SUPER BOWL VI RUNNER UP 1971 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Super Bowl VI in New Orleans pitted Dallas v. Miami.  The first serious season in the sun for Miami came to an inglorious end with a 24-3 loss yet served to be the springboard for the undefeated 1972 season that were to come.  However the trip through the AFC playoffs was an exercise in self discovery with the 2OT win over the Chiefs and the 21-0 AFC Championship over Shula’s former team and defending Super Bowl champion Colts.

superbowlvi2My feeling is this team had to have been emotionally drained by the time Super Bowl VI was kicked off.  If you look at the divisional playoff game, which was the longest game ever played at 82:40, that’s almost a game and a half that went deep into the 6th quarter!  Ed Podolak was a beast in that game for Kansas City with 350 all purpose yards.

It was a draining game being played away from home on Christmas of all things.  Miami outlasted the Chiefs (Super Bowl IV winner) 27-24 and staggered off to the AFC Championship game.

super-bowl-logo-1971If you read my post on the Super Bowl watch the Colts received for losing Super Bowl III, you remember me speaking on the corporate pressures that hastened Don Shula’s departure and Carroll Rosenbloom (then Colts owner) switching ownership with the Rams.

Well Rosenbloom was still the Colts owner when they won Super Bowl V and were headed down to Miami to play the AFC Championship game to make it to Super Bowl VI.  You knew that Shula and Rosenbloom both wanted that game against one another.  You know Shula was pushing the Dolphins hard that week and answering questions about playing his former team.  The Dolphins prevailed 21-0 and were off to the Super Bowl VI.

This team must have been exhausted going into that game coupled with the excitement of being in their first Super Bowl too.  They had to be drained…

Yet this is the ring for conquering the rest of the AFC, and we know of course the Dolphins went on to back to back wins in Super Bowl VII and VIII.

SUPER BOWL V CHAMPION 1970 BALTIMORE COLTS

When you think of the old Baltimore Colts, the first flashback that comes to mind are the black and white films with Johnny Unitas leading the team in the 1950’s. Then another thought stirs up images of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the mid 1970’s version with Head Coach Ted Marchibroda. You follow-up that thought with the green and yellow Mayflower trucks moving the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984. Yet sandwiched between the first and second of these events is the most forgotten champion in modern football history. The 1970 Baltimore Colts.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

There are varied reasons why this team is so overlooked when you think of this franchise.  Did you know this is the only Super Bowl winner where the franchise was sold just one year later?? Before the 1972 season, Robert Irsay (Los Angeles Rams) and Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises.

Carroll had one of the most successful tenures as an owner in NFL history. Yet after losing Super Bowl III, one of the landmark games in league history, he lost Head Coach Don Shula to the Miami Dolphins after the 1969 season.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

So is it ironic or part of the story that his last game as Colts owner, was a 21-0 loss to Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the 1971 AFC Championship Game?? Another twist was it was played in the Orange Bowl which had been the site of Super Bowl III.

Another reason this champion wasn’t remembered is there wasn’t a main powerful character. Yes the Colts had an aging fading John Unitas at quarterback. In 1970, he finished with a career low 51.7% completion percentage, and was the only qb to win the Super Bowl in a year he threw more interceptions (18-14) than touchdowns. He was 3 seasons removed from 11 straight Pro Bowl seasons and 5 player of the year awards.

By this time he was getting by on inspiration and finding the touch at the right time. As was the case in the first ever AFC Championship Game. Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the 4th,Unitas had reserve WR Ray Perkins motion from the backfield and lofted a perfect sideline floater just past Raider CB Nemiah Wilson for the decisive touchdown. It was the only touchdown he threw in the game as he went 11 of 30 for 245 yards.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

It was echoed in Super Bowl V as he went 3 for 9 for 88 yards with 2 interceptions and 1 TD before being knocked out of the game. The lone touchdown was the bizarre 75 yarder to John Mackey where the ball bounced from Colt Eddie Hinton and Cowboy Mel Renfro first. So the late Earl Morrall had to come off the bench to save the Colts season just as Unitas tried to in Super Bowl III.

The game was played at a frantic pace with 11 total turnovers in what was nicknamed The Blunder Bowl. The Colts outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, they didn’t beat them. A last second interception by Mike Curtis put them in position for Jim O’Brien to win it with a field goal 16-13.

Another reason they weren’t remembered were they were coached by the late Don McCafferty. He was the hand picked successor once Don Shula departed for Miami having been the long time Offensive Coordinator. By the time we make it to 1972 the Colts were winless in their first five games. General Manager Joe Thomas wanted Unitas benched. When McCafferty refused he was fired.

super-bowl-logo-1970Less than 1 1/2 years after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenblom was no longer the owner, John Unitas was no longer the quarterback, Don McCafferty was no longer the coach, and the magic was gone from 33rd Street in Baltimore. The romantic era starting with the 1958 NFL Championship Game win over the Giants, ended with the 1971 AFC Championship loss in Miami.

In many ways the Super Bowl V championship had a lifetime achievement feel more than a best of the league feel. Would they have won Super Bowl VI had they rematched with the Cowboys?? How different would have Don McCafferty’s legacy been had they won it? As a matter of fact, the Dolphins split their games with the Colts in 1970 and 1971. Would the Colts even make it to Super Bowl V had the Dolphins been able to get past Oakland in the ’70 playoff game??

Epilogue: Carroll Rosenbloom’s Rams won the NFC West 5 times from 1973-1978 but lost the NFC Championship 4 times. He died from a heart attack and drowned before the 1979 season when the Rams did make it to Super Bowl XIV. Which left the team to his wife…. Georgia Rosenbloom who later remarried. Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere.

Don McCafferty died of a heart attack in 1974 after he had coached the Detroit Lions for one season.

John Unitas remains one of the greatest players in NFL history and was the first to throw for more than 40,000 yards. A staple at Baltimore Ravens games well into the 2000s. Unitas passed away on Sept 11th, 2002.

Bubba Smith, the giant Defensive End  passed away in August 2011. Smith played the majority of his career in Baltimore and stated in 2007 “Super Bowl III, I still haven’t gotten over it.”

Earl Morrrall, the journeyman quarterback who was player of the year in 1968 with Unitas out. Was with the team when they lost Super Bowl III. Afterward he would duplicate his 1968 with a great performance leading the Dolphins to the undefeated season in Bob Griese’s absence. He won 2 more Super Bowls (VII & VIII) with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Morrall died last month on April 25, 2014.

To these men I dedicate this article to… they were a champion. NFL champions for 1970.

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Requiem of An Upset: Super Bowl III & It’s Aftermath

Super Bowl III Logo

One of the great things about the NFL and it’s history are the stories behind the men. Unfortunately the greatest lessons come from those that come up short in big games. Everyone loves a David v. Goliath scenario when the underdog pulls off an upset. When a landmark incident takes place like Super Bowl III, all eyes follow the winner who have vanquished a favored foe and the game is revered and talked about for years to come.

Super Bowl III has been rehashed, talked about, re-shown, and re-released in 1997 (as a video broadcast) for a generation to see for themselves a landmark game that changed the course of the NFL. It was the centerpiece to a  Hall of Fame career for Joe Namath and allowed Weeb Ewbank to become the only coach to win a championship in both leagues. Yet what does all this fallout do to the men who lost that event?? Is the harm irreparable for  the men who came up short in Super Bowl III?? How easy is it to forget and move on??

Surely the Baltimore Colts could go on and win another championship and set things straight, right?? Here are the accounts of  Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, and the late Bubba Smith. As you listen to the recount through their eyes, you will get a different feeling about Super Bowl III than ever before. What is ironic, these are interviews celebrating their Super Bowl V championship for the America’s Game series. What makes these poignant is the dissident sound of honesty reflected in their voices. What makes these stories resonate is this was a game 42 years ago and made even more impactful that this was the last interview for Bubba Smith to talk about this with his passing last week.

CHAPTER I:  This short story was originally part of a book idea and was written July 12, 2010 and showcased on Facebook where several former players responded. Keep in mind this came before finding the Colt player’s recount of the events featured later in this article:

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS

superbowliiiWow Talk about shock and awe!!! 

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era.  Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula.  The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring.  A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow!  Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season?  Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

Let’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II.  The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss.  The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers.  Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game.  Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then.  So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968.  So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2.  No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever.  They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points.  They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts.  The great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback.  They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football.  Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND.  So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!!  One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL.  The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone.  Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay (then Rams owner), become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams.  Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well.  Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it.  The after affects can be frightening…

 Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

CHAPTER II: A vignette of what was shared by Bill Curry, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Ernie Accorsi as the events and aftermath of Super Bowl III were recounted.

CHAPTER III/EPILOGUE: Again, what makes this unique are the events that take place hastening Don Shula’s departure, where he became the NFL’s All Time winning coach in Miami and not Baltimore. Even after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenbloom was still disenchanted with being the owner of the Baltimore Colts and swapped franchises with the Rams Robert Irsay in 1972.

Was it ironic or a part of the story, that after winning Super Bowl V, the Baltimore Colts made it to the AFC Championship to defend their title?? Who did they lose to 21-0, to bring about the end of an era (1958-1971) where the Colts were among the NFL elite?? Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Another irony is Don Shula went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history in the stadium where Super Bowl III was held. The Orange Bowl. Don Shula went on to excorcise his demons. As for Carroll Rosenbloom, Ernie Accorsi, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Bill Curry??

One could view this through the lens of men looking back as elders who have retired and looking back on games and events they could relive. However in the prime of their lives as men here are their feelings as aired on ESPN the Saturday before Super Bowl XXVIII in January 1994. It was the 25th anniversary of Super Bowl III when these men offered this:

 

So remember to pay close attention to the men and these moments. What will become of the principles of a landmark event for those on both sides of the equation. A compelling study in the psychology of man and sport.  This is one of the reasons we love bringing you these real life stories with such richness.

Thanks for reading and share this with those who love football and football history. Teach them something that scores on ESPN won’t tell them.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.