On January 14, 1973, the Miami Dolphins achieve something no NFL team has repeated: a perfect season. Despite a gaffe by kicker Garo Yepremian that has earned its own place in history, the Dolphins hold on to beat Washington, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII, capping a 17-0 season.
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The Dolphins, 10-3-1 the previous season, were the defending AFC champions. Despite being blown out by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, they were early favorites to win the relatively weak AFC East. Miami survived close calls with the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills early in the season and lost their starting quarterback, Bob Griese, to injury in Week 5.
With veteran backup Earl Morrall leading the offense, the Dolphins forged ahead, piling up wins and then turning heads with their 52-0 victory over the New England Patriots—head coach Don Shula’s 100th NFL win.
The team benefitted from depth at running back, as Larry Csonka and Eugene “Mercury” Morris became the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards each in a season. Shula pulled Morrall in favor of Griese midway through the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, won 21-17 by the Dolphins in Pittsburgh.
Two weeks later, Super Bowl VII took place before 90,182 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Neither team’s quarterback played well—Griese passed for only 88 yards, and Washington’s Billy Kilmer set a Super Bowl record by throwing three interceptions.
Shula and his kicker nearly combined to ruin the perfect season with a decision the Miami head coach later admitted was based on his desire to cap a 17-0 season with a 17-0 win.
With just over two minutes left, instead of going for it on fourth-and-4 in Washington territory, Shula had Yepremian attempt a 42-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, and Yepremian’s attempt to salvage the play resulted in a fumble, which cornerback Mike Bass returned 49 yards for a touchdown.
“I shoulda just fallen on the ball,” Yepremian told reporters. “I shoulda ate it, but I made a mistake.”
Dolphins safety Jake Scott, who had two interceptions, was named MVP of the game.
The Dolphins were the first team to reach the Super Bowl with a perfect record. The second team to do so, the 2007 Patriots, rode an 18-game winning streak into Super Bowl XLII but lost that game, 17-14, to the New York Giants.
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