Ex-Miami Dolphins NT Chuck Klingbeil, hero of Shula’s 300th win, dead at 52

Dolphins nose tackle Chuck Klingbeil celebrates during the 1991 victory over Green Bay in which he scored an unlikely touchdown to help give Don Shula his 300th victory. (Jim Spoonts /Allsport)

The name Chuck Klingbeil might not mean much to younger fans today, but the former nose tackle has a secure place in Dolphins lore for an improbable starring role in Don Shula’s 300th career victory, in 1991.

Klingbeil, who spent his entire five-year NFL career with the Dolphins ending in 1995, has died of unknown causes. He was 52.

Longtime fans will recall Klingbeil as the hero of a 16-13 victory over Green Bay on Sept. 22, 1991, when he fell on a fumble by quarterback Don Majkowski in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that eventually gave the Dolphins license to give Shula his first (and only?) Gatorade bath in celebration of his milestone.

“What were the odds of all that, of me scoring? A million to one?” Klingbeil asked after the game, although he evidently thought his odds were no worse than even. Before the game, for no apparent reason, he told fellow nose tackle Brian Sochia he was going to score a touchdown.

“I was just joking around,” Klingbeil said. “But I did say it. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

Long before anyone heard of Cameron Wake, Klingbeil was a star plucked by the Dolphins out of the Canadian Football League. The season prior, he helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup by earning MVP honors in the championship game.

Klingbeil went on to start 65 of the 78 games he played for Miami, making 242 tackles and recording 7.5 sacks.

Injuries pressed him into duty against the Packers on an afternoon so hot and humid that the weather helped gift the Dolphins a win.

The strange sequence was set up by a 54-yard punt by Reggie Roby that went out of bounds on the Green Bay 2. With no one near him, Majkowski cocked his arm back to pass.

“But the ball didn’t go back with him,” Klingbeil said. “It stayed right where it started. When his hand moved, the ball just hit the ground, like a great big Christmas present.”

Majkowski was so sweaty, “The ball just slipped out of my hand,” he said.

Klingbeil cradled it like a baby as officials’ arms shot straight upward. Scared he’d be penalized, Klingbeil didn’t dare spike the ball.

The play kick-started the sluggish Dolphins and Dan Marino, who had heard boos earlier. A 40-yard pass from Marino to Mark Duper set up the winning 31-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.

Although Klingbeil’s time in Miami eventually ended because of a shoulder injury, he remained a powerlifter who could squat 700 pounds. His hopes of a comeback ended when he was rushed to the ER one night and diagnosed with a hole torn in his esophagus. He became an assistant coach at Michigan Tech.

Even on the day of his career highlight, Klingbeil could sense he’d accomplished something with a lasting impact.

“Being Coach Shula’s 300th win, that makes it even sweeter,” Klingbeil said. “It’s exciting to be a part of history.”

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