Not even the greatest optimist can expect Tannehill to come anywhere close to the magic Marino pulled off in his return: 473 yards and five touchdown passes including a dramatic late score in a 39-35 escape against New England.
If you’re wondering how NFL quarterbacks typically respond from long layoffs, the answer is often, they look more like themselves than you might expect.
Before we start exploring examples from around the NFL, some important semi-obvious disclaimers:
No two injuries are alike, just as no quarterback is like Marino. Besides, while Marino was out for about 11 months, Tannehill will have to shake off far more rust. Assuming he suits up for the opener Sept. 9 against Tennessee, it will be his first meaningful action in 637 days — 1 3/4 calendar years.
Coach Adam Gase has maintained that he believes Tannehill is “ready to go,” and the company line is that the Dolphins expect Tannehill to look like Tannehill, which is a must because this team has no proven backup.
But if Tannehill is storming out of the gate, he wouldn’t even be the second Dolphins quarterback deserving of comeback player of the year consideration. Bob Griese rebounded from a broken ankle to win two Super Bowls, remember.
Speaking of Hall of Fame-caliber QBs, we’ll begin with Tom Brady, who tore his ACL and missed all but one game of the 2008 season. He immediately went to the Pro Bowl the next year, going 10-6 and winning the AFC East. His stats were very Brady: 4,398 yards, 28 TDs, 13 interceptions and a 96.2 rating.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone in 2013 but came out sizzling in ’14 with 38 TDs and only five interceptions. His passer rating was 112.2, eight points higher than his career stat, which ought to encourage Packers fans since he missed nine games last year with another collarbone injury.
Continuing on this theme of Hall of Fame QBs being a different animal altogether, Peyton Manning sat out the 2011 season because of a career-threatening neck injury. With Gase serving as his quarterback coach, Manning immediately put up back-to-back seasons of excellence both from a team perspective (13-3 both years in Denver) and personally (37 and 55 touchdown passes, triple-digit passer rating).
That’s not to say, of course, anyone is preparing a bust in Canton for Tannehill. Let’s turn to mortal passers.
Matthew Stafford played only three games of his second NFL season in 2010 because of a shoulder injury. The Lions obviously didn’t have many concerns about it in ’11, because his 663 attempts led the league. His 5,038 yards were a career high and his passer rating was among his best ever at 97.2.
Carson Palmer, a spectator with the Bengals for a dozen games in 2008 after injuring his elbow, put up more pedestrian numbers when he returned (3,094 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs). Ditto for Alex Smith, who missed 2008 with the 49ers because of a bum shoulder, then put up an 81.5 passer rating in ’09.
The Dolphins have to hope Tannehill doesn’t stay on the same track as Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who missed nine games in 2015 with a string of injuries, played well in ’16, but was back on the shelf again in 2017. Same story for Sam Bradford, who suffered two ACL tears and is now with Arizona, in the likelihood you’ve lost track amid his many travels.
For dreamers out there, that ’94 performance by Marino ranks among his best. It was typical Marino. The Dolphins were down 35-32 and facing a fourth-and-5 with three minutes left. Rather than try a 52-yard field goal from the Marlins’ infield dirt, coach Don Shula liked his chances better by putting the ball in Dan’s hands (go figure). Or maybe Dan’s eyes.
In the huddle, Marino told receiver Irving Fryar if he had one-on-one coverage, he’d be going to him, and when they got to the line of scrimmage, Marino gave him the eye that said all that needed to be said.
Thirty-five yards later, touchdown. It was a play and a day for the ages.
“I felt pretty good about what I did,” Marino said.
“Dan’s back,” Shula said.
Come Sept. 9, Dolphins fans can hope for two words coming out of Gase’s mouth:
Duhe was a highly regarded defensive end/linebacker coming out of LSU in 1977. Once considered second-round talent, as the draft neared, he climbed into the first-round pool.
Problem was, Duhe hired Howard Slusher as his agent. Slusher managed to get handsome contracts, but it made him an outcast with general managers in an era rocked by rookie holdouts.
“Howard Slusher’s not an agent, he’s a terrorist,” George Young, the former Giants and Dolphins GM, once said.
“Do not tell anyone I’m representing you,” Slusher told Duhe.
The morning of the draft, Duhe received a call.
“It was the Buffalo Bills,” Duhe said. “They were picking No. 12. They said, ‘We’ve heard Howard Slusher may be your agent.’ God told me to say it: ‘Yes, he will be my agent.’ They said, ‘We’ll be back in touch.’ ”
Hanging up the phone, Duhe announced to his roommates, “I think I’m going to F’in Buffalo.”
Minutes later, the phone rang, only this time, it was Bobby Beathard, the Dolphins’ GM and who’s headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.
“We just selected you as the No. 1 draft pick for the Miami Dolphins,” Beathard said.
“Man, you don’t know how good that felt,” Duhe said Thursday. “That was probably one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Duhe became one of the Dolphins’ all-time playmakers on defense and captured the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He turned in one of the greatest single-game performances in team history, intercepting three passes (returning one for a touchdown) in the 1982-83 AFC championship game, a muddy 14-0 win over the Jets.
“Obviously the biggest moment of my playing career,” Duhe said.
The Dolphins went on to lose to Washington 27-17 in the Super Bowl, which meant they picked 27th in the 1983 draft.
You know the rest.
Maybe, if Duhe had fibbed and said he hadn’t settled on an agent, the Bills would have taken him.
Maybe, without Duhe, the Dolphins wouldn’t have been good enough to reach that Super Bowl.
Maybe they would have drafted higher, and been among the 26 other teams too petrified by rumors about Marino to risk spending a high first-round pick on him.
In listing his career highlights, Duhe mentioned when he was drafted, the Jets game … and the 1983 Draft, which he heard on the radio.
“I’m all by myself in the car, listening to IOD,” Duhe said of WIOD, the team’s flagship station. “I’m going, ‘We may get Dan Marino!’ And sure enough, we got The Man.”
INDIANAPOLIS—The NFL Combine is really about prospects convincing the horde of team representatives that they’re worthy of being picked, but the Dolphins have been making a strong impression on the players as well.
That’s especially true when it comes to the quarterbacks, an area coach Adam Gase considers his specialty. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Dan Marino walking around the Indiana Convention Center as part of Miami’s scouting delegation as well.
While Marino has a significant role within the team, including heavy day-to-day involvement with the staff during the season, any quarterback the Dolphins draft will be working most closely with Gase. That sounds good to many of them. The backwards hat, the overflowing confidence and simply being 39 years old make for a persona that’s going over well with this year’s class.
“I get along very well with him,” said Wyoming’s Josh Allen, a likely top-10 pick who has met with Miami several times. “He’s a younger guy and he’s got a really good personality. He’s a super positive guy. I’m meeting with him tonight, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Allen, Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma, Sam Darnold of Southern California and UCLA’s Josh Rosen are the consensus top four quarterbacks in the draft. Gase made a special trip to the Senior Bowl to watch Mayfield, Allen and a few other quarterbacks, but Rosen and Darnold said they haven’t formally met with the Dolphins yet.
Mayfield might be the closest to Gase in terms of personality. His defiant personality might turn some teams off, but it’s more likely to endear him to Gase.
“I think we related a lot, mindset-wise on offense,” Mayfield said. “He’s a smart guy. There’s a reason he’s a young coach and he’s that successful.”
Gase’s reputation goes beyond his last two seasons with the Dolphins and the fact that Ryan Tannehill put up some career numbers in his one year playing for him. He also guided Jay Cutler to one of his better seasons in 2015 with Chicago and worked with Peyton Manning for three seasons in Denver.
Quarterback wasn’t a pressing need for the Dolphins last year, so it’s unlikely they took a hard look at any of the top prospects. They ended up not drafting anyone at the position.
This year is different. Even with Tannehill expected to be back to full strength from knee surgery well in time for the start of training camp, Miami needs to secure a reliable backup to avoid the situation it had last summer. When Gase didn’t feel totally comfortable going into the season with Matt Moore as the starter, the team shelled out $10 million for Cutler that ultimately proved to be poorly spent money.
A high draft pick this year could develop into Tannehill’s backup and eventually his replacement. He has three years left on his current contract, which is just the right amount of time for the Dolphins to get a handle on the ability of someone they might pick up in this year’s draft.
Gase has typically been part-coach, part-buddy with his quarterbacks, a relationship dynamic that make sense considering he’s not drastically older than the players. Manning is actually two years older than him, and Cutler is close enough in age that they could’ve gone to school together.
“He’s a younger guy for sure, which is always fun,” said Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick. “You naturally have more of a connection to someone like that.”
Western Kentucky’s Mike White, perhaps a mid-round pick, knows of Gase mostly through former teammate Brandon Doughty. He also happens to be a Dolphins fan from growing up in Broward County.
The Dolphins drafted Doughty out of WKU in the seventh round two years ago, and even though he’s been stuck on the practice squad the entire time, he’s had nothing but good things to relay to White about Gase.
“You can tell he’s a quarterback guy,” White said. “If I ever got the chance to play for him and learn under him, it would be an unbelievable experience—just being able to pick his brain more than anything because you can tell he’s a very knowledgeable guy.”
Lamar Jackson, a Boynton Beach High School product who won the 2016 Heisman Trophy at Louisville, is another option for the Dolphins in one of the early rounds. He painted Gase as “real cool… a laidback, chill guy.”
It’s a safe bet that no one ever used those words to describe his predecessor.
MOBILE, Ala.—The Dolphins are using a uniquely qualified quarterbacks expert since they’re considering taking one in this year’s NFL Draft.
Hall of Famer Dan Marino is deeply involved in the evaluation process, doing everything from watching prospects on the field to sitting in on their meetings with the organization’s top decision makers. He’s part of the team’s scouting delegation at the Senior Bowl this week and was at Ladd-Peebles Stadium to get a look at possible first-round picks Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, among others.
“It’s good to have Dan around,” general manager Chris Grier said. “Obviously, a player of his caliber and one of the all-time greats and someone that is very respected, it’s great having him in the meetings. We’ll sit and we’ll pick his brain, and he’ll ask us questions as well. It’s another opportunity for us to learn and for him to learn as well.”
Marino, 56, has transitioned into a significant role within the organization and is constantly involved in day-to-day operations. His job is far from being a symbolic position. He’s at the facility most, if not all, days year-round and attends every game. He sits in on coaches’ meetings as well.
After a 17-season career with the Dolphins, he went into broadcasting for a few years before the team hired him as Senior Vice President of Football Operations in 2004. That appeared to be too much for Marino at the time, and he resigned three weeks later.
He spent another decade in television, then rejoined Miami in 2014. His new title is Special Advisor to the President and CEO. This role suits him extremely well, and though he doesn’t have direct authority over players or roster decisions, he is respected essentially as a coach and is one of the key leaders in the building.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase described him last season as “a good sounding board, especially for quarterbacks” and is always interested in Marino’s insight when they watch film together. He works directly with the quarterbacks, too.
“He’s seen so much football over his time and he always gives the quarterbacks a piece of advice that seems so small at the time, (but) it’s a big deal because it’s the way he saw it, and the way he saw things was special,” said Gase, who was also in Mobile to see quarterback prospects. “He’s always trying to help those guys. You almost have to ask him, though. He’s not overbearing in that way. He waits for you to come to him.”
Marino also mixed in a few acting performances amid all his years in football, most memorably in Ace Ventura. Current draft prospects were babies when he stopped playing almost 20 years ago, but they might recognize him from other work.
“The players are excited when they meet him too, which is always cool,” Grier said. “It’s not just the quarterbacks. Last year we had a linebacker walk in and he was like, ‘Oh, I loved you in Bad Boys II.’ That’s how the players and kids nowadays know him. It’s always cool to see how the guys react.”
FORT LAUDERDALE — One Miami Dolphins coach who enjoyed immediate success was reflecting over lunch Sunday afternoon about another Miami Dolphins coach who enjoyed immediate success.
The only difference is that for an encore, the speaker — Don Shula — won a couple of Super Bowls while the second coach — Adam Gase — is left wondering what went wrong.
Dolphins fans are, too. A year ago, they were sure the Dolphins had finally hired the right guy, but today, some aren’t so sure about Gase.
“Give him a chance,” Shula said. “The guy proved that he could do it. And you know everybody at one time or another has an off year. Give him a chance to bounce back and utilize his ability.”
Gase met Shula shortly after taking the job in January 2016, and the two have forged a bond before our eyes on many a Sunday afternoon. There would be Shula, 88, in a golf cart, on the Dolphins’ sideline during warmups at Hard Rock Stadium. And there would be Gase, making sure he took time to pay respects to Dolphins royalty.
“I enjoyed going to games,” Shula said. “Go down on the field before the game and saying hello to the coach. He’s a good guy, Adam. I like him — everything I know or have seen about him. I’m not an expert on him, but I like his mannerisms.”
Shula may not be an “expert” on Gase, but he is on the path traveled by him. Shula was only 40 when he was named Dolphins coach in January 1970. A year later, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs and 23 months later, they were in the Super Bowl.
Gase was 37 when the Dolphins hired him. One year and one day later, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs. But that’s where similarities end. It took Shula seven years before he had one of those off years he referred to; Gase’s first losing season was 6-10 this year.
“Good players, good assistants, good organization,” Shula said in explaining how he pulled off two Super Bowl championships within four years of arriving. “All those things have to fit together. You can’t do one without the other. So as a coach, you’ve got to put it together. You’ve got to know where your strengths and your weaknesses are. You build on your strengths and try to uplift your weaknesses.”
Gase inherited many on the current roster. The assistants are his — or were, since he’s taking a sledgehammer to the staff. Shula figures Gase deserves a couple of more years before anyone judges what he can do.
“I think he should be entitled to that,” Shula said.
Since he is Don Shula, he got to have lunch Sunday on the house, at a place that put his name in lights. It was at Shula Burger on the 17th Street Causeway in Fort Lauderdale, honoring Jupiter’s William Gogan for winning a national “SweepSteaks” drawing for a five-day, all-inclusive trip to Sicily in April.
Over a casual, two-hour meal of burgers, fries, onion rings and beer (Diet Pepsi for The Coach), the Gogans and Shulas mixed talk of football and world travels.
Afghanistan? Been there, Shula said, on a trip to honor the military. A rewarding experience? Certainly it was, even though wife Mary Anne explained it was not all smooth sailing. There was a helicopter flight to an outpost in which they had to wear 40-pound bulletproof vests and were surrounded by heavily armed personnel. They didn’t question the need for either the moment the chopper came under fire. After the pilot scurried them out of there, pronto, she inquired as to just how much danger they’d been in. Whatever amount it was for them, came the response, it wasn’t nearly as much as for the guys firing from down below. That’s the kind of defense the Shulas can appreciate. But they arrived at another stop to learn a suicide bomber had struck the area only hours prior.
Diners passed the table, did a double-take and fiddled around to open the camera app on their phones.
“Thirty-five dollars,” Shula told each. “Two for $70.” Then, Shula would laugh that grandfatherly laugh that his startled old players only lately discovered had been locked deep down inside for years. He clasped a young boy’s hand for one photo, making sure to do so as just the right angle so his diamond ring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame glistened for the lens.
“Who do you like today?” someone asked.
“Anybody but Belichick,” said Shula, who made headlines years ago when he referred to the Patriots’ Bill Belichick as “Beli-cheat.”
Don Shula was a stickler for ethics then; he’s a stickler still. But he does respect New England quarterback Tom Brady, 40 — so much so, the obvious question was how Shula would compare Brady to Dan Marino.
“I think nobody has thrown it or will ever throw it any better than Marino,” Shula said. “He had a lightning-fast release. That ball came out like lightning. Brady is more of a field general.”
Maybe so, but Marino could talk like he had five stars on his shoulders.
“We were in a critical situation one time and it was a timeout,” Shula told Gogan. “And he comes over to the sideline and I was asking everybody what they liked and I get to Dan and I said, ‘Dan, what do you like?’ He said, ‘Throw the (expletive).’
Know what else was fun? That Monday night in 1985 when the Dolphins spoiled the Bears’ perfect season 38-24 to protect the legacy of Miami’s 17-0.
“Kicked their ass, big time,” Shula said.
Some players on the ’73 team will tell you it was better than the ’72 team, the key words being “tell you.” Try telling that to Shula.
“You know how you keep track of that?” Shula said. “They have what they call ‘scores.’ ”
However proud he was that day they beat Washington to complete 17-0, he might be even more proud today.
“I would have thought that it could happen again — that if we did it, it wouldn’t be that hard for somebody to do again,” Shula said. “But the fact that they haven’t tells you how tough it was to do.”
It’s tough winning them all in this league. As the current Dolphins coach knows, it’s tough winning even some.
The last four teams standing in the NFL will be on the field Sunday to fight for a trip to the Super Bowl. Aside from the Patriots, who always know better than to plan vacations for this time of year, the other three teams reached this stage despite at least one season of five wins or fewer within the last six years.
If Dolphins fans tune in to Patriots-Jaguars or Vikings-Eagles, they’ll probably think, “Hey, that looks fun.” Many of them, especially those under 35, likely have no recollection of the last time Miami was good enough to crack the final four.
The year was 1992, and it was a different time in America. Everybody rushed to the local Blockbuster Video hoping to get their hands on a VHS copy of Wayne’s World, and gas was about $1 a gallon. George Bush was president. And Tupac was still with us. Modern-day marvels like Amazon, smartphones and the Jacksonville Jaguars were years away from coming into existence.
This was maybe eight or nine names ago for the Dolphins’ stadium. Don Shula was still coaching them, and Dan Marino was in his prime. They had a top-five offense and a top-10 defense. Perhaps that’s the least believable part of this tale. Ask your parents about it. They’ll tell you.
The ’92 team started 6-0 and won the AFC East at 11-5, then trounced the Chargers 31-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs. Miami went into the conference title game on equal footing with Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills and was poised to take its best shot at Troy Aikman or Steve Young in the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins fell to Buffalo, though, and that’s where this story takes a nightmarish turn. Despite several more good seasons from Marino, they failed to make it that far the rest of his career. This weekend marks 25 years since the last time Miami was a real threat to win the AFC or make a run at the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins haven’t even had a season in which people thought they might be good enough to get that far, like last year’s 13-3 Cowboys or Peyton Manning’s Denver team in 2014. All but five of Miami’s seasons since 1992 have fallen between 6-10 and 10-6, and the team is 201-199 during that span.
That .503 winning percentage actually ranks a respectable 15th in the league, but it’s come in the most mundane way possible. While South Florida has been enduring perpetual mediocrity, the NFL has seen 26 of its other 31 teams reach the conference title game at least once and 22 of them play in the Super Bowl.
The only teams with a longer drought than the Dolphins are the Bengals (29 years), Browns (28), Redskins (26) and Lions (26); The Texans, who started in 2002, also haven’t reached a conference title game. Being in any club with the Browns and Lions is never a good thing.
Hard as it might be to believe, this is the Jaguars’ third time in the AFC championship game, and they were an expansion team in 1995. Starting from scratch, they reached this round the next season.
This is Philadelphia’s fifth conference title game post-1992 and Minnesota’s fourth. The Patriots, of course, have played in this round 13 times.
Miami’s had nine playoff teams since its last conference title run, but none of them were contenders. Five of those teams were 9-7 or 10-6.
Last year’s Dolphins were the first to make the playoffs since 2008, and those teams were eerily similar. Both clawed their way in by winning a bunch of close games against bad teams, and neither was particularly good at any one thing.
Being nondescript has been a hallmark of the last 25 years of Dolphins’ football. They haven’t had a top-10 scoring offense since 2001, when Jay Fiedler to Chris Chambers was their best weapon under Dave Wannstedt. That’s the only time it’s happened, by the way, since Marino retired. The defense has fared slightly better, finishing 10th or better 10 times, but nobody tunes in to watch defense.
Speaking of Wannstedt, he’s one of seven head coaches who’s tried to shake Miami out of its slumber. That group managed a total of three playoff victories.
After Shula lasted 26 years, his six successors prior to current coach Adam Gase survived an average of 3.1 seasons. If Gase turns in another 6-10, he might hit that mark as well.
Quarterback’s been another exasperating department, and to this point Ryan Tannehill has yet to prove he’s anything more than the latest model in a series of guys who were average at best. He’s one of 21 quarterbacks to throw for the post-Marino Dolphins. Only five teams have had less stability during that time.
Whether it’s luck or skill that put these four teams one win away from the Super Bowl this weekend, Miami hasn’t had either. Jacksonville went through some truly awful years, even recently, but at least that roller coaster’s had peaks, too. With the Dolphins, the faces keep changing, but they’re all generic. And so are the seasons.
Forty-five minutes after the game Sunday, the stadium was still packed with Minnesota Vikings fans, delirious with the kind of high only sports can offer.
Who could blame them? Isn’t winning in a fashion the Vikings did — a miracle on the last play — what you live for as a fan? Doesn’t that one moment make sitting through those hot/cold/dreadful days worth it? Isn’t it why, when the announcers implore you not to change the channel, because this game isn’t over, you obey, listening to that voice in your head reminding you of that time 10 years ago when dadgummit, you didn’t?
Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs, 61 yards, touchdown. Vikings 29, Saints 24.
Despite recent misfortunes, the Dolphins have had moments that make you leap from your seats. In honor of Sunday’s classic, here are the 20 best. A disclaimer: These are not the greatest or significant plays the Dolphins have pulled off. They are the plays that made you leap out of your seat, spill your beer, not care, and high-five the best friend sitting next to you, whom you met three hours prior.
20. The imperfect season averted
The Dolphins avoided going 0-16 — and getting talked about in the same breath as this year’s Browns — with a 22-16 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens late in the 2007 season. Greg Camarillo’s 64-yard touchdown reception decided it. “Take us out of the history books!” radio analyst Joe Rose yelled. “We’re not going in for that one, baby!”
19. Auer burns the Raiders
With the first play in team history, Joe Auer returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against the Raiders. At that point, Auer’s main concern was getting hugged by Dolphins part-owner Danny Thomas, the actor, who had his omnipresent lit cigar in his mouth.
18. An onside punt?
Nobody knew the rules like Don Shula. In 1980, the Dolphins had given up a safety with 6 1/2 minutes left and trailed the Bengals 16-7. So Shula called on punter George Roberts to execute an unheard-of “onside punt” with the free kick. The Dolphins recovered and were on their way to win 17-16.
17. Ginn turns on Jets
Consider this a two-for-the-price-of-one entry. In 2009, Ted Ginn returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, beating two Jets who had an angle on him. The Jets, not having learned their lesson, kicked to Ginn again. Ginn sidestepped two defenders back-to-back on his 15, then cut outside for a 101-yard touchdown, a feat that earned him a temporary display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
16. Oliver goes coast to coast
When Louis Oliver intercepted that Jim Kelly pass intended for Thurman Thomas in the end zone and didn’t immediately kneel down, it was easy to wonder if he’d lost his mind. Actually, Oliver knew exactly what he was doing, returning it 103 yards for a touchdown on a 1992 day in which he had three interceptions. “I said, ‘Let me take it to the end zone and do a little dance or something,’ ” Oliver said after the 37-10 win. “But when I got to the end zone I was tired as hell.”
15. Fail Flutie
Doug Flutie appeared ready to haunt Miami again by throwing a touchdown pass, seeing the Bills recover an onside kick, and driving Buffalo to the Miami 5 with 17 seconds left in the 1998-99 playoffs. Trace Armstrong had other ideas, getting a sack-strip-fumble on Flutie that Shane Burton recovered to preserve a 24-17 victory. “I don’t know if they’re going to rule it a pass or a fumble,” Armstrong said. “I’m just praying it’s a fumble, for two reasons. It would end the game, and I don’t think I could go another play.”
14. Mr. Smith goes to the end zone
Lamar Smith’s 17-yard touchdown run ended his 40-carry, 209-yard effort in a 23-17 overtime playoff victory over the Colts. The win, on Dec. 30, 2000, remains the most recent Dolphins playoff victory.
13. Fulton’s Super record
No one had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a Super Bowl until Fulton Walker went 98 yards for a 17-10 lead over Washington in 1983. The Dolphins eventually lost 27-17.
12. Anderson escorted to end zone
One week after the classic “Longest Game” win over the Chiefs, the Dolphins knocked the Colts out of the 1971 playoffs thanks to safety Dick Anderson’s 62-yard interception return. Johnny Unitas’ pass was deflected by Curtis Johnson, and after Anderson caught it, he had a wall of six blockers as he weaved his way into the end zone. “My eyes were popping as I ran,” Anderson said. “I’ve never seen so many people land on their heads.”
11. Shula gives up two
How could a play in which the Dolphins give up two points make this list? Leave it to Don Shula, who outsmarted everybody in 1973. The Dolphins were up by six in a Monday night game against the Steelers and deep in their own end, facing a fourth down. They lined up to go for it, were nailed with a delay penalty, and still didn’t send in punter Larry Seiple. The ABC crew was beside itself, wondering if Shula had gone mad. Bob Griese took the snap and casually stepped out of the end zone. This allowed Seiple a free kick, eliminated the chance of a blocked punt and still meant the Steelers needed a touchdown to win. The Dolphins held on 30-26. “Shula’s way ahead of us all!” Howard Cosell said.
10. Wake goes for two
A sack-safety in overtime? Who ever heard of such a thing? Cameron Wake produced the unthinkable in 2013, leading the Dolphins out of a slump when it was least expected. With 6:42 left in overtime, the Bengals had a third down on their 8-yard line. Andy Dalton dropped so far back to pass, he was in his end zone, where Wake nailed him for a 22-20 win. “I looked down on the grass and saw all colors. I figured, ‘Oh, we’re in the end zone,’ ” Wake said. “It’s just one of those games. How much better could it have been than to have a D-lineman kind of seal the deal?”
9. Lett it be, Lett it be!
Thanksgiving Day, 1993. All the Cowboys had to do to beat the Dolphins was nothing — nothing at all. Pete Stoyanovich’s 41-yard field-goal attempt in the snow was blocked by Jimmie Jones … except … what is Leon Lett doing? Lett cemented his place in football follies history by trying to recover a ball that didn’t need recovering. By touching it, he made it a live ball again. After Jeff Dellenbach recovered on the Dallas 1, Stoyo made good on his mulligan from 19 yards out for a 16-14 victory.
8. Seiple fakes out even Shula
A week after the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers faced the visiting Dolphins in the 1972 AFC title game. The Dolphins had noticed on film that the Steelers tended to turn their backs on punts and told punter Larry Seiple that when the time was right, they’d call a fake punt. Seiple didn’t feel like waiting, so in the second quarter, he took off, gaining 37 yards to set up a touchdown on what Steelers coach Chuck Noll called a game-changer. “Shula was not extremely excited,” Seiple said. “If I hadn’t made it, I would have kept on running.” The best part: The Steelers were so unaware what was happening that some players were running upfield along with Seiple, making it appear they were blocking for him.
7. No. 31 did it!
As improbable plays go, it’s tough to top this one. Five days after the Dolphins claimed him off the 49ers’ practice squad, Michael Thomas was pressed into duty in 2013 when several defensive backs went down. He didn’t know the plays. Teammates didn’t know his name, so they called him “31.” All Tom Brady knew was he was the new guy. So on fourth down with seven seconds left, Brady picked on Thomas, aiming for Austin Collie in the end zone. Thomas picked it off, sealing the Dolphins’ win. Long forgotten is that just before that play, Thomas also broke up a throw to Danny Amendola. Thomas had not taken a single snap on defense in practice. He wasn’t even sure if he was allowed to keep the game ball (he did). “I can’t put this into words right now,” he said tearfully in the locker room. “You know, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
6. A.J. for the TD
A.J. Duhe intercepted Jets QB Richard Todd three times in the 1982 AFC Championship Game, returning one 35 yard for a touchdown and the final points of a 14-0 win. Duhe bobbled the screen pass a couple of times before securing it. “Today was the greatest day ever,” Don Shula said.
5. Marino’s back, and so is magic
Dan Marino, coming off an Achilles injury in the 1994 opener, hit ex-Patriot Irving Fryar with a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 with 3:19 remaining to win 39-35. “They just don’t get any bigger than that,” Don Shula said.
4. One unlucky Bear
You could score this one Marino to Clayton (assist, Hampton). The Dolphins took a 38-17 lead in the classic 1985 victory over the Bears thanks to a Dan Marino pass that ricocheted off the helmet of Dan Hampton. Mark Clayton happily collected the ball and waltzed the remaining 42 yards for a touchdown.
3. Duper was Super
In 1985, three weeks before the famed Monday night game vs. the unbeaten Bears, the Dolphins trailed the Jets 17-14 following a 20-yard touchdown pass by Ken O’Brien with 68 seconds left. Dan Marino needed two plays to rewrite the script, hitting Mark Duper with a 50-yard bomb in a 21-17 victory. Good chance the play never would happen today. Duper, who had missed the previous seven games with an injury, was single-covered on the play by cornerback Bobby Jackson. One play earlier, Jackson had fallen while tackling Mark Clayton and was so dazed, he couldn’t get up without teammate Johnny Lynn hoisting him up by the jersey. Concussion protocol, anyone?
2. The clock play (of course)
This might be the most-watched play in Dolphins history. It’s certainly one Dolfans will never tire of seeing. “Clock! Clock! Clock!” Dan Marino yelled in 1994, motioning that he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock. The Jets bought it just enough to allow Marino to fire a 11-yard touchdown pass in a 28-24 victory. “I am an accomplished actor,” Marino said.
1. The hook and lateral
From the greatest game in Dolphins history comes the greatest play in Dolphins history.
The Chargers had jumped to a 24-0 lead in the 1981-82 playoffs before Miami started chipping away. Still, San Diego was sure to go into halftime ahead 24-10 when Don Shula suggested “87 circle curl lateral” to quarterback Don Strock with six seconds left.
“Sure, why not?” Strock said, even though, years later, he admitted to The Sun-Sentinel he was thinking there was no chance the play would work.
Strock hit Duriel Harris with a 25-yard pass. Harris lateraled to Tony Nathan, who cruised down the sideline the final 15 yards with ball held aloft.
Harris also was so unconvinced it would work, he was thinking of holding onto the ball after the catch. Nathan probably couldn’t have blamed him.
“It never even worked in practice,” Nathan said.
Plenty of teams try the hook-and-lateral in desperation mode today, but back then, it baffled the Chargers. The Dolphins were so fired up, Shula didn’t have to bother with a halftime pep talk.
Still, the Chargers went on to win 41-38 in overtime in what the NFL later termed “the Game of the Decade.”
DAVIE—Jay Cutler doesn’t need a mentor at this stage of his career, but he’ll gladly use Dolphins executive Dan Marino as resource while he’s here.
Cutler and Marino met during today’s practice for the first time, and Cutler came away from it thinking Marino will be a big help going forward.
“It’s awesome to have a guy like that in the building and have him around with his expertise, especially at the quarterback position,” he said. “To see him around, it makes guys fired up to have a Hall of Famer and a guy that played at his level.”
Marino is a special advisor for the Dolphins and is with the team pretty much every day. He’s typically on the sideline during practices and has been good with Ryan Tannehill in that role as well.
He played 17 seasons for the Dolphins and splashed his name all over the team and league record books before retiring in 1999. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
“He’s a wealth of advice,” Cutler said. “He’s been through it all, the highs and lows, and played at the top of the game. To have a dude like that at your disposal, I mean, you’ve gotta use him.”
The arrival of Larry Csonka, the most beloved battering ram in Dolphins history.
The 1-2 punch of Richmond Webb and Keith Sims, who were to the offensive line what the 1-2 punch of A.J. Duhe and Bob Baumhower were to Miami’s defense for ages.
A 1969 draft that had a massive impact on The Perfect Season.
Those are some of the greatest drafts in Miami Dolphins history. Yet they all come with a huge question mark: Can any rival Miami’s 1983 draft class, notable for a certain quarterback from Pittsburgh who became one of the biggest steals in NFL draft history?
We now open balloting to determine the greatest draft class in Dolphins history, with all eyes on the ’83 bunch led by, of course, Dan Marino.
We’re down to the four best draft classes, but now we turn things over to you.
Have at it, Dolphins fans!
This round of voting will run until 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening.
No. 1 seed: 1983 Top pick: QB Dan Marino Later picks: NT Mike Charles (2), DE Charles Benson (3), P Reggie Roby (6), LB Keith Woetzel (7), WR Mark Clayton (8), LB Mark Brown (9), RB Anthony Reed (10), G Joe Lukens (11), WR Anthony Carter (12) Number making roster: 6 Felonious steal: Besides the obvious, try P Reggie Roby in Round 6, WR Mark Clayton in Round 8 and LB Mark Brown in Round 9. Amazing to consider Clayton lasted until the 223rd pick; more amazing to consider in the current draft format, he wouldn’t have even been drafted. Can I get a mulligan? DE Charles Benson (3) Straight talk: Football gods have never forgiven the Dolphins for landing Marino with the 27th overall pick, forcing Miami to endure a QB jinx of harrowing proportions best measured in Cubs years. Now we’re left to wonder if LT Laremy Tunsil (13th in 2016) will someday secure the No. 2 slot in all-time Dolphins thefts.
No. 2 seed: 1968 Top pick: FB Larry Csonka Later picks: T Doug Crusan (1), LB Jimmy Keyes (2), TE Jim Cox (2), DT Jim Urbanek (3), DB Dick Anderson (3), RB Jim Kiick (5), QB Kim Hammond (6), WR Jimmy Hines (6), T John Boynton (7), LB Randy Edmunds (8), T Sam McDowell (9), DB Tom Paciorek (9), T Joe Mirto (10), T Cornelius Cooper (11), T Paul Paxton (12), DE Bob Joswick (13), TE Ray Blunk (14), LB Ken Corbin (15), DT Henry Still (16), C Bill Nemeth (17) Number making roster: 12 Felonious steals: S Dick Anderson (3b), RB Jim Kiick (5) Can I get a mulligan? LB-K Jimmy Keyes (2a) played only 1 1/2 seasons, never started and made less than half of his field-goal tries. May we instead suggest QB Ken Stabler (52nd overall to Raiders) as eventual trade bait, since Miami took Bob Griese in ’67? Straight talk: This draft produced four key members of the ’72 team (including OT Doug Crusan, also picked in Round 1). We can chew on how Zonk, the Hall of Famer, lasted until the eighth pick, but what about Anderson, still one of the finest safeties the team has ever had and the 1973 defensive player of the year, as Miami’s second third-round pick? Just be thankful the Dolphins acquired that pick via trade with San Diego for QB Jon Brittenum (and yes, we mean THE Jon Brittenum).
Again, this round of voting will run until 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening.