Friday, January 14, 2011

January 14, 1973: Perfect

LOS ANGELES - There's a reason there's only been one unbeaten and untied team in NFL history. It not only takes an incredible amount of talent, but also almost immeasurable luck to make it through the season without a slip-up.

The 1972 Dolphins are famous for being the NFL's only perfect team, and they certainly had a lot of luck along the way. For one thing, they had the easiest schedule in the NFL that season, with only two of their 14 regular-season opponents finishing with a winning record. The combined winning percentage of their opponents was .396, which was the second-easiest in team history. Still, though, they had to be good to win every game; a less talented team would have slipped up somewhere along the way.

The Dolphins trailed in the second half in both AFC playoff games, coming back to beat Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins cruised through the NFC playoffs, giving up only six points total in their two games to roll to the Super Bowl. The Redskins' domination might partially explain how the Dolphins, despite going into the Super Bowl undefeated, were actually underdogs for Super Bowl VII.

The game was played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and in the first half, the Dolphins showed exactly why they went undefeated. Their "No-Name Defense" completely dominated the first two quarters, holding Washington to only 49 yards of offense. Miami's offense wasn't faring much better, though, but a Jim Kiick touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the half gave the Dolphins a 14-0 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Redskins put up the biggest challenge to the Dolphins perfect season. Using short passes, they were able to start moving downfield against Miami, starting with the first drive of the third quarter. The Redskins got as far as the Miami 17 yard line when quarterback Billy Kilmer saw running back Charley Taylor open at the 2-yard line. That's when the Dolphins got lucky again, as Taylor stumbled just as the pass was coming and he was unable to pull it in. After a sack, the Redskins missed a 32-yard field goal, keeping the score at 14-0.

After an interception ended the Dolphins next drive, the Redskins moved downfield again, moving 79 yards in 12 plays. On a second-down play from the Miami 10, Kilmer saw tight end Jerry Smith wide open in the end zone, but his pass hit the goalpost and fell incomplete - again, the Dolphins got lucky. The Redskins' next pass was intercepted in the end zone by Jake Scott, who returned it across midfield.

The biggest problem with the Redskins' failed scoring drive was how long it took. Though they were able to move down the field, it took them seven minutes to do so, so there were only five minutes left in the game when the Dolphins took over.

After getting one first down, the Dolphins lined up for the game-clinching field goal. Garo Yepremian's kick was blocked and bounced off toward the sideline. In one of the most famous mistakes in NFL history, Yepremian picked up the ball himself and tried to throw a pass, only to have the ball slip out of his hands. Making matters worse, Yepremian tried to bat the ball out of bounds, but succeeded only in knocking the ball up in the air again, and Washington's Mike Bass grabbed the ball out of mid air and returned it for the touchdown that made it 14-7.

The Dolphins were stunned, but they got another lucky break. Despite there being only 2:07 left in the game, the Redskins inexplicably chose to kick the ball away rather than try an onside kick. Washington forced the Dolphins to punt as they had hoped, but they had to use up the rest of their time outs while doing so. The Redskins got the ball back at the 30, needing to go 70 yards in 1:07 with no time outs.

Miami wasn't going to let that happen. After two incomplete passes and one pass completion that went for a loss, Miami's Vern Den Herder ended the game with a fourth-down sack as time expired.

The Dolphins lifted coach Don Shula on their shoulders and celebrated. They had become the first team in NFL history to go through a season without a loss or a tie. They remain the only team to have done so.

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