Miami Sports Franchises: Miami Dolphins
March 15, 2011 1 Comment
Retired Numbers: #12 (Bob Griese), #13 (Dan Marino), #39 (Larry Csonka)
The history of the Miami Dolphins takes root in 1965, when prominent lawyer Joe Robbier and actor Danny Thomas were awarded an expansion franchise in the AFL. Originally, the plan was to set up shop in Philadelphia, but the AFL recommended Miami due to the warm weather, population boom and the lack of a pre-existing football franchise.
The organization got off to a sluggish start under coach George Wilson, getting off to a 15-39-2 record in their first four seasons. In 1970, the Dolphins made the decision to hire former Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula. However, the team was charging with tampering, and forced to part with their first-round pick as compensation for hiring Shula away from the Colts, a team he guided to a Super Bowl III defeat at the hand of the New York Jets.
The hiring paid immediate dividends for the franchise, as Shula led the Dolphins to a 10-4 record in his first season, the first winning season in franchise history. Starting in 1971, the Dolphins became the first team in league history to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls. The Dolphins knocked off the talented Kansas City Chiefs in 1971 to reach their first of three Super Bowls, but fell to the Dallas Cowboys in the championship.
The following season, the team accomplished something no other team has been able to in the long history of the NFL. The ’72 Dolphins ran the table in the regular season, finishing with a record of 14-0. Led by running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, the team overcame a Week Five injury to star quarterback Bob Griese. Griese was replaced by Earl Morrall, who started every game for the Dolphins until Griese returned in time for the Super Bowl. Csonka and Morris would become the first pair of running backs in league history to rush for 1,000 yards each.
The Dolphins would knock off the Washington Redskins 14-7 in the Super Bowl, completing a 17-0 perfect season. The most recent team in league history to approach the perfect season were the New England Patriots, who took a 19-0 record into Super Bowl XLII in 2007, only to lose 17-14.
The year after, the Dolphins lost two games in the regular season, but advanced to Super Bowl VIII behind the stellar play of Griese and Csonka and defeated the Minnesota Vikings 24-7, becoming the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls. The Dolphins would reach the playoffs in 1974, but were eliminated in the first round by the Oakland Raiders. However, after the season, the team lost star running back Larry Csonka and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to the World Football League.
The team slumped to 6-8 in 1975, but recovered the following year behind a revamped Shula defense, and would win 10 games or more in five of the next six seasons. Though the team enjoyed regular season success, they would not advance further than the Conference Finals.
In 1980, the Dolphins were forced to move on from the Bob Griese Era, due to Griese shoulder injury he suffered against the Baltimore Colts that ended his career. In the early 80’s, the team fluctuated between former LSU standout David Woodley and Dan Strock at the quarterback position. The duo became known nationally as “Woodstrock”, and would lead the Dolphins to the playoffs year in and year out. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Woodstruck, along with what was known as the “Killer B’s Defense” (due to their star players all having last names start with B, including Bob Baumhower, Bill Barnett and Kyle Blackwood), the Dolphins reached their first Super Bowl appearence since 1973. Once there, the team fell to the Washington Redskins, 27-17.
In the first round of the 1983 draft, Don Shula made what was considered to be a very questionable decision. After notable college quarterbacks like John Elway, Jim Kelly and Ken O’Brien had been drafted earlier in the round, Shula drafted Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino, the sixth quarterback taken in the first round. Marino came into the draft facing questions about his character and his knees, which already required four surgeries while he was in college.
During Week Three of the following season, Shula replaced starter David Woodley with Marino, and the rest is history. In his rookie year, Marino threw for 20 touchdowns to only six interception plus 2,210 yards passing. The Dolphins finished 1983 12-4, winning the AFC East crown, but lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round at home.
The following year, Marino obliterated the record book for a single season. He set the single-season marks in yards (5,084), touchdowns (48) and completions (362). The Dolphins got off to a hot 11-0 start that season, and finished a franchise best in 16 game regular seasons at 14-2. The Dolphins would cruise in the playoffs, beating the Seahawks and Steelers to set up a Super Bowl match-up against Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Montana would dominate the one-on-one match-up against Marino, winning Super Bowl XIX’s Most Valuable Player while he guided San Francisco to a 38-16 win. Surprisingly for Marino, who is among the top five best quarterbacks of all-time, the romping against the 49ers would be his only Super Bowl appearance.
During the Marino years, the team couldn’t manage a consistant running attack, and their defenses often struggled. By 1995, Dan Marino became the NFL’s all-time leader in yards, touchdowns and completions. After the team lost to the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs that year, legendary coach Don Shula retired with a career record of 347-173-6, while appearing in a record six different Super Bowls, five with the Dolphins.
The next four years, the Dolphins continued to play up-and-down football under former Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson. After 1999, Johnson decided to leave football, and Marino retired. Marino ended his career with NFL records across the board, including completions (4,967), yards (61,361) and touchdowns (420), though those marks would all fall eventually to Brett Favre.
With the turn of the century, the Dolphins underwent a drastic shift in their franchise’s direction. In 2000, the team hired former Chicago Bears coach Dave Wannstedt as their head coach, and named former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Jay Fiedler the team’s starter. Though the team had drastically lowered expectations in the first post-Marino system, Wannstedt’s defense, led by stars Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Trace Armstrong, Sam Madison and Brock Marion, dominated AFC East opponents and won the division with an 11-5 record. The team also experienced a revamped running game, led by Lamar Smith’s 1,139 yards.
The team defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the first round, but found themselves shut out by the Oakland Raiders and out of the playoffs. Relying on their strong defense the following year, the Dolphins clinched a Wild Card appearance, losing in the first round to the Balitmore Ravens 20-3.
In 2002, the Dolphins made national headlines when the team traded for embattled New Orleans Saints star running back Ricky Williams. Williams made an immediate impact in the long-beleagured Dolphins running game, setting single-season club records with 1,853 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns. But, quarterback Jay Fiedler missed a significant portion of the season with a thumb injury, and back-up Ray Lucas didn’t perform to expectations, leading to the Dolphins 9-7 season and missing the playoffs entirely.
In 2003, the team had high hopes of making the playoffs. But, the Dolphins poor offensive line stunted Williams’ ability to run the ball, and Fiedler was injured and out of action, again. However, with Brian Griese, son of Dolphins legend Bob, at the helm, the team still had hopes of reaching the post-season with a mark of 8-4 through 12 games. Immediately, the Dolphins dropped their next two games, and finished the season on the outside look in with a record of 10-6.
2004, disaster struck. Before the season, Ricky Williams retired for unspecified reasons, though it was later revealed that Williams had failed his third drug test, which would’ve required a lengthy suspension. Furthermore, the team’s big-name off-season acquisition, wide receiver David Boston, blew out his knee before the season started, and was later hit with a suspension for violating the league’s anti-doping policy. The team started the season losing eight of their first nine games, which cost Wannstedt his job.
The following year, the team decided to replace interim head coach Jim Bates with LSU head coach Nick Saban. Saban selected running back Ronnie Brown with the team’s second overall pick in the first round. The team came out of the gates slow, starting 3-7, but finished the season on a six-game winning streak. Regardless, the team missed the playoffs yet again with a record of 9-7.
After the year, the Dolphins made it a point to go out and sign a star quarterback in free agency. Their choices came down to former Minnesota Vikings Pro-Bowler Daunte Culpepper or young San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees. The team elected to sign Culpepper, even though he was still recovering from off-season knee surgery, over the less-experienced Brees.
Four games into the 2006 season, Culpepper was benched for ineffective play, and eventually placed on injury reserve. The Dolphins would finish the season under-.500, and Saban surprised everybody in South Beach when he elected to sign a lucrative eight-year contract to become the head coach at the University of Alabama. The team elected to hire former Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as their new head coach, but his tenure wouldn’t last long in Miami at all.
In his one season at the helm, the Dolphins played atrocious, finishing 1-15. That season, the team had lost newly acquired quarterback Trent Green to injury, and star running back Ronnie Brown blew out his knee. The Dolphins were left with a carousel at quarterback, with rookies Cleo Lemon and John Beck getting the bulk of the starts. The team also traded away former standout receiver Chris Chambers to the San Diego Chargers, leaving the team with no notable players in their starting line-up.
During the abismal 2007 season, team owner Wayne Huizenga hired Bill Parcells to serve as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. In other words, it was Parcells’ job to clean up the mess left behind by Cameron and Saban. Parcells undertook a massive house cleaning, trading away the likes of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor to bring in fresh talent. He also hired one of his former assistants, defensive-minded Tony Sporano, to be the team’s head coach.
Owning the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, Parcells elected to take former Michigan All-American tackle Jake Long, along with Long’s former teammate, quarterback Chad Henne, in the second round. When the New York Jets traded for Brett Favre and released Chad Pennington, Parcells brought in Pennington, who he had drafted while with the Jets. The team also instituted an offensive system known as the “Wildcat”, which lines up a running back at the quarterback slot in a shotgun formation. The system baffled many defensive coordinators throughout the league, and with Ricky Williams back from his retirement/suspension and a healthy Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins had a dynamic duo at running back the team hasn’t seen since Larry Csonka left.
The Dolphins completed one of the greatest turn-arounds in NFL history, going from 1-15 to 11-5 and winning the AFC East in 2008. However, the ‘Fins fell to the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs, but hope was plentiful in South Beach.
Heading into 2009, injuries befell the team once again. Chad Pennington’s balky right shoulder flared up, forcing the team to start Henne a year before they had planned on. The team slumped to a 7-9 mark as Henne struggled in his first season as a starter. Before 2010, the team acquired former Denver Broncos star receiver Brandon Marshall to add some volume to their passing attack. Despite sporting a 6-2 road record, the Dolphins played terrible football at home, finishing 1-7. Many were calling for the firing of head coach Tony Sporano, and the team even brought in Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to interview for the position. Regardless, Sporano remained, and the Dolphins will now look to move forward heading into 2011.