This article details the history of the Miami Dolphins American football club.
Miami joined the American Football League (AFL) when an expansion team franchise was awarded to lawyer Joseph Robbie and actor Danny Thomas in 1965 for $7.5 million, although Thomas would eventually sell his stake in the team to Robbie. During the summer of 1966, the Dolphins' training camp was in St. Pete Beach with practices in August at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport.
The 1970s: The perfect season and the Super Bowl titles
The Dolphins had a combined 15–39–2 record in its first four seasons when Shula, a former Paul Brown disciple who had been lured from the Baltimore Colts after first losing Super Bowl III two seasons earlier to the AFL's New York Jets and finishing 8–5–1 the following season, was hired as head coach. The Colts charged the Dolphins with tampering in gaining Shula, which cost them their first round draft pick in 1970. Shula introduced himself to the Miami press by saying that he didn't have any magic formulas and that the only way he knew to make his teams successful was through hard work. Shula's early training camps with the Dolphins would soon be the stuff of sweltering, painful legend. But Shula's hard work paid immediate dividends, as Miami improved to a 10–4 record and their first-ever playoff appearance, losing 21–14 at Oakland.
The Dolphins were a successful team during the early 1970s, becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl for three consecutive seasons. They captured the AFC championship in 1971 behind quarterback Bob Griese and wide receiver Paul Warfield. The AFC Divisional Playoff Game, in which the Dolphins defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, was the longest contest in NFL history (82 minutes 40 seconds). In Super Bowl VI, however, Miami lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24–3.
In 1972 the Dolphins completed the NFL's first perfect season, winning every regular season game, two playoff games and Super Bowl VII, defeating the Washington Redskins 14–7. (The 1948 Cleveland Browns had accomplished an undefeated season, but as members of the All-America Football Conference.) During this season, Griese fell victim to a broken ankle in Week 5 versus the San Diego Chargers and was replaced by veteran Earl Morrall for the rest of the regular season, with Griese returning to the field as a substitute during the AFC Championship game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and would once again start for Miami in Super Bowl VII. On the ground, running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first teammates to each rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. The offensive line included future Hall of Fame members Jim Langer and Larry Little and Pro Bowler Bob Kuechenberg. The 1972 Dolphins defensive unit, called the No-Name Defense because Miami’s impressive offense received much more publicity, was the league’s best that year. It was led by linebacker Nick Buoniconti, end Bill Stanfill, and safeties Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
The Dolphins finished 12–2 after the 1973 regular season and repeated as NFL Champions, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24–7 in Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston. Miami reached the playoffs again in 1974 but lost in the first round to the Oakland Raiders, in what has entered NFL lore as the "Sea of Hands" game, considered one of the greatest games ever played. This devastating loss, which Shula called his toughest ever (he cried in the locker room after the game) and which haunts Dolphin players and fans to this day, marked the end of the Dolphins' dynasty. It would be eight years before the Dolphins would win another playoff game. After the disappointing defeat, several players, including Csonka, Warfield, and running back Jim Kiick, joined the short-lived World Football League. The Dolphins managed to win ten games in 1975, aided by Griese’s consistency and the fine play of wide receiver Nat Moore. They did not make the playoffs however, losing on tiebreakers to the Baltimore Colts.
Miami rebounded from a 6–8 losing record in 1976 by winning ten or more games in four of the next five seasons. Shula built a solid defense around a new set of stars, including linebacker A.J. Duhe and linemen Bob Baumhower and Doug Betters. The Dolphins went 10–4 again in 1977, but again lost the division title (and playoff spot) to the Colts. They made the playoffs as a wild card in 1978, but lost in the first round to the Houston Oilers 17–9.
Csonka returned to the Dolphins in time for the 1979 season. After winning the division with a 10–6 record, the Dolphins lost the divisional playoff 34–14 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Dolphins also accomplished another feat never done before or since by another NFL team. They beat their division rival Buffalo Bills 20 consecutive times in a decade. The Bills were "0 for the seventies" against the Dolphins.
The 1980s: The Marino era (Part 1)
In 1980, David Woodley, an athletic quarterback out of LSU, took over for Bob Griese, who severely injured his shoulder in a game against the Baltimore Colts. Griese would never play again, retiring after the season. The Dolphins finished 8–8 and did not make the playoffs. Their season ender with the Jets was notable for being the only NFL game ever broadcast without commentary.
The Dolphins were back on top of the AFC East in the 1981 NFL season, with an 11–4–1 record. That season, the Dolphins quarterback position was actually manned by both Woodley and back-up quarterback Don Strock, causing the local media to identify the Miami quarterback as "Woodstrock." They reached the divisional playoff against the San Diego Chargers, regarded by some as one of the most memorable games in NFL history, known as The Epic in Miami. After being down 24–0 after the end of the first quarter, back-up quarterback Don Strock entered the game and engineered a frenetic comeback, culminating in the historic "Hook and Lateral" play, in which wide receiver Duriel Harris caught a pass from Strock and immediately lateralled the ball to the streaking running back Tony Nathan for the score on the last play of the half, which cut the Chargers lead to 24–17. After the Dolphins took the lead in the 4th quarter, San Diego tied it up 38–38 with under a minute to play. Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, playing through exhaustion, blocked Uwe von Schamann's field goal try on the last play of regulation. Von Schamann had another field goal attempt blocked in overtime, and Rolf Benirschke kicked the game-winner for San Diego in overtime. Strock finished the game with 403 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
In the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season, the Dolphins, led by the "Killer B's" defense (Baumhower, Bill Barnett, BrothersLyle Blackwood, Glenn Blackwood, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, and Bob Brudzinski), held five of their nine opponents to 14 or fewer points en route to their fourth Super Bowl appearance. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, they got revenge for previous losses, crushing the Patriots, 28–13 (revenge for the infamous Snow Plow game at Schaeffer Stadium played earlier in the season) and the San Diego Chargers, 34–13 at the Orange Bowl. Late in the season, in a snowy game against the New England Patriots, a convicted felon on work-release cleared a path for Patriots kicker John Smith to score the game-winning field goal. In the first round in Miami, they met again, with the Dolphins winning easily. In the second round against San Diego the Dolphins got revenge for their loss the previous year, winning even more handily. After shutting out the New York Jets in the AFC Championship 14–0, they lost Super Bowl XVII to Washington, 27–17. After enjoying success rooted in a defense-first philosophy, and employing a ball control offense to take pressure off of lack-luster quarterbacks, the next 17 seasons would be marked by an average rushing game and defense that limited a great quarterback.
The Dolphins began 1983 with the offense struggling. In the opener game at Buffalo, David Woodley only passed for 40 yards and they had to simply kick their way to victory with four FGs in a 12-0 win. Although he played well against New England in Week 2, a loss to the Raiders prompted Don Shula to bench him in favor of rookie Dan Marino, drafted from the University of Pittsburgh, who went on to win the AFC passing title helped by a ratio of 20 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions and rookie of the year award. Seldom sacked by defenders, Marino was protected by an outstanding offensive line as he passed to receivers such as Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. Despite the regular season success (the Dolphins went 12–4 winning their last five regular season games, the only team in the AFC East with a winning record), they were upset in the divisional playoff by the Seattle Seahawks at the Orange Bowl. Defensive end Doug Betters was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
In 1984, the Dolphins won their first 11 games en route to a 14–2 season (the franchise's best 16-game season to date). Marino, in his first full season, produced the most impressive set of passing statistics in NFL history, setting single-season records for most yards (5,084), touchdown passes (48), and completions (362). He was voted NFL MVP. Miami avenged the Seahawks 31–10 and crushed the Steelers 45–28 in the playoffs to get to Super Bowl XIX. In the title game, however, Miami lost to the San Francisco 49ers 38–16. It would be Marino's only Super Bowl appearance and the Dolphins' last one to date.
In 1985 Miami finished 12–4 and was the only team that beat the 15–1 Chicago Bears all year. After just getting by the Cleveland Browns 24–21 after rallying from a 21–3 third quarter deficit in the divisional playoffs. Many people were looking forward to a rematch with Chicago in Super Bowl XX. The Cinderella New England Patriots, the Dolphins' opponents in the AFC Championship, had different plans. New England forced six turnovers on the way to a 31–14 win – the Patriots' first in Miami since 1966. The Patriots has lost 18 games in a row at the Orange Bowl. In 1969, The Boston Patriots beat the Dolphins at Tampa Stadium.
In 1986, the Dolphins, hampered by defensive struggles, stumbled to a 2–5 start and finished 8–8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1980. The Dolphins lost their Orange Bowl finale to the New England Patriots 34–27 on Monday Night Football. The problems continued in 1987, with an 8–7 (7–5 in non-strike games) record in a strike-shortened year, their first at new Joe Robbie Stadium. Miami had their first losing season (6–10) since 1976 in 1988, and finished 8–8 following the 1989 regular season.
The 1990s: The Marino era (Part 2)
By 1990 the Dolphins had finally shaped up on defense, and finished with a 12–4 record, second in the AFC East. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round, but lost to the Buffalo Bills in the divisional playoff.
The team struggled with defensive injuries in 1991, and narrowly missed the playoffs on an overtime loss to the New York Jets the final week of the season.
The Dolphins finished 11–5 in 1992, capturing the AFC East title behind Mark Higgs having his best season as a running back and Keith Jackson (newly acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles) as an unrestricted free agent, leading the team in receiving. They beat the Chargers in the divisional playoff 31–0, but were defeated by the Buffalo Bills 29–10 in the AFC Championship.
1993 turned into a disastrous year for the Dolphins. Both Marino and backup Scott Mitchell suffered injuries, and following a memorable win over Dallas on Thanksgiving Day with Steve DeBerg as starting Quarterback, Miami lost its final 5 games to miss the playoffs at 9–7.
With Marino back for the 1994 season they won the AFC East again with a 10–6 record. After beating the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round 27–17, they suffered a heart-breaking last-second loss to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional playoff 22–21, where the locker room lights "failed" at halftime at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
In 1995 Marino broke the career passing records formerly held by Fran Tarkenton for yards (48,841), touchdowns (352), and completions (3,913). The Dolphins finished 9–7, second in the AFC East, but still made the playoffs as a wild card, losing to Buffalo in the first round. Following the 1995 season Don Shula (pressed to retire) became an executive in the Dolphins’ front office. Jimmy Johnson, who had won a collegiate national championship at the University of Miami and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, was named as Shula’s replacement.
In 1996 Miami finished 8–8 and out of the playoffs, with rookie Karim Abdul-Jabbar's 1,116-yard rushing season one of the lone bright spots. In 1997 Miami stumbled late and backed into the playoffs with a 9–7 season, losing to the New England Patriots in the wild card round.
Miami had a solid 10–6 season in 1998 with a career season for receiver O.J. McDuffie, but it was not enough to get past the New York Jets into first place in the division. The Dolphins beat the Bills in the wild card round, but lost in the next round to the eventual champion Denver Broncos. (The Broncos lost only two regular season games in 1998, one of which was to the Dolphins.)
In 1999 Marino was injured during a game in which backup Damon Huard led a comeback. During the previous two years, the Broncos had won the Super Bowl, ending years of futility for their QB John Elway. Dan Marino was now being hailed as the next great success story, but it was not to be. Miami proceeded to go 2–6 in their last eight games, but still backed into the playoffs at 9–7. After a close win at Seattle in the wild card round 20–17, they faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round and suffered a disastrous 62-7 rout, the second most lopsided postseason game in NFL history after the 1940 championship. Marino subsequently announced his retirement and Jimmy Johnson also left the team.
The post-Marino era saw the Dolphins shuffle nine quarterbacks in seven years. Before the 2000 season, Dave Wannstedt, formerly of the Chicago Bears, became the new coach, and ex-Jacksonville Jaguars backup Jay Fiedler became the new quarterback, even though Damon Huard had been considered the favorite. Despite lowered expectations, the defense broke through with Jason Taylor and Trace Armstrong each getting 10 sacks, and four players (Sam Madison, Brian Walker, Brock Marion and Patrick Surtain) tallying at least five interceptions. In addition, Lamar Smith rushed for 1,139 yards, and Miami finished atop the AFC East with an 11–5 record. In the first round of the playoffs, Miami took the Indianapolis Colts to overtime and won on a Lamar Smith touchdown run. Lamar finished with 209 yards on 40 carries, but in the next round, the Dolphins were shut out by the Oakland Raiders, and Smith was barely able to run.
The 2001 offseason brought in rookie Chris Chambers at wide receiver, but Trace Armstrong left, as did two offensive linemen, Richmond Webb and Kevin Donnalley. In the 2001 season the Dolphins finished 11–5. Mediocre offensive line play and a pedestrian offense kept Miami from being successful running the ball, and they were shut out twice on the year. Despite it all, the solid defense kept them in it and they earned a wild card with an 11–5 record, finishing second in the AFC East title behind eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Dolphins lost in the first round of the playoffs 20–3 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Miami revitalized its running game in time for the 2002 season by trading for New Orleans Saints running back Ricky Williams. In addition, rookie tight end Randy McMichael made his presence felt. The Dolphins, behind a new offensive scheme under freshly hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and a power running game led by Ricky Williams, quickly rushed out to a 5–1 start, including an incredible last minute comeback by Fiedler against the Broncos. However, Fiedler injured his thumb and would be out for an extended period of time. This had excited many Dolphins fans, as many believed backup Ray Lucas could outdo the much-maligned Fiedler. However, Lucas was abysmal in his first two games and merely average in his third, and the team dropped three straight. Miami rebounded with wins over Baltimore and an impressive thumping of San Diego, but lost to Buffalo. Still, Miami pulled off an impressive win over the Oakland Raiders and sat at 9–5 with two weeks left in the season, in prime position to steal the AFC East. However, despite dominating the New England Patriots for most of the game in week 17, the Dolphins blew an 11-point lead with mere minutes remaining in the game led to a heartbreaking loss. Due to a tiebreaker, both the Dolphins and Patriots lost out on the playoffs as the Jets took the AFC East title. Fans wanted Wannstedt's firing, but he was kept on for the 2003 season. Despite it all, the team believed it had plenty to look forward to, as Ricky Williams broke Dolphins records with 1,853 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. The real culprit of Miami's demise was their poor play on the road, in which the team finished 2–6 and the defense surrendered over 370 yards a game.
The 2003 Miami Dolphins were a hard team to pinpoint. The defense was again solid and forced a lot of turnovers, and running the ball was extremely difficult against these boys. However, poor offensive line play (despite most of the starters returning) gave little room for Ricky to run, and the offense was stagnant. The Dolphins began with a repeat of 2002's season end, with a complete meltdown against the Houston Texans, but they rebounded to win four straight games. During a crushing overtime loss at the hands of the Patriots, Jay Fiedler was injured, forcing newly acquired backup Brian Griese to lead the Dolphins to victory the next week over San Diego. That, however, was Griese's high point, and after a good showing against Indianapolis in a losing effort, he was lousy against the Titans and highly ineffective against the Ravens. When Griese had the Dolphins losing to the mediocre Washington Redskins, Jay Fiedler came off the bench and saved their season, leading them to a comeback victory, 24–23. Miami looked like it might rebound, with a victory that same week over the Dallas Cowboys to take them to 8–4, but two key losses to the Patriots and the Eagles ended Miami's chances at the playoffs. Miami finished 10–6, but was still short of a playoff spot.
The 2004 offseason was disastrous for the Dolphins. Tight end Randy McMichael was arrested for domestic violence and wide receiver David Boston (signed from San Diego) suffered an injury in training camp and missed the entire season (Boston also failed a drug test for steroids later in the season). But the biggest shock came when Ricky Williams retired for then-unspecified reasons, until it was eventually revealed that a) Williams had recently suffered his third strike under the NFL's substance abuse policy, and b) to a lesser degree felt he was unnecessarily overused by Wannstedt. Many experts predicted a disastrous season for the Dolphins. These predictions proved right as Miami dropped their first six games of the 2004 year, marking the worst start in franchise history. After a 1–8 start, Wannstedt resigned on November 9, 2004. He was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The Dolphins fared better under Bates, winning three of their final seven games, including a 29–28 upset victory over the defending champion Patriots on December 20 in a nationally televised Monday Night Football contest. Despite this, the Dolphins decided not to hire Bates for the permanent coaching position. Instead, they hired LSU coach Nick Saban.
In 2005, the offseason saw many changes for the Dolphins as Saban began to mold the team in his image. The team selected Auburn running back Ronnie Brown in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. The Dolphins also signed veteran quarterback Gus Frerotte, who would win the starting job over A.J. Feeley, who was a disappointment in 2004, after Miami gave up a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Feeley. At the 2005 trade deadline, Feeley and a seventh-rounder were dealt to the San Diego Chargers for Cleo Lemon. Cornerback Patrick Surtain was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for their second-round pick. Finally, Ricky Williams returned to the team. However, he had to sit out the first four games of the 2005 season due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy that he had ducked out on in 2004.
The Dolphins began their 2005 regular season with a bang. The Dolphins won their Week 1 home-opener against the Denver Broncos 34–10, giving Nick Saban his very first NFL win. Despite going on the road and losing to division rival New York Jets (17–7), the Dolphins won a tough game at home against the Carolina Panthers 27–24. After their Week 4 bye, they lost their next two road games to their division rival Buffalo Bills (20–14) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27–13). Not even Ricky Williams's return against the Bucs was enough.
On Friday, October 21, the Dolphins had to play their home game against the Kansas City Chiefs two days early, because of Hurricane Wilma. The Dolphins lost 30–20, making them 0–3 in home games that had to be rescheduled because of a hurricane since the 2004 season. They would win next week at LSU's Tiger Stadium against the New Orleans Saints 21–6, but would lose their next three games. During that time, they lost two home games to the Atlanta Falcons (17–10) and their division rival New England Patriots (23–16) before getting shut out on the road against the Cleveland Browns (22–0). When things looked grim, the Dolphins regrouped and began gaining steam, winning six games in a row. First, they won on the road against the Oakland Raiders (33–21). Then Miami gained a measure of revenge against their division rival Buffalo Bills at home (24–23) with a late fourth quarter comeback engineered by backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels, Then the Dolphins pulled off an upset victory over the San Diego Chargers (23–21). Finally Miami beat the New York Jets by a score of 24–20, extending their winning streak to four games. The win also put them at the .500 mark (7–7), although wins by the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers put them out of playoff contention. The next week, on Christmas Eve, they achieved their fifth victory in a row with a 24–10 victory over the Tennessee Titans, which guaranteed them not to finish with a losing record. The team closed out their 40th season with a 28–26 victory at New England to finish the 2005 campaign at 9–7. On a side note, this was the first time since January 24, 2000 that the Dolphins were able to beat the Patriots in Foxborough.
During the 2006 preseason, Sports Illustrated touted the Dolphins to be one of the teams heading to the Super Bowl XLI. They were predicted to lose by a field goal to the Carolina Panthers in their own Dolphin Stadium. Before the season began, Ricky Williams tested positive for the 4th time for violating the NFLs substance abuse policy, ending his season. The season started out with a rough loss to the defending Super Bowl Champions The Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins went on to start the season with a record of 1–6. However they had seemed to have turned something around midseason, much like the previous year's late-season surge. However, with a 6–8 record after a loss to Buffalo in Week 15, they were assured to once again miss the playoffs. The team finished 6–10 after a loss to the Colts in their final game. Nick Saban then abandoned the Dolphins and took the head coaching position at the University of Alabama Crimson Tide after insisting that he was not interested. The Dolphins then hired Cam Cameron as a replacement.
The Dolphins hit rock bottom in 2007, losing eight games in a row before the bye week, five of which were by three points or less. A loss to Philadelphia in Week 11 sealed their fate for the season, and the next game was a rare 3–0 defeat in Pittsburgh. A win in Week 15 over the Baltimore Ravens ensured that the Dolphins would not have a winless season, but the last two matches were lost, ending Miami's 2007 campaign at 1–15.
The Dolphins performed a 180-degree turnaround, aided by new coach Tony Sparano, and by the fact that their rival New England (who had long dominated the division) lost Tom Brady to a leg injury on the season opener. The team ended at 11–5 and won the division title, making for the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history. However, they were routed out of the playoffs by Baltimore.
Tom Brady returned to action, and so another Dolphins division title seemed unlikely. A difficult schedule held the team back, although they managed to beat New England in Week 13. The last three matches were lost, and Miami finished with a 7–9 record and third in the division after falling to Pittsburgh at home. During this game, quarterback Pat White was taken off the field on a stretcher after being hit in the head.
Off-season moves included acquiring WR Brandon Marshall from Denver. The Dolphins got off to a good start by winning their first two matches (both on the road) against Buffalo and Minnesota, but lost at home in Week 3 to the Jets. Week 4 saw another divisional loss at home versus New England before the Dolphins headed on the road again, beating Green Bay 23-20. After a heart breaking loss at home to Pittsburgh 23-22 on a controversial fumble call the Dolphins hit the road to Cincinnati to win 22-14. Their perfect road streak was finally ended in Week 9 after losing to the Ravens 26-10. The following week, they beat Tennessee for what proved to be their only home win of 2010. Miami went 2-2 down the stretch before being eliminated from playoff contention by Buffalo in Week 15. Two meaningless games against Detroit and New England were lost to end with another middling 7-9 season and a 1-7 home record.
History again repeated itself as the Dolphins failed to improve the offensive side of the ball in the 2011 draft. Veteran QB Chad Pennington meanwhile announced that he would take the year off to recover from injuries. With the team showing little faith in Chad Henne, it was widely assumed they'd take Kyle Orton from Denver and pair him up again with Brandon Marshall, but negotiations failed and Henne was booed in training camp by Dolphins fans who wanted the team to sign Orton.
The Dolphins seemed destined for a repeat of the 2007 season as they began 0-4 with losses to New England, Houston, Cleveland, and San Diego. By Week 5, Chad Henne had suffered a season-ending injury, forcing Matt Moore into the role of starting quarterback, who had recently been acquired from Carolina. Week 5 was worse, as the Dolphins, looking lethargic, fell to the Jets 24-6, making them 0-5 to start the season.
Miami remained winless until Week 9 when they routed Kansas City, following it up with an easy win over Washington.
Notes and references
- "Football League Trying Dixie Expansion". The Nevada Daily Mail. Associated Press: p. 10. July 21, 1965. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=XEMrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=WtQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2822,3612744&dq=dixie+football-league&hl=en. Retrieved May 15, 2010.
- Armistead, Tom "On the Departing Dolphins: Observations and Conclusions" (August 4, 1966), Evening Independent
|History of NFL teams|
|American Football Conference|
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|National Football Conference|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|