It was not always easy, and far less dramatic than it might have been, but the Miami Dolphins finally demonstrated rather conclusively that they are the biggest fish in the pro football pond. In the seventh Super Bowl they defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 before 81,706 sweltering and smog-beset fans in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This meant that the Dolphins went an entire season without a loss, 17 straight. No other NFL team has ever gone undefeated for a season, and no other club is likely to do it again soon, either. On the record, then, Miami is the best club in pro football history.
The Dolphins won the game with a nearly impeccable first half; with an extraordinarily accurate passer in Quarterback Bob Griese (see cover); with a rhino of a runner, Larry Csonka; and, above all, with a defense that may have been No Names, but was plenty of adjectives. Try tough, tight, dashing and daring for starters. The special stars were Tackle Manny Fernandez, who keyed the line; Middle Linebacker Nick Buoniconti, who intercepted one pass; and Free Safety Jake Scott, who intercepted two passes and was named the most valuable player in the game. As an extra fillip, the Dolphins produced the most valuable Redskin when a Garo Yepremian field-goal attempt turned into the most hilarious play yet seen in a Super Bowl and gave Washington its touchdown.
In fact, had it not been for Yepremian, the Dolphin defenders would have pitched a shutout at the Redskins. When Washington did score it came with only 2:07 left in the game. Yepremian, the tiny placekicker from Cyprus, was attempting a 42-yard field goal as a kind of icing on the Dolphin cake—when the kick was blocked. The ball bounced back toward him and Yepremian made the mistake of picking it up, apparently deciding that he was the designated pinch passer. The ball slipped from his hand as he drew back to throw and bobbled about his shoulders until he batted it into the air where Redskin Mike Bass snatched it and took off. Running almost unhampered, he went 49 yards for Washington's only score.
When the Redskins got the ball back, on their own 30 after a Dolphin punt, there were only 74 seconds left to try for a tying touchdown, and they could not advance so much as a yard. The end came, symbolically, with the Dolphin defense swarming over Quarterback Bill Kilmer. For its last fling, Washington did not even get off a desperation pass.
Yepremian's aberration was one of the few consequential Dolphin errors. The Redskins, on the other hand, proved adept at coming up with the big misplay every time they appeared in a position to enter the contest. And it took them quite some time to enter.
As it usually does, Washington opened with a conservative, probing offense featuring the running of Larry Brown. Only Brown never did run very far on Sunday. One of the plays is a drive in which Brown reads his tackle's block on the defensive end; another is a play in which Brown fakes the drive, then comes back, hopefully, against the flow of the defense. But for this second play to work, the first has to be effective.
Since the first play did not work, the second was not effective. And neither was Kilmer's passing. A sharpshooter in the first two playoff games, Kilmer was 14 for 28 against the Dolphins, but there were three interceptions and his longest pass gain all day was for 15 yards. "I wasn't throwing well," Kilmer admitted afterward. "I tried to force the ball a couple of times and it killed us."
Griese, on the other hand, was throwing very well, if infrequently. He completed eight of his 11 passes, including one of 28 yards to Howard Twilley for the first Dolphin touchdown. Twilley is one of only four players who came to the Dolphins in their first season and a broken jaw and a broken left elbow have cost him considerable playing time. But when Griese wanted to go to someone for a touchdown in the first quarter, he used the incomparable Paul Warfield as a decoy and Twilley as a primary target.
An 18-yard Griese-to-Warfield pass had played a big part in getting the Dolphins within range. It was third and four and the Redskins doubled up on Warfield. He was knocked down coming off the line of scrimmage and eliminated from the pass pattern. Twilley, on the other side, came off free. Pat Fischer was covering him. "I had to sell Pat on the pattern," Twilley said after the game. "We have had a lot of success on quick down-and-in routes and I figured Pat thought I would go that way. When I fake that and go out, I usually give the cornerback a little head fake, then break to the outside."
This time, instead of the head fake, he ran a quick three-step turn in on Fischer, and Pat bought it. Twilley cut back to the outside, and Griese's perfect pass hit him at about the five-yard line. Fischer cut over to intercept him, but Twilley fought his way into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.