The NFL recently came out with its top 100 games and the Dolphins made that list 11 times, tied for third most. In light of that, I thought it was appropriate to weigh in on my own personal list of the top all-time Dolphins’ games, this coming from a person who has followed this team since its inception and well remembers the greatness of the early 1970s.
So, with all due respect to the NFL’s list, here’s my Top 10 provided in reverse order, just to add a little suspense. Of course, as I usually, do, I’ll include some personal memories.
10) Jan. 23, 1983: Dolphins 14, Jets 0
Sometimes greatness isn’t defined by a game as much as it is a player. This was that moment for A.J. Duhe, a three-interception showcase in the AFC Championship game that will always be remembered as one of the great individual performances in team history. Who will ever forget that third interception, Duhe taking it to the house in the fourth quarter on a 35-yard return, the ball held high in his hand, the outcome now secure? On that rainy day in the Orange Bowl, Duhe in so many ways hoisted this franchise on his back and carried it to the Super Bowl.
9) Dec. 31, 1972, Dolphins 21, Steelers 17
A team with a 14-0 regular season record having to travel for a playoff game? Not in today’s NFL. But back in the early 70’s, there were different rules and that meant a playoff game in Pittsburgh, perhaps the most imposing challenge in that undefeated season. Two major moments in this game will always stand out: Larry Seiple taking off on the fake punt of his life and Don Shula deciding at halftime to go back to Bob Griese as his quarterback, replacing Earl Morrall. Injured much of the season, Griese guided two second half touchdown drives, his big completion a 53-yarder to Paul Warfield. The decision made at halftime by Shula turned out to be one of the most prudent of his coaching career.
8) Dec. 21, 1974: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26
This was the day the dynasty ended for the Dolphins, but they did not go down quietly, eliminated in the playoffs by the Oakland Raiders in one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking finishes you can imagine. I’ve always wondered what if Vern Den Herder had tackled quarterback Ken Stabler a heartbeat earlier instead of allowing Stabler to complete a pass as he was falling down, a pass that went through what was called “a sea of hands” before somehow inexplicably finding running back Clarence Davis for the game-winner score. Would the Dolphins have won a third straight Super Bowl? There are many, including Don Shula, who believe they would have.
7) Nov. 27, 1994, Dolphins 28, Jets 24
Forever known as The Fake Spike Game, this was Dan Marino at his absolute best, leading the Dolphins to a late game- winning score. But not just any game-winning score. I’ll never forget the eerie silence at the Jets’ stadium when Marino faked a spike with 25 seconds left, and found Mark Ingram in the front corner of the end zone for the decisive 8-yard touchdown pass. The Jets never recovered from that loss, losing every game the rest of the season. As for Marino, it remains one of his career masterpiece moments.
6) Jan. 13, 1974, Dolphins 24, Vikings 7
The second straight Super Bowl victory wasn’t what you’d call a great game. But it was a dominating performance, so dominating that Bob Griese only had to throw the ball seven times. Sometimes you have to sit back and just appreciate greatness and this victory concluded the most prolific two-year run (32-2) in league history. The game, in truth, wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate and I remember so many ecstatic people in South Florida wondering: How many more in a row can they win?
5) Dec. 9, 2018, Dolphins 34, Patriots 33
It was a finish like none other, aptly forever known as The Miami Miracle. How many times have you seen the play? How many more times will you watch it? The pass from Ryan Tannehill. The perfectly timed pitch from DeVante Parker to Kenyan Drake. The swerving and speed of Drake taking it the rest of the way, three laterals in all finishing off that 69-yard thriller. We tend to forget that it was the ninth lead change of a game that was pulsating even without the final play -- and generational with it.
4) Jan. 2, 1982, Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (OT)
This is the second of two losses that appear in my Top 10 but it was such an incredible game, the Dolphins coming back from a 24-0 second quarter deficit, that the sour memories of that defeat were long ago replaced by the exhilaration of that comeback. And nothing contributed more to that comeback than one of the most remarkable plays in the history of this franchise, the hook-and-lateral that closed the deficit to 24-17 just before halftime. Strock to Harris to Nathan. Just like The Miami Miracle that play will never get old.
3) Jan. 14, 1973, Dolphins 14, Redskins 7
This was the capper to the perfect season, a convincing victory on so many fronts despite the final score. The scene I’ll never forget was Don Shula getting carried off the field amid a throng of bodies, his arms pointing skyward. I also remember the following day so well, the pride that South Florida felt, a football team unifying an entire community and a celebration that in some ways is still taking place.
2) Dec. 2, 1985, Dolphins 38, Bears 24
Never before had I seen such an electric atmosphere at a Dolphins’ home game. The undefeated and mighty Bears came in looking for a perfect season. The Dolphins responded by playing their absolute best, racing out to a 31-10 halftime lead. Sure the game lacked a final minute ending, but the pure drama and the importance of this game could not take away from a lopsided victory. Will never forget so many members of the 1972 Perfect Team on the sideline that night, almost willing this team to victory.
1) Dec. 25, 1971, Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24 (2 OT)
If you are old enough to remember this game, as I am, you understand why it’s at the top of the list. There was no more important victory in team history, their first playoff victory. But it’s much more than that. It was the most exciting game I’ve ever seen, a double overtime smorgasbord of big plays and remarkable individual performances. When Garo Yepremian made that game-winning kick, well, the feeling of joy was almost indescribable. And yes, I was one of the estimated 20,000 people that greeted the Dolphins at the Miami airport later that night, a scene I will carry with me forever.