Skip to main content

Don Shula & the 1973 Miami Dolphins

"A Football Life: Don Shula." Maybe it should be an Underrated Life: Don Shula. The architect behind the NFL's only undefeated team - the '72 Miami Dolphins - of the modern era never seems to get mentioned as the greatest coach of the modern era. The documentary dives right in to that, simply by virtue of laying out his myriad of accomplishments at the onset.

But in an ironic twist, the film does not go into much detail regarding Shula's best team which, like its coach, has been underappreciated by the football world: the 1973Miami Dolphins.

They went 12-2. They won the Super Bowl. And you never hear a peep about 'em. Instead you get tales of the '72 team, and their unblemished record. And if not them, Shula's record-breaking '84 group, led by a white guy with an afro, (and uber productive) Dan Marino, gets people all charged up.

That's some serious bullfish right there.

Shula's '73 outfit didn't just win the Super Bowl. That group freaking dominated the hapless Minnesota Vikings, 24-7. Except it felt like 44-7. While the '72 team went 14-0, they didn't beat a team that finished with a winning record all year. The '73 team, meanwhile, played six winning teams, beat the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in successive weeks - both of whom finished 10-4 - among five wins versus teams that finished on the plus side of .500. They also allowed 150 points all year.

In the playoffs they simply dominated. Whereas the undefeated '72 team gets all the pub for their run, they only outscored their playoff opponents by a 55-38 margin. The '73 team jacked their opponents, 85-33. That's an average score of 28-11. Come on. Even Shula thought the '73 team was better. "There's no question about it.  We're a better footbal lteam then we were at this time a year ago," Shula said in the locker room after the game.  "I think we went beyond last year even though we were 17-0."

Despite Shula's personal opinion the more famous undefeated team finished first on NFL Network's "America's Game" Series that ranked the top 20 Super Bowl winning teams of all-time. The 1973 group? Hash marks: Not ranked.

So in an effort to see just how good Shula's fourth team in Miami was, I decided to watch four quarters of the '73 AFC Championship. Secondly, I got Nat Moore on the phone...a guy who had the unique perspective of joining the Dolphins in 1974 after they beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl, and was a principal on Shula's '84 Super Bowl team.

The game was a joke. In a contest legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy deemed "the Real Super Bowl" in his opening monologue, the Dolphins trampled the Oakland Raiders like they weren't even there.

Here are some fun facts:

The Raiders knew what was coming in the second half - the run game - and couldn't stop it. The Dolphins steamrolled them to a clip of five yards, leaving back Larry Csonka skid marks up and down Al Davis' track suit.

Watching the game was like watching a well-oiled machine...22 dudes who knew their scheme responsibilities better than you know the bands in your iPod. That attention to detail is one of the first things Moore noticed after getting drafted by Shula following that 1973 season.

"For a young rookie who walked in who thought he was a superstar it was eye-opening," says Moore. "This team didn't make mistakes...they were very knowledgeable of what their assignments were."

That attention to detail came straight from the coach, something we saw in "A Football Life" documentary when Shula had his team practicing on the roof of a parking garage. And no one guy was bigger than the team.

"You have to realize when you're a rookie you're not a star. You were a star. You get treated as though you are nobody," Moore explains. "But (the veterans) all felt like it was their duty - and maybe this is something Coach Shula had instilled them - that whoever the guy was behind you, you need to get him ready to play. When you got guys helping you that know you could take their job...that's amazing."

Amazing is exactly what the 1984 Dolphins were. Despite not winning the Super Bowl, they are probably the second most popular outfit in franchise history considering the myriad of records Marino set, starting with an astonishing 5,084 passing yards. That record didn't fall until New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees bested it in 2012.

The '84 team went 14-2, advancing to the Super Bowl behind Marino's 421-yard effort versus the Steelers in the AFC Championship.

Moore caught a touchdown in that game. But even he feels that highlight reel group led by the future a Hall of Fame quarterback, Mark Duper, and Mark Clayton shouldn't be compared to the '73 team.

Says Moore: "When you look at history, you're talking about a team that has the greatest winning percentage for any four-year period in the history of the NFL; 1970 to 1973. And it's about that group of guys that played on those teams. There's no question about which team (was better)."

There's no question that Shula doesn't get the credit he deserves, despite owning the all-time record for most wins as a Head Coach.

After watching the demolition of the Raiders in the AFC Championship game, and a second half that was all about you know what we're doing and you can't stop us, you can see where the Dolphins players personified their coach's hard nosed approach. There just wasn't a lot of dancing, smoke and mirrors, or finesse with Shula's greatest team.

"What do you mean we don't have finesse, " Shula would almost cackle after the game. "It takes finesse to move a team as good as the Raiders out of the way."

You bet it does. And did. Maybe it's that lack of finesse -- like throwing 50 passes per game behind Dan Marino -- or lack of a calling card (going undefeated), that push the 1973 Dolphins almost as far back in NFL folklore as their offensive line drove the Oakland front four deep into oblivion.

Either way, working together and winning games in nuts and bolts fashion never gets old. Nor does celebrating the legendary Head Coach who ensured it happened a record 347 times.

"A Football Life: Don Shula" premieres Tuesday, September 10th at 9PM on NFL Network.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.