On This Date in Sports October 15, 1972: Perfection Faces Adversity (50 Years of Perfection Week 5)
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Dolphins, in collaboration with Sportsecyclopedia.com.
The unbeaten Miami Dolphins suffer a significant setback as Quarterback Bob Griese suffers a broken ankle when he is pressured by Ron East and Deacon Jones in the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at the Orange Bowl. Fortunately, Miami had veteran backup Earl Morrall in the wings. Morrall would come to complete eight-of-ten passes for 86 yards, with two touchdowns as the Dolphins improved to 5-0 with a 24-10 win. The Dolphins would on to finish the regular season 14-0.
The Dolphins entered the game with a 4-0 record; recording wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets. The Chargers entered the Week 5 contest in Miami with a record of 2-1-1 for coach Harland Savre. After a season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Chargers tied the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 while recording wins against the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Colts.
Earl Morrall, aged 38, was the oldest player on the Dolphins. Signed in the off-season, Morrall had played in the NFL since 1956, a decade before the Dolphins' first game. After stints with the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants, he had his greatest success with the Baltimore Colts. Playing in place of an injured Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall won the NFL MVP with the Colts in 1968, leading them to Super Bowl III. However, the game would end in disappointment for the Colts and Morrall as they were stunned by Joe Namath and the New York Jets 16-3. Two years later, Morrall came on relief for Unitas in Super Bowl V and away a winner as the Colts edged the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in a sloppy game full of turnovers. Following the 1971 season, the Colts released the journeyman quarterback, which cleared the way for him to be reunited with Don Shula, who had coached the Colts in 1968.
Bob Griese got the Dolphins off to a fast start driving them down the field to set up a 37-yard field goal by Garo Yepremian before suffering the injury. Griese's leg had been caught under him while he threw a ball toward Jim Kiick, pressured by Ron East and Deacon Jones. Griese suffered a broken leg and a dislocated ankle. As Miami tried to console themselves with their quarterback being possible out for the season, the Chargers tied the game with a 12-yard field goal by Denis Partee.
The Dolphins took the lead in the second quarter when Dick Anderson recovered a Mike Garrett fumble and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins extended the lead to 17-3 before halftime as Howard Twilley caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Earl Morrall. The Dolphins' "No Name Defense" frustrated the Chargers, forcing three turnovers, as John Hadl was picked off twice. Paul Warfield caught a 19-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter as the Dolphins extended their lead to 24-3.
The Chargers would get a touchdown in the fourth quarter as Cid Edwards and a three-yard catch from Hadl, as the Dolphins won 24-10. Larry Csonka led the Dolphins' ground attack, with 70 yards on 13 carries, while Jim Kiick had 41 yards, and Mercury Morris added 44 yards for a Dolphins team that was looking to ground and pound the ball, especially without Bob Griese.
Bob Griese would miss the remainder of the regular season as they completed their 14-0, perfect season. Earl Morrall completed 83 of 150 passes for 1,360 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, as Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris reached the 1,000-yard marker in the season. Earl Morrall would continue to start in the playoffs as the Dolphins beat the Cleveland Browns 20-14 in the Divisional Round. Griese would get the start in the Super Bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum as the Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 14-7 to become the first NFL team to finish undefeated for the regular season and playoffs, finishing 17-0.