Remembering when the Dolphins attempted to three-peat as Super Bowl champs

Don Shula will always be a legend for this.
President Obama Hosts The 1972 Superbowl Champion Miami Dolphins
President Obama Hosts The 1972 Superbowl Champion Miami Dolphins / Alex Wong/GettyImages

The Miami Dolphins first took the field in the same season that the Super Bowl Era was born. In 1966, the franchise was an expansion team in the American Football League. After four losing seasons and a combined 15-39-2 record, the team added Don Shula as their head coach in 1970. It was the start of five straight playoff appearances, the last four as AFC East champions.

That impressive run includes three straight Super Bowl appearances, the last two resulting in victory. The 1972 Dolphins achieved perfection (17-0) in capturing Super Bowl VII. The ’73 team finished 12-2 and dominated in the playoffs, capping off the campaign with a dominating 24-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings (VIII).

The road to a three-peat for the Miami Dolphins

The 1974 season began with a stunning 34-24 loss to the Patriots on the road. Four weeks later at Washington, Shula’s team fell to George Allen’s squad, 20-17. Hence, a club that owned a combined 32-2 record (including playoffs) the previous two years was just 3-2 after five outings.

Never fear. Miami would regain its contending form by winning eight of its final nine contests. The end result was an 11-3 record, but the task ahead would be a trip to Oakland to face the team with the best record in the league that season.

The Dolphins faced the 12-2 Oakland Raiders. The previous year, Miami had disposed of John Madden’s club in the AFC title game, 27-10, at the Orange Bowl. This AFC Divisional Round clash remains one of the greatest games in NFL annals, and some would say the best ever postseason contest. It was a back-and-forth affair that included a frantic fourth quarter.

Dolphins’ wide receiver Nat Moore got things started by returning the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score. In the second quarter, Raiders’ quarterback Ken Stabler connected with Charlie Smith for a 31-yard score.

The “Sea of Hands”

Fast forward to the fourth quarter. A Garo Yepremian field goal gave Shula’s club a 19-14 lead, but the Raiders got a big play from speedy Cliff Branch. He and Stabler connected on what would be a 72-yard score, this after Branch caught the ball and ran into the end zone after he was not touched on the ground. Miami would respond when Benny Malone rumbled 23 yards for a score. Miami owned a 26-21 lead with 2:08 to play.

Stabler would drive the Raiders towards the Dolphins’ end zone. From Miami’s eight yard line, Stabler was being chased by Dolphins’ defensive end Vern Den Herder. The “Snake” was caught, but managed to get a pass off before he hit the ground. It wound up in the hands of Raiders’ running back Clarence Davis, who caught the TD toss in a crowd. The go-ahead score is known as the “Sea of Hands.” The final score would be: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26.

It was not only the end of the brief Miami dynasty, but that 1973 team remains the Dolphins’ last championship squad. The franchise would go on to reach Super Bowls XVII and XIX, but fell short.