"We were going in there on Thanksgiving Day. A writer from the Sun Tattler – a local South Florida paper at that time -- wrote an article saying that we were going to be Thanksgiving dinner for the Cardinals because they had all the superstars."
Former Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore didn't mince his words when reliving the 55-14 Thanksgiving Day thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals. Moore, who caught three of Bob Griese's career-high six touchdown passes in the game, couldn't fathom anybody suggesting that Dolphins team was bereft of superstar talent.
"They listed off all the stars and said the Dolphins didn't have anybody but Don Shula," Moore said. "We read that article and we were pissed. On that team you had Bob Griese, Larry Little, Jim Langer, all Hall of Famers. Bob Kuechenberg should've been a Hall of Famer, too."
The Dolphins stars showed up in a big way. The team set offensive records for points (55), total yards (503), touchdowns (8) and first downs (34). Griese's services weren't required for the fourth after averaging two touchdown throws per quarter through the game's first three.
The Dolphins came into the game salty over the article published the day before. Miami's offensive onslaught enraged the Cardinals, especially for one particular player who was known for playing below the belt.
From an article published on Bleacher Report in 2010, Conrad Dobler was named one of the NFL's all-time dirtiest players.
Quite possibly the dirtiest guy ever to play in the NFL. In the 70s, when it was acceptable to horse-collar players, Dobler took it to the next level. As an offensive lineman, when a defender put his hands up to swat a pass, he'd punch them in the stomach. Spitting on injured players, kicking Merlin Olsen in the head, even punching Mean Joe Greene. Dobler did whatever he had to, whatever he wanted to, to whoever he wanted to. Conrad Dobler was the dirtiest player EVER.
"(Dobler) put a cheap shot on Bob Matheson and the fight was on," Moore said. "Both benches emptied, 23 guys got fined. We beat the crap out of them on the scoreboard and in the fight."
"It was a fun day," he added. "It felt like being back in high school when you could get away with that stuff. Then on Monday, when we got the fines, we realized we didn't get away with it."
Successful teams can usually point to a defining moment where that year's squad banded together. Although the 1977 Dolphins came up just one game short of a trip to the postseason, the core from that team would go on to qualify for the playoffs in six of the next seven years.
"Those sort of things galvanize you as a team," Moore said. "All you want to know is who didn't go out there. Standing up for each other brings teams closer together. Even though you hate to see it happen, those sort of things bring you together. Everybody had everybody's back."
Therein lies the mastery of Don Shula. A coach that oversaw back-to-back championships (including an undefeated team) spearheaded by a dominant ground game was never stuck in his ways.
"He always adapted to his personnel," Moore said. "I don't think it was until Dan (Marino) came around that it became a great opportunity to throw the football. But before that, Shula had so much confidence in Griese. Everybody rallied around him because he knew what was best for the team to win."
Griese and Marino offer the perfect juxtaposition for two players at the same position asked to fulfill different responsibilities. Griese's six touchdown passes on that Thanksgiving Day stood alone as the franchise record up until 1986. Where Griese's half dozen came in blowout fashion, Marino threw for six scores in a loss to the Jets. It was the only six touchdown game of Marino's career, besting the five occasions in which he posted five-touchdown performances over his brilliant 17-year career.
Marino threw four or more touchdowns 21 times in his career whereas Griese did it four times. Marino piled up 420 touchdowns career touchdown tosses compared to Griese's 192. Perhaps the best way to define the seismic shift between eras and offensive approaches for Miami, Marino threw 8,358 passes in 17 years while Griese attempted 3,429 in 14 seasons.
But it wasn't just Shula's flexibility with the scheme the produced only two losing seasons out of 25 years with Miami. It was the selfless makeup of the entire Dolphins organization under Shula's watch.
"I led the league in scoring in 1977 with 12 touchdowns," Moore said. "Then, the next year, they asked me to block linebackers. But we were back in the playoffs and that's what it was all about. If they asked me to, I could put the ball in the end zone. So it was no big deal."
The team certainly didn't lack confidence. Just as Moore was happy to do whatever job Coach Shula asked of him, he was also a master of sharing the love for his teammates.
"We didn't have to throw the football to win," Moore said. "We had great running backs. We felt we had the best offensive line in football. But they also felt they had the best offensive line in football. Basically, we showed them who was superior on Thanksgiving Day."
To this day, the Thanksgiving Day route of the St. Louis Cardinal in 1977 stands as the Miami Dolphins' most points scored in a single game.