaw was sacked for a nine yard loss followed by an incomplete pass before throwing an interception to Miami’s Nick Buoniconti.
The Dolphins then took the ball and working the clock ran it down to only 48 second left, turning the ball back over to Pittsburgh on downs at the Steelers own 9 yard line. On second down, in a last and final effort, Bradshaw threw an interception to Miami linebacker Mike Kolen, thus handing the 21 to 17 victory to the Dolphins, sending them to the Super Bowl. Miami would, as every Dolphins fan knows, win the Super Bowl thus being the first and only team to this day to ever go undefeated at 17-0.