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The 1972 Miami Dolphins are one of the best-known NFL teams in the leagues history for being the only one in the modern-era to complete an entire season, regular season and playoffs, with an undefeated record.
Miami went 14-0 in the regular season, won both playoff games to reach Super Bowl VII and then defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 to finish with a perfect 17-0 record.
The feat has yet to be matched by any other team, with the 2007 New England Patriots coming the closest. The Pats reached Super Bowl XLII with an 18-0 record only to fall to the New York Giants in the big game to run their attempt for another perfect season.
The 1984 San Francisco 49ers and 1985 Chicago Bears, both Super Bowl champion teams, finished their respective seasons with an 18-1 record. The ’85 Bears bid for a perfect season was ended at the Orange Bowl by Dan Marino and the Dolphins in one of the best-known Monday Night Football games in Miami’s history.
This season there is another team that is threatening to match the Dolphins’ perfection.
The Carolina Panthers are currently 13-0 and have appeared to get stronger as the season has progressed. Coincidentally, there is actually a link between the ’72 Dolphins and the ’15 Panthers.
The coach of the Dolphins during their perfect season was Don Shula, the winningest head coach in NFL history.
The offensive coordinator of the Panthers is David Shula, Don Shula’s youngest son.
The elder Shula has already said that he is rooting for his son to match the Dolphins unblemished record, though there are several members of that ’72 team that are hoping for the opposite to happen.
Wednesday is the 43rd anniversary of the Dolphins finishing the regular season undefeated as they took down the Baltimore Colts 16-0 on December 16, 1972.
To mark the occasion, let’s compare some of the key offensive positions on the ’72 Dolphins and the ’15 Panthers.
The Dolphins were led by a pair of veteran quarterbacks during their perfect ride. Hall of Famer Bob Griese began the season as Miami’s QB but was replaced by Earl Morrall after breaking his ankle in a Week 5 win over the San Diego Chargers.
Morrall would lead the Dolphins to the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but was replaced by a now healthy Griese at halftime.
During the regular season Griese completed 54.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 638 yards and 4 touchdowns. Morrall would complete 55.3 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 91.0, which was far better than Griese’s 71.6.
There has been no question who has been leading the Panthers offense this season. Cam Newton is having a monster year and is definitely an MVP candidate. The fifth year quarterback has really come into his own and is showing why he was worth being selected first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
So far this season Newton is completing 59.1 percent of his passes and he’s already thrown for 3,062 yards and a whopping 28 touchdowns for a 96.9 passer rating.
The thing about Newton is that he’s just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arms. He’s run for 480 yards and seven touchdowns this season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
RUNNING BACK / FULLBACK
As indicated in the passing stats, the Dolphins did the majority of their damage on the ground. The three-headed monster of fullback Larry Csonka and running backs Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick ‘carried’ the Fins all the way to the Super Bowl. Both Csonka and Morris reached the 1,000 yard plateau and the three combined to score 23 rushing touchdowns.
Csonka ran for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 5.24 yards per carry. Morris had 23 fewer rushes than Csonka but still picked up exactly 1,000 yards and scored a team high 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.26 yards per carry.
Kiick, who had been Miami’s primary running back until the ’72 season, worked in mostly a 3rd down role due to his strong ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He still ran for 521 yards and five touchdowns but added 21 receptions (second on the team behind only Hall of Famer Paul Warfield’s 29 catches) for 147 yards and a receiving touchdown.
When talking all-purpose yards, Csonka finished with 1,165, Morris with 1,168 and Kiick with 668. Keep in mind that this was all in a 14 game regular season.
For Carolina, the free-agent departure of DeAngelo Williams meant the starting running back job went to Jonathan Stewart. Since being drafted 13th overall in 2008, Stewart has spent his entire career in Carolina but had always played in Williams’ shadow. During the seven years the pair shared the Panthers backfield, Williams started 80 games while Stewart started just 28.
With the backfield all to himself for the first time in his career, Stewart is having a solid season for Carolina. Through 13 games he’s ran for 989 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Stewart has also helped in the passing game, catching 16 passes for 99 receiving yards and a touchdown.
While the ’72 Dolphins were primarily a running team, they were very efficient when passing the football. Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield led the team in receptions and receiving yards but of the eight Miami players with at least 11 caches, 10 of them averaged more than 11 yards per reception.
Warfield finished the regular season with 29 receptions for 606 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an impressive 20.9 yards per catch. Fellow receivers Howard Twilley and Marlin Briscoe combined to make 36 receptions but averaged 18.2 and 17.4 yards per catch, respectively.
For Carolina, their leading pass catcher is tight end Greg Olsen who has accumulated 65 receptions for 969 yards, good for a 14.9 yards per catch average and six touchdowns. Next on the list is former Dolphins first round pick Ted Ginn Jr. who has 37 catches for 645 yards and eight touchdowns, with a nice 17.4 yards per reception average.
Miami finished its 14 game regular season with a total of 144 receptions for 2,235 yards and 17 touchdowns, with a 15.5 yards per catch average. Compare that to Carolina, who through 13 games already have 327 receptions for 3,098 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging 13.1 yards per catch.
At times during the 1972 season the Dolphins required a clutch kick from Garo Yepremian. He had something of an up-and-down season but was there when Miami really needed a field goal. Yepremian scored a total of 115 points during the perfect season, doing the majority of his damage from inside 40 yards. On kicks 39 yards or shorter, Yepremian converted 17 of 18 while making 43 of his 45 extra point attempts.
As for kicks 40 yards or longer he made just seven of 19, though he did hit a season-long 54 yarder. But when thinking about the Dolphins perfect season and Yepremian, only one play comes to mind and it took place during Super Bowl VII.
Late in the 4th quarter Miami was facing a fourth and four on the Redskins 34 yard line. Instead of going for it, Shula instead opted to send Yepremian on the field to attempt a 42 yard field goal despite his struggles from that distance during the season.
The idea in Shula’s head was how cool it would be to win the Super Bowl by a score of 17-0 to complete the team’s perfect 17-0 record. Yepremian had struggled with low kicks during the game and once again, his attempt would be too low and it was subsequently blocked. The ball bounced toward Yepremian and he picked it up with the idea of throwing a pass to Csonka, who blocked on field goal attempts.
Unfortunately for Garo and the Dolphins, the ball slipped out of the kickers hand as he tried to throw it and went straight up in the air, after which Yepremian tried batting it out of bounds but only succeeded in popping it back up in the air.
By then several Redskins were right in his face and cornerback Mike Bass caught the ball and returned it for a 49-yard touchdown. For all the successes of his NFL career, Yepremian will always be remembered for a play that has gone down in football history as ‘Garo’s Gaffe’.
Carolina’s kicker is Graham Gano and we can only hope that his season doesn’t end in a similar fashion. So far this year Gano is having the second-best statistical season of his career, converting 83.9 percent of his field goals (26 of 31).
Similar to Yepremian, Gano has been automatic from inside 40 yards hitting all 14 of his field goals in that range. On kicks between 40 and 49 yards he’s still pretty solid, hitting 10 of 13, and on attempts that are from 50+ Gano has hit two of four.
As for extra points, which this season have been moved back to 33 yards from the previous distance of 20 yards, Gano has hit 45 of 48. He’s scored a total of 123 points so far this season, which is already a career high.
Be sure to check out our FinsOn4 Live Dolphins Blog where we will be posting season-long coverage, updates, photos, video, commentary and more throughout the entire 2015 season.
Watch Miami take on the San Diego Chargers this Sunday at 4:25 p.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station!
Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)