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On This Date in Sports September 24, 1972: Slippery When Wet (50 Years of Perfection Week 2)

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Dolphins, in collaboration with

The Miami Dolphins' home opener in 1972 came against the Houston Oilers. After an impressive win in Kansas City, the Dolphins faced the worst team in the league at the Orange Bowl. It was a muggy and rainy afternoon in Miami, creating havoc on the synthetic poly turf, which often became matted down and slick under humid conditions. The game featured seven turnovers as the Dolphins defeated the lowly Oilers 34-13 to improve to 2-0 on the season. 

As the 1970s began, stadiums across America were switching to artificial turf. Astroturf was the most well-known and commonly used and was often criticized for its lack of cushioning, as it often felt like green cement when landing upon it. There was also Tartan Turf produced by 3M that was used by a few stadiums. In Miami, the surface was known as Poly-Turf, produced by American Biltrite, a company in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Poly-Turf was explicitly designed for football, as it used polypropylene for the fake blades of grass, which was longer and had more cushion than the nylon used by Astroturf. 

Poly-Turf had design flaws that created issues at the Orange Bowl, as Super Bowl V was known as the blunder bowl as the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts combined for 11 turnovers. The field would often get matted down, causing slick conditions, especially in the heat and humidity of Miami. With rainy conditions, the field would become waterlogged as gain traction often became impossible. An enhanced Poly-Turf field was installed for the 1972 season to improve conditions. 

The rainy conditions aided the Dolphins early as Bill Stanfill returned a Hoyle Granger fumble to Houston's one-yard line less than two minutes into the game. Jim Kiick would punch the ball into the end zone to give Miami an early 7-0 lead. Minutes later, Dan Pastorini mishandled a snap, setting up a second touchdown for the Dolphins. This time it was Mercury Morris scoring on a two-yard run to extend the Dolphins' lead to 13-0 as Garo Yeremian's PAT was blocked. It was the first time Yepremian missed an extra point in five years, ending a stretch of 75 successful PATs. 

In the second quarter, Miami extended the lead to 20-0, as Larry Csonka scored on a four-yard run. The drive was set up by a 30-yard pass from Bob Griese to Paul Warfield. The Dolphins would go into halftime with a 20-0 lead, as Dan Pastorini completed three passes for minus-ten yards. 

The Dolphins marched down the field in the third quarter, going 76 yards in nine plays, with Bob Griese scoring on a two-yard sneak to extend the lead to 27-0. Houston found their footing on the next series, as Dan Pastorini connected with Charlie Joyner on an 82-yard touchdown pass. The Oilers would quickly get the ball back as Mercury Morris fumbled, setting up a Willie Rogers scored from the one to cut Miami's lead to 27-13. 

The Dolphins would regain their footing on the slick turf but had a 14-play drive into the fourth quarter, which ended when Jim Kiick caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Bob Griese to make the final score 34-13. Tim Foley sealed the victory with an interception as the Dolphins forced three turnovers.

The Dolphins overcame four turnovers, as the game was a mess from start to finish. Mercury Morris led the rushing attack with 94 yards on 15 carries. Csonka added 79 yards on 17 carries, while Kiick ran for 55 yards on nine carries. Bob Griese passed for 142 yards, completing 11 of 16 passes, while Earl Morrall made his Miami debut by completing one pass for 23 yards. 

A week later, the Houston Oilers beat the New York Jets 26-20. It was their only win of the season for coach Bill Peterson. It would be Peterson's only win as an NFL coach as he was fired after an 0-5 start in 1973. The Oilers would post 1-13 records in both seasons, but they remained #1 in the hearts of Houston fans 

The Poly-Turf Field at the Orange Bowl would turn blue due to exposure to the South Florida sun, leading the Orange Bowl to return to a natural surface in 1976, as Poly-Turf would go out of business during the 1973 oil embargo.