In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
After six seasons with the eight charter franchises, the AFL begins to grow with the debut of the Miami Dolphins. Things start with a bang for Miami, as Joe Auer returns the opening kickoff at the Orange Bowl 95 yards. The Oakland Raiders would score the next 17 points before the Dolphins had their first offensive score in the fourth quarter; it would not be enough as the Raiders won the game 23-14.
The upstart American Football League was born in 1960 with eight renegade owners. Eyeing ever more equality with the National Football League, the AFL looked to grow, adding a ninth team in 1966 and a tenth two years later. As the 1966 season began, the AFL and NFL worked out a merger to bring a championship between the two leagues and a common draft.
One of the AFL’s keys to success was bringing professional football to untapped markets like Buffalo, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, and San Diego. The new league also added a second team in New York and a team in Boston that finally made a football breakthrough for New England. Miami had previously had a team in the All-American Football Conference known as the Seahawks that was forced to move after one season, as South Florida city was not ready for professional sports. The Dolphins hoped two decades of growth could make a difference as they entered that first season.
The Miami Dolphins were founded by businessman Joe Robbie and Entertainer Danny Thomas. Decked in colorful uniforms, the Dolphins had a live dolphin mascot at one end of the stadium. The team was coached by former Detroit Lions Coach George Wilson, who had won an NFL Championship in 1957. As with most expansion teams, the Dolphins' first team was filled with veteran castoffs and rookies.
Hosting the Oakland Raiders, the Dolphins only drew 25,188 fans to their first official game with a Friday Night kickoff at the Orange Bowl. Those fans were given something to cheer for from the start as Joe Auer returned the opening kick from Mike Mercer 95 yards for a touchdown. The early score stood up until the second quarter when Mike Mercer hit a 16-yard field goal to put Oakland on the board. The Raiders would take a 10-7 lead a few minutes later on a two-yard run by Hewitt Dixon. Oakland extended the lead to 17-7 on a Tom Flores pass to Art Powell in the third quarter. Down 17-7, the Dolphins got back in the game as Rick Casares caught the team’s first touchdown pass from Rick Norton. That would be as close as Miami got, as the Raiders capped the scoring on a Flores 16-yard touchdown pass to Tom Mitchell as the Raiders won the game 23-14.
Rick Norton split the Miami quarterback duties with Dick Wood. Norton completed 7-of-19 passes for 52 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wood struggled in his time at quarterback completing 4-of-13 passes for 49 yards with four interceptions. George Wilson Jr. had the biggest run from scrimmage with 37 yards, while Joe Auer had the most yards from scrimmage with 10 runs for 25 yards and two catches for 30 yards.
The expansion Dolphins would drop their first five games before beating the Denver Broncos on October 16th by a score of 24-7 at the Orange Bowl. With a win over the Houston Oilers a week later and again in the season finale, the Dolphins finished their first season with a record of 5-11. Joe Auer, who scored that first touchdown, was Miami’s top player with eight touchdowns along with 416 rushing yards and 263 receiving yards.