Great Football Teams: The 1970–1974 Miami Dolphins

By Howie Long, John Czarnecki

Most observers would say that Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Dallas fielded better football teams in the 1970s than the Miami Dolphins did — but not in the presence of former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula. Shula, pro football’s all-time winningest coach (347–173–6 in 33 seasons), believes that his team deserves to be called the very best of all time.

The 1972 Dolphins are the only unbeaten, untied team in NFL history. Shula’s team finished a perfect 17–0–0 when it beat Washington 14–7 in Super Bowl VII. In the perfect season, the Dolphins won three playoff games by an average margin of 5.7 points, which isn’t an overpowering number. They repeated as champions in 1973, finishing 15–2, but then they went eight seasons without winning another playoff game.

The only knock on Shula’s perfect team was that it was loaded with good players, not the superstar talent that the Pittsburgh Steelers had in the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers had in the 1980s, and the Dallas Cowboys had in the early 1990s. Bob Griese was hardly the best quarterback in the NFL in this era, considering Joe Namath was the quarterback of the New York Jets and Roger Staubach was leading the Dallas Cowboys. However, Griese was an accurate passer and superb field general.

The backfield featured three runners, all with different and complementary styles: Larry Csonka was a bruising fullback, halfback Jim Kiick was a multipurpose back and blocker, and Mercury Morris ran like his name — an all-out speedster. The defense was filled with no-name performers, which is why they were called the “No-Name Defense.” Nick Buoniconti, Manny Fernandez, and Jake Scott led this unit, with Scott earning Super Bowl MVP honors for intercepting two passes in Super Bowl VII.