In his 40th season covering the Miami Dolphins, Andy Cohen celebrates the 100th anniversary of the NFL by looking back at some of most memorable moments, players and performances in Dolphins’ history.
It came as no surprise to me the 1972 Miami Dolphins were recently selected by a panel of league experts as greatest team in the first 100 years of the NFL. I mean it’s hard to argue against perfection.
But why stop there? Taking the lead from the NFL, I’ve come up with my own personal list of the top 10 greatest Dolphins’ teams. To provide a little suspense — very little — I’m ranking them in reverse order. Some pretty good teams are not on this list, which tells you some really good teams are on it. See if you agree.
No. 10 - 2008: This final spot is always the toughest. I was tempted to go with the 1970 team, Don Shula’s first year in South Florida and a remarkable turnaround from 3-10-1 in 1969 to 10-4 a year later. I also strongly considered the 2000 team that finished 11-5, beat Indy in the first round of the playoffs and were led by two of the franchises greatest defenders in Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. But after further review, I chose the 2008 team instead because it marked the greatest one-year turnaround in NFL history, the Dolphins going from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 and AFC East champions a year later. This season was so much about unveiling The Wildcat offense and getting an elite performance from quarterback Chad Pennington.
No. 9 - 1990: The 25th season in franchise history was an excellent one, the Dolphins finishing 12-4, beating the Chiefs 17-16 in the first round of the playoffs before getting eliminated in the divisional playoffs by the Bills. Winning eight of their first nine games, the story of this team was a strong defense, the passing of Dan Marino, the rushing attack led by Sammie Smith’s eight touchdowns and an offensive line buoyed by a couple of rookie starters in Richmond Webb and Keith Sims.
No. 8 - 1974: We will forever wonder what might have happened had Ken Stabler’s miraculous touchdown completion to Clarence Davis fell incomplete instead of ending all chances for the Dolphins to three-peat as Super Bowl champions. This was a team certainly capable of that, finishing the regular season 11-3 and winning nine of their last 10 games. That 28-26 loss to the Raiders marked the end of an era as running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick and wide receiver Paul Warfield left the next season to play for the fledgling World Football League.
No. 7 - 1985: Seven straight victories to close out the season lifted the Dolphins to a 12-4 regular record after a somewhat shaky 5-4 start. This lasting image of this season was a Monday night victory over the then unbeaten Chicago Bears with many of the 1972 Perfect Dolphins roaming the sidelines for support. The Dolphins won the AFC East and had a stirring comeback from a 21-3 deficit in the playoffs to beat the Cleveland Browns 24-21 before losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Dan Marino followed his record-breaking 1984 season with 30 touchdown passes and 4,137 yards passing.
No. 6 - 1992: This was the last time the Dolphins made it to the AFC Championship Game, losing to the Buffalo Bills. But it was nonetheless an outstanding season, the Dolphins finishing 11-5, winning the AFC East and then shutting out San Diego in the divisional playoffs. Tight end Keith Jackson surpassed the Marks Brothers as the leading receiver, catching 48 passes, five for touchdowns. Marino, meanwhile, threw for 4,116 yards and 24 touchdowns.
No. 5 - 1971: This season was the prelude to greatness, the Dolphins making it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to Dallas 24-3. Who will ever forget the double-overtime Christmas Day victory at Kansas City or the 21-0 shutout over Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game? So many of the pieces were in place on the way to a 10-3-1 regular season record. You just knew, even after that loss to the Cowboys, that this team was on the verge of something very special.
No. 4 - 1982: Behind WoodStrock and the Killer B’s, these Dolphins made it all the way to the Super Bowl led by a dominating defense and an offense featuring a two-headed quarterback in David Woodley and Don Strock. Even a loss to the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl could not diminish what this team accomplished in this strike-shortened season. Shutting out the New York Jets behind A.J. Duhe’s three interceptions in the AFC Championship Game was certainly the highlight.
No. 3 - 1984: This was Dan Marino at his absolute best, throwing laser like darts to the Marks Brothers while shattering so many long-standing passing records. Every game that season with Marino was a thrill ride. Every pass made you wonder whether you were going to see something you had never seen before. Marino was nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, the Dolphins beating Seattle and Pittsburgh before this dream of a season came crashing to a halt against Joe Montana and a great San Francisco team in the Super Bowl. Still, in so many ways, this was a season like none other.
No. 2 - 1973: There are those who believe that this team was deeper, more talented, and more efficient than the perfect Dolphins of 1972. You look at some of the statistics and you begin to understand why. So much like 1972, this was a team with a dominating defense and an offense that could beat you so many different ways. After a 12-2 regular season, the Dolphins easily disposed of Cincinnati and Oakland in the playoffs before capping it off with a 24-7 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII. This was a special team, a dominating team despite those two losses.
No. 1 - 1972: Forty-eight years later, this team still stands alone, the only unbeaten team the league has ever seen, a unique concoction of future Hall of Famers who behind the masterful coaching of Dan Shula became the standard for all other teams to be judged. Bob Griese. Larry Csonka. Jim Kiick. Larry Little. Jim Langer. Paul Warfied. The No-Name Defense. There was no weakness, nothing — not even an ill-advised Garo Yepremian pass in Super Bowl VII — could get in this team’s way.