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For the Miami Dolphins, the 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday may well have been the most significant in their brief history. Not that beating the Steelers was so much of an achievement—although they came to Miami as co-leaders of their division, their record was only 4-4—it was the way Miami went about disassembling them. As a happy Don Shula said after the game, "This was the only really meaningful test we hadn't passed before. It is the first time we have been well behind in a big game and come back to win it. This team today showed poise and confidence and maturity."
The Dolphins needed all those qualities plus a measure of luck to win. But the biggest factor in their victory was a pair of training-camp roommates, Quarterback Bob Griese and Wide Receiver Paul Warfield. Remarkably, there was doubt before the game that Griese would be able to play. On Saturday afternoon a stomach attack had hospitalized him and he was still so weak at game time that Shula started George Mira.
The unfortunate Mira, who had played very little this season, got almost nowhere against the aggressive Steeler defense while Terry Bradshaw was making the Steeler offense sit up and sing. Miami managed a Garo Yepremian field goal, but Bradshaw marched the Steelers 80 yards for one touchdown and threw a 28-yard pass to Ron Shanklin for another. Then, just as the quarter ended, Griese came in to a roar from the crowd.
He promptly fumbled the snap. The ball was recovered by Pittsburgh at its 49. Five plays later Bradshaw passed to Dave Smith for another touchdown and Miami was behind 21-3. But the Dolphins were not about to fold.
"Griese gave the club a big lift when he went in again," Shula said. It was evident at once. Griese completed a 41-yard pass to Howard Twilley, his other wide receiver, for one big gain, then hit Warfield from the Steeler 12-yard line for a touchdown. Warfield faked toward the sideline, cut back sharply between two defenders and took a perfectly thrown pass to score.
The success of the offense animated the defense, so that the Steelers, who had been moving on Bradshaw's sharp, accurate passes, began to stall. Late in the quarter the Griese-Warfield magic worked in earnest.
From his 14, Griese dropped back to pass under a strong rush. He evaded a clump of tacklers descending on him from the right, gave ground, then moved up as if to run. Finally he stopped and fired a long pass to Warfield, who was well behind Mel Blount, the Steeler right cornerback. The play covered 86 yards for the second Miami touchdown.
"During training camp Bob and I discuss just about every situation that can come up," Warfield said later. "When I looked back and saw him scrambling I started to cut to my right in the direction he was running, then I saw him reverse his field and out of the corner of my eye I saw Blount move toward the line to stop a run, so I just turned down field and Bob was looking for the move."
The roommates provided the winning touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. With the ball on the Miami 40 and the wind at his back. Griese sent Warfield deep down the sideline. The Steeler cornerback, expecting more help than he got in covering Warfield, lost a step and Warfield was gone again, catching the ball on the 15 and trotting in.
The Steelers struggled valiantly for the rest of the quarter, but a series of key penalties and, finally, the slippery Poly-Turf, did them in. With just under two minutes to play, they forced the Dolphins to punt from their own 13. Jon Staggers signaled for a fair catch and came over to take the ball, but his feet shot out from under him, the ball caromed off him and the Dolphins took over on their 39. Some bull-like rushes by Larry Csonka used up enough time so that only 13 seconds were left when the Steelers got the ball again and had a hopeless, into-the-wind 52-yard field goal blocked as the game ended.