Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #6 1971 Baltimore Colts

One of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history happened in 1971. The defending Super Bowl champion Colts had the #1 defense and drug a struggling offense to the AFC Championship Game. They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

Bubba smith coming off the ball.

One interesting aspect of the ’71 Colts was how anemic their once great passing offense had become.  The 38 year old Unitas completed just 52.3% of his passes for 3 TDs and 9 interceptions. Earl Morrall, who was 37, fared no better with an even lower 50.3% with 7 TDs to 12 ints. They were 21st in passing offense and 12th overall making the defense work harder.

During the ’71 season the defense held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less. Including 5 of their first 6. Baltimore’s D recorded 3 shutouts and held their first playoff opponent to 3 points. In facing 5 top ten offenses that year, they were 4-1 and held two of those to 10 points or less. Yet why aren’t they remembered??

Now the media anoints others of that era and obscures this team…lets compare a few:

  • 1971 Baltimore Colts – #1 overall / 203.7 yds all. / 140 points given up / 28 int
  • 1971 Dallas Cowboys – #3 overall / 243.3 yds all. / 222 points given up / 26 int
  • 1972 Miami Dolphins – #1 overall / 235.5 yds all. / 171 points given up / 26 int
  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int
  • 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers – #4 overall / 261.5 yds all. / 162 points given up / 27 ints

Right now fans of the Doomsday Defense, The No Name Defense, and the Steel Curtain are saying to themselves ‘Its not all about stats”. Which is true until you realize this was a defending Super Bowl champion that made it back to the AFC Championship Game despite its offense. Had they won against Miami, they would have taken on the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Well that is who they beat in Super Bowl V to become champions in the first place.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Mike Curtis tackling Cliff Branch.

Led by Pro Bowlers DE Bubba Smith, MLB Mike Curtis, LB Ted Hendricks, SS Jerry Logan, and FS Rick Volk, its amazing only Hendricks is in the Hall of Fame. Curtis definitely should be but when you think of Hendricks making the Hall that is primarily from his work with the Raiders.

This was the last hurrah for the Colts as everything came apart starting in 1972. That was the year owner Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises with Robert Irsay. Head Coach Don McCafferty fired, John Unitas sent to the bench and the run as an NFL elite team ended.

Yet a tremendous performance by the defense in 1971 allowed them to hang on for one more season.

Dedicated to the memories of Don McCafferty, Bubba Smith, & Carroll Rosenbloom

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SUPER BOWL VI CHAMPION 1971 DALLAS COWBOYS

By the way…”America’s Team” used to be called “Next Year’s Champions” ’til they won this ring in Super Bowl VI, 24-3 over the Miami Dolphins in New Orleans.

superbowlviThis ended an odyssey of multiple championship and playoff losses between the years of 1966-1970. The Green Bay Packers escaped Dallas twice in the NFL Championship games in ’66 and ’67. Losses to the Cleveland Browns in 68 & 69 kept the Cowboys from further glory. The worst was still to come…

Thanks to the merger in 1970, Dallas’ playoff nemesis Cleveland moved over to the AFC where they struggled. Dallas had played the Vikings in the 1968 Playoff Bowl in Miami and knew they could handle them, yet they were struggling too. One of the new pieces Dallas added to the puzzle was Duane Thomas, a slashing, elusive runner who provided a missing element to the Cowboys arsenal. However the Cowboys were intact with a veteran laden team and seemed destined to ascend to their first world championship. So what happened?

Well they made it to Super Bowl V in Miami where they faced the Baltimore Colts, another team that had moved over to the AFC. These two pre-merger NFL antagonists were embroiled in a defensive struggle where Dallas clearly outplayed the Colts and were poised to take a 20- 6 3rd qtr lead when Duane Thomas fumbled at the 1 yard line. Are you kidding me, the 1 yard line? Nothing demoralizes a team than to drive the length of the field& come away without points, especially, in a game where they’re hard to come by.
You can’t hurt your team worse than that Duane. The silent treatment that followed in 1971 was something Duane put everyone through when he didn’t get a raise from Tom Landry / Gil Brandt, who remembered that fumble. How can a player who ….sigh…you get the picture.

super-bowl-logo-1971The defense, which had a series of let downs in previous championship games played brilliantly. Doomsday knocked Johnny Unitas out of the game, in fact the Colts first touchdown was a fluke double tipped pass. They even blocked the extra point and kept the Colt point total to 6 until deep in the 4th quarter. Chuck Howley (Super Bowl V MVP & only time losing player received the award) and the Cowboys defense forced 7 turnovers yet the offense could only eek out 13 points to lose on a last second field goal 16-13.

superbowl-trophyNow comes the day, Super Bowl VI, football’s version of the Brooklyn Dodgers (many times the bridesmaid) finally has their day in the sun. This time they had an ace up their sleeve. Just like young ace pitcher Johnny Podres of those Dodger teams, the Cowboys had Roger Staubach who was unburdened by those losses since it was Craig Morton (Super Bowl V) and Don Meredith quarterbacking those other 60’s playoff defeats.

It was Johnny Podres that finally pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers past the Yankees for the ’55 World Series after 8 years of championship disappointment. In winning Super Bowl VI for Dallas, Staubach ended a 6 year odyssey for the Cowboys.

The Cowboy’s defense that day held the Dolphins (who would go on to win the next two Super Bowls including an undefeated season) to just 3 points and Duane Thomas didn’t fumble at the 1, he scored from the 3. Couple touchdown passes from Staubach to Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth and the Cowboys finally clutched the prize.

I never heard it expressed but I would suspect that the chase to get that championship made obtaining this one sweeter than a team winning it without those near misses. I do remember Bob Lilly describing in “America’s Game” that the day after Super Bowl VI he felt empty. That the chase was over and the greatest day of his life as a football player was over. Aside from losing the ’72 NFC Championship game to the Redskins the week after the famous playoff comeback vs. the 49ers, it seems that could be said for the Dallas roster that had been fighting to win it all since the mid 60s.

Did they get old? maybe…They exhausted their tank in that win over the Miami Dolphins and shedding that label…”Next Year’s Champion’s” Looking at Dave Edwards pic wearing his ring…you can seriously see the pride in the accomplishment.

chancellor.lilly

With Bob Lilly at the NFL Hotel in Canton after the Gold Jacket Ceremony.

Dedicated to Dave Edwards & Tom Landry..