Armando Salguero

Fins at 50: Miami Dolphins’ 50 greatest moments

Coach Don Shula celebrates surpassing the all-time win mark of 324 set by George Halas with his 325th victory on Nov. 14, 1993, in Philadelphia.
Coach Don Shula celebrates surpassing the all-time win mark of 324 set by George Halas with his 325th victory on Nov. 14, 1993, in Philadelphia. AP file

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Not making the cut: Those moments considered for the Top 50 but just missed include Kim Bokamper’s potential interception for a touchdown knocked out of his hands by Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in Super Bowl 17; Dan Marino completes 21 of 32 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game against his childhood team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 1984; the San Francisco 49ers cruise past the Dolphins 38-16 in Super Bowl 19, the Dolphins’ last Super Bowl appearance.

50. Dave Wannstedt? Jimmy Johnson promised a Super Bowl win after succeeding Don Shula. He didn’t deliver. But on January 16, 2000, despite falling short of his goal — and after deciding he didn’t want to coach anymore — Johnson strongly, very strongly, recommends owner Wayne Huizenga hire good friend Dave Wannstedt as the new coach. Wannstedt failed as Chicago’s head coach, but it doesn’t matter. Huizenga agrees, allowing Johnson to name his successor when Don Shula got no such privilege. The decision has repercussions through the 2004 season.

49. Zach’s front flip: Season opener 2001. Dolphins at Tennessee Titans. QB Neil O’Donnell throws a pass he shouldn’t have. Zach Thomas snatches it and heads toward the end zone, except just as he crosses the goal line, he does an Olympic-style front flip that lives forever in photos and on Youtube.

48. Who is Tim Tindale?: The 1995 Dolphins back into the playoffs and then are rushed out by a Buffalo Bills team that ran for 341 yards. Thurman Thomas personifies the day when he knocks Dolphins defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti down along the sideline after he was pushed out of bounds. The stampede is so complete a fullback named Tim Tindale rushes for 68 yards on four carries. Oh, and the 37-22 loss is Don Shula’s final game.

47. The Dolphins wore blue: If the national television audience on Monday night, December 9, 2002, isn’t concentrating on the Dolphins’ all aqua (looks more blue than aqua) uniform, it certainly must notice Ricky Williams. He carries the ball 31 times against the Chicago Bears for 216 yards and scores two touchdowns in a thorough 27-9 win.

46. Morrall to the rescue: When Bob Griese breaks his leg on October, 15, 1972, the Dolphins aren’t thinking about running the table en route to a perfect season. But as Griese lay on the old Orange Bowl polyturf, Earl Morrall enters the game and the Dolphins become his team. Morrall guides Miami to nine consecutive regular-season wins and a playoff win against Cleveland before Griese returns in the second half of AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh.

45. “Where are we?” The Dolphins visit the Seahawks in September of 1992, a time before the NFL’s concussion protocol. Seattle’s Rufus Porter knocks Dan Marino senseless in the middle of a potential fourth-quarter drive. Backup Scott Mitchell gets five warmup throws and replaces Marino. His first play? A third-and-10 completion to Tony Martin on a flanker screen. First down and out comes Mitchell. Marino, who has a concussion, then throws a 15-yard TD to Fred Banks to complete an 80-yard drive and win the game. “Where are we? Who won? I did what? You mean we scored? Yes!,” Marino tells teammates afterward.

44. Marino’s Achilles heel: Perhaps the best quarterback of his time is also the most durable quarterback of his time, starting 145 consecutive nonstrike games from late in 1983 to 1993. But that changes on October, 10, 1993, when Dan Marino suddenly collapses to the turf at Cleveland without being hit. He tore his right Achilles. The injury takes a toll on the Dolphins that year but also costs Marino valuable mobility later in his career.

43. Fourth-quarter comeback: On January 5, 1991, the Kansas City Chiefs dominate the Dolphins for three quarters in a first-round playoff game. They lead 16-3 and seem on their way to their third victory over Miami in two seasons. Then Dan Marino connects on 10 consecutive passes, including all eight of his fourth-quarter attempts. And that includes touchdowns to Tony Paige and Mark Clayton — the second of which gives the Dolphins a 17-16 win.

42. A bolt of lightning: On the morning of January 10, 1993, the Dolphins and San Diego Chargers seem evenly matched before their divisional playoff game. They are not. Troy Vincent intercepts two passes to lead a defense that has four picks. Dan Marino throws three touchdown passes, two of them to tight end Keith Jackson. And the 31-0 whipping remains the largest margin of victory for the Dolphins in a playoff game.

41. Jan. 1, 2012: Following a 19-17 victory over the New York Jets, Jason Taylor is carried off the field by teammates celebrating his final NFL game. Taylor plays 16 seasons — 14 of those with the Dolphins. He retires as the Dolphins’ all-time sack leader.

40. Dolphins it is: Mrs. Robert Swanson is one of 622 entrants to the pick-a-nickname contest to submit “Dolphins” as the nickname for Miami’s fledgling AFL franchise. 19,843 entries offered more than 1,000 nicknames and Swanson, of West Miami, won two lifetime passes by winning a tiebreaker — picking the winner and score of the 1965 game between Notre Dame and the University of Miami. That game ended in a scoreless tie.

39. Strock comeback falls short: The San Diego Chargers visit the Orange Bowl in January 1982 and take a first-quarter 24-0 lead. Don Shula benches David Woodley and summons Don Strock, who authors a comeback that has the Dolphins leading 38-31 before they finally succumb in overtime. Oh, yes, San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow is tired after the game.

38. Nov. 26, 1995: Dan Marino throws a 6-yard TD pass to fullback Keith Byars, his 343rd career TD pass, breaking Fran Tarkenton’s NFL record for most career TD passes.

37. Nothing to play for? The ’84 Dolphins have clinched their division and a playoff berth before their season finale while the Dallas Cowboys need that Monday Night Football win to make the playoffs. But Dan Marino and Mark Clayton connect on TD passes of 41, 39 and 63 yards (that last one with only 51 seconds left) for the 28-21 victory. That last TD is Marino’s record 48th of the season. Clayton’s TD is his 18th of the season. Both are NFL records at the time.

36. Sept. 23, 2001: In the NFL’s first weekend of action following the 9/11 terrorist strikes, quarterback Jay Fiedler sneaks in for a TD in the final moments and gives the Dolphins an 18-15 victory over Oakland. Fiedler’s sneak and the fist-pumping celebration afterward makes the cover of Sports Illustrated.

35. Wildcat idea: On the plane ride home following a devastating 31-10 loss to Arizona to start the 2008 season with an 0-2 record, coach Tony Sparano asks his coaching staff to come up with ideas for turning the season around. Quarterback coach David Lee suggests installing the Wildcat package — a latter-day version of the Winged-T and a forerunner for today’s spread-option offenses. The Dolphins install it and ride it to the playoffs.

34. Dick Anderson was Ed Reed before Ed Reed was born: On December 3, 1973, Anderson intercepts two passes and returns them for touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That ties an NFL record. And if that isn’t enough, he intercepts two more passes to give him four in one game, tying the NFL record for most interceptions in one game.

33. “I hate Buffalo:” I ask linebacker Bryan Cox if he means he hates playing in Buffalo? “No, I hate the city of Buffalo. I hate the team. I hate the people. I hate Buffalo.” And later that week of September 1993, he signals that hate to the fans at Orchard Park with a twin middle finger salute. The Dolphins win the game 22-13. The NFL fines Cox for his actions. He sues the league for forcing him to perform in a hostile work environment — Buffalo.

32. Nat Moore takes flight: The 1984 helicopter catch begins routinely enough with Nat Moore catching a pass with both his feet on the turf, but he leaps to try to gain more yardage inside the 10-yard line and two Jets defenders hit him simultaneously from opposite angles, spinning him in the air like helicopter rotors. Moore holds onto the football anyway.

31. Manny could have been MVP: Manny Fernandez couldn’t play defensive tackle in today’s NFL, but on January 14, 1973, he plays like an entire defensive line in Super Bowl 7. He records 17 tackles and is a primary reason the Washington Redskins are shut out on offense.

30. Ricky retires: Days before training camp 2004, Miami’s best offensive player Ricky Williams decides to retire so he can see the world and find himself. At one point, the running back lives in a tent in Australia. Teammates seethe when they later find out Williams failed a drug test prior to the “retirement” and would have been suspended.

29. Cardinals for Thanksgiving: Bob Griese, by this time wearing glasses, throws six TD passes to give the Dolphins a 55-14 victory at St. Louis in a nationally televised 1977 Thanksgiving afternoon game. After the game, several players push a reporter who has picked them to lose the game into the showers.

28. Super Bowl 17: It is a Super Bowl of memorable moments. Jimmy Cefalo catches a 76-yard TD pass on the first drive to give Miami the lead. Fulton Walker takes a second-quarter kickoff and returns it 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 17-10 advantage. And, yes, that 43-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play by John Riggins with 4:59 to play still causes nightmares

27. Snowplow game 1982: Convicted burglar Mark Henderson, on work release parole, clears a patch of snow-covered turf upon the orders of New England Patriots coaches and players so Patriots kicker John Smith can connect on a late 33-yard field goal and win a 3-0 contest. The following spring the NFL bans snow plows from clearing patches for field goals or any other plays. The John Deere plow hangs in the Hall at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

26. AFC East champs: In the 2008 season finale, the Dolphins defeat the New York Jets at the Meadowlands to give them the division crown and send them to the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season. Chad Pennington throws two touchdown passes, and the Miami defense intercepts Brett Favre three times that day. The Dolphins, 1-15 the year before, finish the regular season with an 11-5 record.

25. The end of a dynasty: On March 31, 1974, fullback Larry Csonka, running back Jim Kiick and wide receiver Paul Warfield sign a $3.3 million package deal to play for the World Football League in 1975. The three remain with the Dolphins for the 1974 season, but something is lost in that transaction. Things are never the same again.

24. 62-7: It was the worst defeat in club history on that January 15 afternoon in 2000. It was also a milestone game because it pushed then-coach Jimmy Johnson into retirement and had the Dolphins push quarterback Dan Marino into retirement three months later. Jay Fiedler throws two TD passes in relief for the Jaguars that day — a performance that helps convince the Dolphins he should be their next starting quarterback.

23: Marino’s last game-winning drive: It was the Dolphins’ first road playoff win since 1972 and it was the last game played in Seattle’s Kingdome. Dan Marino completes a 23-yard pass on third-and-17 from his own 8-yard line and a 24-yard pass on third-and-10 from the Seattle 29. (Yeah, those clutch moments used to happen with this team). The Dolphins take the 20-17 lead with four minutes to play on a 2-yard run from J.J. Johnson. The defense allows a mere 32 yards in the second half.

22. Lamar Smith time: On Dec. 30, 2000, Smith carries the football 40 times for 209 yards, including the winning TD in overtime, to give the Dolphins a playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. It is the last time the Dolphins have won a playoff game.

21. The longest game: On Christmas Day 1971, the Dolphins and Chiefs play 82 minutes and 40 seconds until Garo Yepremian connects on a 37-yard field goal to deliver a 27-24 double overtime victory. This victory over a traditional powerhouse vaults the Dolphins to national prominence.

20. The Orange Bowl’s closed end: The Dolphins and Eagles are each fighting for a division title and playoff spot on November 30, 1981, when 67,797 show up at the Orange Bowl. For Philly QB Ron Jaworski it might seem every Miami fan is in the closed end of the old OB because late in the game he drives the Eagles toward what might be been a clinching TD. But within yards of the end zone at the closed end, the crowd roars, making it impossible for Jaworski and his team to hear at the line of scrimmage. Twice he steps away from the line of scrimmage, complaining to officials. A third time he wants to step away but is ordered to run a play. Jaworski sails a key pass incomplete. The Dolphins would get a late FG from Uwe von Schamann to win 13-10. The Monday Night Football game garners a 25.3 rating and 40 share — at the time the second highest-rated game in MNF history.

19. Thanksgiving Day fumble: Jeff Dellenbach recovers a loose football which Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett unwisely touched following a blocked Pete Stoyanovich field-goal attempt in 1993. Given a reprieve, Stoyanovich connects on the ensuing try as the Dolphins beat the Cowboys 16-14 in Dallas to improve their record to an NFL best 9-2.

18. Sea of Hands game: It is a time of long hair, bell bottoms and wild printed shirts. And it is a time for the Dolphins’ run of Super Bowls to end. On Dec. 21, 1974, the Raiders and Dolphins exchange leads three times in the final five minutes. The final score came when Ken Stabler, Dolphins defenders draped over him, floats an 8-yard TD pass over a sea of Dolphins defenders’ hands and into the clutches of Clarence Davis with 26 seconds to play. Raiders win 28-26. Stunning. Unforgettable.

17. The kicker tries to pass: The Dolphins seem ready to seal a Super Bowl 7 win and perfect season but a field-goal attempt to make the score an insurmountable 17-0 goes wrong. The ball somehow ends up in kicker Garo Yepremian’s hands. He tries to pass it. It bounds up in the air and Washington’s Mike Bass returns the “fumble” 49 yards for a touchdown.

16. Wildcat upset Sept. 21, 2008: Ronnie Brown rushes for four TDs and passes for a fifth as the Dolphins surprise the New England Patriots by unveiling their Wildcat offense in Foxborough. Days before, Brown had been the only player to raise his hand when coaches asked running backs who would like to trigger the offense. The package catches Bill Belichick and the defending AFC champions by complete surprise. Miami wins 38-13.

15. Super Bowl 6: The Dallas Cowboys rush for 252 yards and blow out the Dolphins 24-3 to become the world champions, but that bitter loss is the constant motivation and reminder Don Shula uses throughout the following season to push his team toward its first Super Bowl win and a Perfect Season.

14. 1972 AFC Championship Game: Despite being undefeated, the Dolphins are the visitors at Pittsburgh. Punter Larry Seiple, deciding on his own, runs 37 yards out of punt formation to key a touchdown drive. Earl Morrall starts the game but is replaced in the second half by Bob Griese, who plays for the first time in 10 games following a broken leg. Griese completes only three of five passes but one was a 52-yard connection to Paul Warfield.

13. We have a team! On Aug. 16, 1965, the American Football League awards its first expansion franchise to Joseph Robbie and TV actor Danny Thomas for $7.5 million with the express understanding that team plays in Miami.

12. Marino returns: After missing most of the 1993 season because of the Achilles injury, Dan Marino struggles during the preseason but in the season opener against the Bill Parcells-coached New England Patriots, he throws for 473 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Dolphins to victory. His last TD, a 35-yarder to Irving Fryar, comes on fourth-and-5 with 3:19 to play.

11. We win! On December 16, 2007, wide receiver Greg Camarillo scores on a 64-yard catch and run in overtime versus Baltimore to mark the only win of the season for the Dolphins. That play prevents a winless season.

10. What a way to start a fledgling season: Joe Auer takes the first opening kickoff in Miami Dolphins franchise history and returns it 95 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins lose the game to Oakland 23-14.

9. Fake Spike 1994: Mounting a last-second drive, Dan Marino signals an intentional spike to stop the clock in the final moments against the New York Jets. But the signal is actually Miami’s “Clock Play.” Ball is snapped, Jets believe the Dolphins are spiking it and are just watching rather than attacking, Marino throws a TD pass to Mark Ingram for the winning points in a 28-24 victory. The fact it came against the Jets? Sweeter.

8. Mud bowl: A.J. Duhe intercepts three passes, returning one for a touchdown in the wake of a torrential rain storm that literally turned the Orange Bowl field to mud. The AFC Championship game victory against the Jets sends the Dolphins to Super Bowl 17. By the way, the people in New England accuse Don Shula of cheating by watering down the field. Ironic, right?

7. Hook and lateral: With time running out in the first half of a 1982 playoff game against San Diego, Duriel Harris catches a 15-yard pass from Don Strock and then laterals to running back Tony Nathan, who runs 25 yards for a TD. The play helps erase a 24-0 San Diego first-quarter lead. The teams eventually go to overtime and San Diego wins 41-38. That’s right, it is lateral, not ladder, as Don Shula points out many times.

6. The winningest coach ever: On November, 14, 1993, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia the Dolphins squeeze out a 19-14 victory after backup Scott Mitchell is injured and third-stringer Doug Pederson guides the Dolphins to a pair of field goals. No biggie? Well, it was Don Shula’s 325th career victory, surpassing the all-time win mark of 324 set by George Halas.

5. Super Bowl 8: Don Shula once said his 1973-74 Dolphins were better than the team that was undefeated. They prove they are certainly better than anyone else they played, culminating a 15-2 season with a thorough beating of the Minnesota Vikings in which Miami passes only seven times, completing six of those. Larry Csonka rushes for a then-Super Bowl record 145 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins build a 24-0 lead before the Vikings finally score in the fourth quarter while no one is paying attention anymore.

4. The 1983 NFL Draft: Well, um, the first round is amazing because a certain Pitt quarterback is still there when the Dolphins pick at No. 27 overall. Dan Marino becomes the best player in franchise history, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and the reason some fans root for this team to this day. But that draft also yields punter Reggie Roby in the sixth round. And receiver Mark Clayton in the eighth round. And Michigan standout and USFL star Anthony Carter in the 12th round — which would have been a great get if only Miami had not later traded away his rights.

3. Don Shula hired: On Feb. 18, 1970, 40-year-old Don Shula, having fallen out of favor with Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, is hired as head coach and vice president of the Miami Dolphins. Three months later, the NFL awards Miami’s 1971 first-round pick to the Colts in exchange for losing Shula. That is a trade the Dolphins win.

2. Beating the unbeatable Bears: It is Monday Night, Dec. 2, 1985, and Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears (12-0) are rampaging through their schedule with an awesome defense and Walter Payton on offense. The Dolphins, using roll outs and quick passing and mismatches with Nat Moore, roll to a 31-10 halftime lead as Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan to get into a halftime argument. “It was the best half of offensive football I’ve ever been associated with,” Shula would say. The Dolphins hold on for a 38-24 victory. The electric home win secures Miami’s place as the only undefeated NFL team ever because Chicago doesn’t lose again all season.

1. The culmination to the Perfect Season: Don Shula has lost both his previous Super Bowl games and knows if the Dolphins lose Super Bowl 7 both he and his team will be labeled choke artists. No worries. The Miami defense dominates the Washington Redskins, yielding no scores and securing an MVP award for safety Jake Scott. Shula rides off afterward on his players’ shoulders.

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