A year ago it was The Game No One Should Have Lost, a gut-wrenching thriller in which the Miami Dolphins overcame a 24-0 first-quarter deficit only to lose 41-38 in overtime to the San Diego Chargers. Obviously, Sunday's rematch—in the same Orange Bowl for the same stakes, the right to play for the AFC Championship—demanded a title, too.
The Chargers arrived in Miami with the NFL's most prolific offense, led by Dan Fouts, the league's best quarterback (ever?) in the opinion of a growing number of pro football people. In Wes Chandler, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner, Fouts had a trio of crown-jewel receivers who had helped him average a league-record 321 yards per game passing this season. For their part, the Dolphins had the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL. They were also tops in the league in stopping the pass (114.1 yards a game) and in interceptions (2.1). Last season Miami ranked 15th in total defense and 19th against the pass.
In its pregame buildup, the local press took to calling the matchup Miami-San Diego II. But that was just a working title. Hereinafter, the game shall be known as The Revenge of the Killer Bees. The current edition of Miami's no-name defense has become known as the Killer Bees because of a prevalence of Bs among its members. By swarming all over Fouts & Co. they took the sting right out of the San Diego offense. Remember, now: Bokamper, Baumhower and Betters (Kim, Bob and Doug, respectively) across the front; Brudzinski (Bob) at left outside linebacker; and the Blackwoods (Lyle and Glenn), two of the baddest brothers since Frank and Jesse James, at the safeties.
This isn't to take anything away from the non-B Bees, Linebackers A.J. Duhe, Earnie Rhone and Larry Gordon, who stunted and blitzed all afternoon and fulfilled Duhe's pregame promise to "find a way to stay in Fouts's face"; or from cornerbacks Gerald Small and Don McNeal. They were most responsible for limiting Chandler to two receptions and Winslow and Joiner to one apiece.
Not that the offense didn't help. In fact, it was 24-year-old David Woodley—remember how he was ignominiously benched by Coach Don Shula at the 0-24 point in last season's game?—who guided the Dolphins to a 24-0 lead this time before the Chargers had run a dozen plays. That Woodley was the best quarterback on the field, connecting on 17 of 22 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, came as no surprise either to him or Shula. In his two previous games he had completed 30 of 41 passes for 485 yards. "I know the kind of talent he has, believe me," said Shula.
But the Dolphin defense made Woodley's day against San Diego possible, executing Assistant Head Coach Bill Arnsparger's defensive game plan to deal with Fouts almost to perfection: make a good pass rush; jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage; disguise the coverages; get Fouts to force the football into places it didn't belong. Because teams have come to believe that the only sure way of beating the Chargers is to score a heap of points—San Diego averaged 32 a game this season—the Chargers naturally came to believe that themselves. "How would I stop the Charger offense?" said Fouts before the game. "Number one, I'd stop the quarterback."
The Dolphins did. Not since last January's Ice Bowl loss to Cincinnati in the AFC championship game had Fouts completed fewer passes (15 of 34) or thrown for fewer yards (191). Moreover, the five interceptions he served the Bees—two to Glenn Blackwood, one each to Lyle Blackwood, Small and McNeal—equaled his worst performances ever in that department. "I read newspaper stories out of San Diego that the Chargers didn't respect us too much," said Bokamper. "They thought we were a fluke or something. Today we went out and showed the country what kind of defense we are when it comes to the real serious situations."
Said Fouts, once his long day was over, " Miami didn't give us anything. Its defense is the best we've seen."
Fouts didn't see much of the Miami defense in the early going, as the Dolphins scored 24 unanswered points in the opening 23 minutes. During that span he was on the field for all of 5:07. On his first pass attempt, Bokamper sacked him. Standing over him, Bokamper let loose with an animated and obscene greeting. "Just to let him know," said Bokamper, "that I intended to be back there all day." Two plays later Fouts tried to hit Joiner, who was double-covered, and Small made Miami's first interception, returning the ball from the San Diego 42 to the 26. After four running plays, the Dolphins scored on a three-yard pass from Woodley to Nat Moore.
If Miami proved on Sunday that its defense was no statistical mirage, the Chargers confirmed that theirs wasn't either. It ranked 25th in the league, and deservedly so. On the Dolphins' second drive, Miami's offensive line—Bob Kuechenberg, Dwight Stephenson, Jeff Toews, Eric Laakso and Jon Giesler—dominated the Louie Kelchers and the Gary (Big Hands) Johnsons, allowing Tony Nathan and Andra Franklin to slice through for big gains. Franklin put the Dolphins up 14-0 when he dragged Cliff Thrift and Woodrow Lowe across the goal line on a three-yard run.