On This Date in Sports December 31, 1972: Bob Griese. Returns (50 Years of Perfection AFC Championship)
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Dolphins, in collaboration with Sportsecyclopedia.com.
The Miami Dolphins reach the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year, defeating the Pittsburg Steelers 21-17 in the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium. Despite being unbeaten, Miami had to travel for the AFC Championship, as the host was decided on a rotational basis before 1975. The Dolphins trailed 10-7 in the third quarter when Don Shula decided to bring back Bob Griese, who had only seen limited action since returning from a broken leg. Griese gave the Dolphins the spark they needed with two touchdown drives, each capped by touchdown runs by Jim Kiick, as the Dolphins advanced to Super Bowl VII.
Despite finishing 14-0, the Dolphins' road to the Super Bowl went through Pittsburgh; the host of the AFC Championship was decided on a rotational basis up until 1974. In 1972, the Central Division Champion was the host. The Steelers, coached by Chuck Noll, were coming off the first postseason win in the Steelers' 40-year existence, as Franco Harris scored on the "Immaculate Reception" as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 13-7. Pittsburgh posted an 11-3 record for their first winning season in nine years. It was the first time in franchise history that the Steelers won ten games.
It was a mild day in Pittsburgh as temperatures were in the high fifties, sparing the Dolphins from playing in frigid conditions. The game started well for the Steelers, as Glen Edwards picked off Earl Morrall and returned the ball into Miami territory. The Steelers would drive the ball down the field, with Terry Bradshaw attempting to run the ball into the end zone from the three. Bradshaw would fumble, but Gerry Mullins landed on the ball for a Pittsburgh touchdown. Terry Bradshaw was injured on the play and did not return until the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins' offense could not get anything going and were stalled at midfield in the second quarter when Don Shula decided to roll the dice. Facing fourth and five, Shula called for a fake punt, with Larry Seipel running up the middle for 37 yards down to the Pittsburgh 12-yard line. Two plays later, Larry Csonka caught a nine-yard pass to tie the game 7-7. The Steelers regained the lead in the third quarter as Terry Hanratty led an impressive drive that ended with a 14-yard field goal by Roy Gerela.
Through two playoff games, Earl Morrall had struggled; he passed for 51 yards with a touchdown and interception in the AFC Championship Game. Bob Griese, who broke his leg in Week 5, and saw just a few plays in Week 14, returned to the field as the Dolphins trailed 10-7 in the third quarter. Griese's first pass was a 52-yard reception by Paul Warfield. Disaster nearly struck as Jack Ham intercepted his next pass; however, the Steelers were called for an offsides penalty. The drive would end with a two-yard run by Jim Kiick that gave Miami a 14-10 lead.
As the fourth quarter began, the Steelers were driving again, as Franco Harris had 76 yards on 16 carries. The drive would stall as the Steelers lined up for a 48-yard field goal. Roy Gerela's kick was blocked, giving the Dolphins the ball at midfield. Bob Griese led an 11-play drive that was capped with a three-yard touchdown run by Jim Kiick, stretching the Dolphins' lead to 21-10.
Now trailing 21-17, Terry Bradshaw returned to the game and promptly led a scoring drive with Al Young reeling in a 12-yard touchdown pass. The Steelers' defense shut down the Dolphins, as the Steelers had two chances to take lead. However, Nick Buoniconti and Mike Kolen picked off Bradshaw to preserve the Dolphins' 21-17 win.
The Dolphins were off to Super Bowl VII, but the Steelers would soon emerge as a powerhouse in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls in the final six years of the 1970s.