Sunday, December 21, 2014

The End of Miami's Reign

In the early '70s, the team of the decade seemed to be the Miami Dolphins. Mostly, that was due to the Dolphins' perfect season in 1972. It seemed to set them up for a long stretch of success, one that might extend through the entire decade.

As great as the '72 team was, though, I always thought the '73 team was better because it had to defend the '72 team's legacy. The '73 team came into the season with a gigantic target painted squarely on each player's chest. For every team that played the Dolphins in '73, that was the game of the year.

The '73 team stood up to that challenge, going 12–2 and returning to the Super Bowl and winning. Thus, over that two–year span, Miami won 32 of 34 games.

So, when the 1974 season began, Miami was a two–time defending Super Bowl champion with a .941 winning percentage over the previous two seasons. The Dolphins started the season with a loss to New England, then won 11 of the next 13 games. It looked like the Dolphins might get the chance to win their third straight Super Bowl.

Standing in their way, though, were the Oakland Raiders, the same bunch who snapped their legendary winning streak in the second week of the season after the history–making 17–0 campaign. In the AFC semifinals on this date in 1974, the 11–3 Dolphins took the field against the 12–2 Raiders in Oakland.

It was widely assumed that, with the winner slated to face either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game the following week, the winner of this game would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. At halftime, it appeared it would be Miami. The Dolphins led, 10–7.

But the Raiders outscored the Dolphins, 21–16, in the second half and won on Clarence Davis' eight–yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders advanced to the AFC title game against the Steelers. Everyone thought the Raiders would win. The Steelers had never been to a Super Bowl before. Of course, the Raiders had only been to one at that time, but they had come close frequently. Their time had come. That was what the conventional wisdom said.

But times changed. The Raiders lost to the Steelers, and Terry Bradshaw went on to lead Pittsburgh to the first of four Super Bowl titles in six years.

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