Franchise Focus: Miami Dolphins, Part 1

Put on your pads and get ready to toss the pigskin because the Miami Dolphins are the first team we’ll be reviewing in our “Franchise Focus” series.

The Founding Father

The year was 1965. Attorney Joe Robbie and actor Danny Thomas had some money to burn. What better way to blow cash than buying a pro sports team?

For a cool $7.5 million, the American Football League awarded the duo an expansion franchise – the Dolphins.

The Miami part almost didn’t happen because Robbie originally wanted the franchise in Philadelphia.

Fortunately, AFL Commissioner Joe Foss had the foresight to recommend Miami for its warm weather, growing population and pro sports void.

The team’s first four seasons weren’t pretty, going a combined 15-39-2 under head coach George Wilson. But those woes would turn around with the NFL merger and the emergence of a Hall of Fame head coach.

The Sideline Sage

Don Shula, a disciple of football royalty Paul Brown, took over the reins in the 1970 season, leaving the Baltimore Colts for sun-soaked Miami.

After four years of losing under Wilson, Shula led the Dolphins to a 10-4 record, marking the franchise’s first winning season and playoff appearance.

The following season Shula upped the ante, coaching the Fins to a 10-3-1 finish and a Super Bowl appearance. The team’s 1971 playoff run started with Maimi beating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in what’s still the longest game in NFL history (82 minutes 40 seconds). The Fins then blanked the Baltimore Colts, the reigning NFL champs, 21-0 to take the AFC title. The Dolphins would go on to lose 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

Then 1972 happened, cementing Shula’s legendary status. Shula and the Dolphins completed the NFL’s first and only perfect season. The team went 14-0 in the regular season and won both of their playoff games before beating the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII.

By the time Shula would wrap up his 33-year head coaching career, he had only suffered two losing seasons, was a two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time AFC champ, a four-time AP NFL Coach of the Year and, above all else, was the all-time wins leader with 347.

The Prolific Passer

John Elway at 1. Todd Blackledge at 7. Jim Kelly at 14. Tony Eason at 15. Ken O’Brien at 24.

It wasn’t until pick 27 that the Dolphins selected Dan Marino in what’s famously referred to as the quarterback class of 1983.

The Pennsylvania native’s draft stock had plummeted after rumors of recreational drug spread ahead of the draft.

Marino was actually the first draft pick in the history of the United States Football League, but he opted to play for the Dolphins instead of the Los Angeles Express.

Shula said that being the 27th pick was the motivation Marino needed “to show everybody else what a mistake that they had made.”

It didn’t take long for Marino to start making a name for himself after taking over for incumbent starter David Woodley in Week 6. In his rookie season, Marino not only posted a 96.0 passer rating and the highest passing completion percentage of 58.45, but he was also the only rookie quarterback to lead a conference in passing. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year.

As a sophomore, Marino started breaking NFL records, including most touchdown passes (48) and most passing yards (5,084), which stood until the 2000s. He led the Dolphins to a 14-2 regular season record, two playoff wins, including setting AFC Championship Game records with 421 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, and a Super Bowl appearance, where the Fins fell 38-16 to the San Francisco 49ers. He was named the NFL MVP that season.

Over the course of his 17-year career, Marino went on to set, break or tie nearly 50 records. Some of those records still stand, including the most seasons leading the league in completions (6), the fewest number of games to 200 touchdown passes (89) and the most Monday Night Football wins as a starter (20).

Besides winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first two seasons, he was also a nine-time Pro Bowler, three-time First-Team All-Pro, four-time Second-Team All-Pro, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year among so many other accolades.

Quick Hits

All-Time Record: 452-360-4

AFL Record: 15-39-2

NFL Record: 444-323-2

Retired Numbers: #12 Bob Griese (1985), #39 Larry Csonka (2002) and #13 Dan Marino (2003)

Super Bowl Championships: VII, VIII

AFC Eastern Division Championships: 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1992, 1994, 2000

AFC East Division Championship: 2008

First Draft Choice: RB Jim Grabowski (1966)

First Player Elected to the Hall of Fame: WR Paul Warfield (1983)

First Pro Bowl Selections: RB Larry Csonka, QB Bob Griese and WR Paul Warfield (1970)

Most Career Rushing Yards: Larry Csonka, 6,737 yards

Most Career Passing Yards: Dan Marino, 61,361 yards

Most Career Receptions: Mark Clayton, 550 receptions

All-Time Leading Scorer: Olindo Mare, 1,048 points