The Dolphins Week 10 rematch with the New York Jets featured the first meeting of quarterbacks Joe Namath and Earl Morrall since Super Bowl III. Before that game, along with his famous guarantee, Namath had shared a less than flattering evaluation of the Colts’ Morrall, the reigning NFL MVP, as a quarterback.
“We’ve got four quarterbacks better than him in our own league (the pre-merger AFL). I gotta go with John Hadl of the Chargers, Daryl Lamonica of the Raiders, Bob Griese of Miami, and myself.”
Nearly four years later, Morrall shared his evaluation of Namath as a person with the Miami News. “I don’t respect him. His lifestyle, his actions. I wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps. I don’t want to be like him. And I hope my kids and the younger generation don’t grow up to be like him.”
At that point in their lives, Morrall and Namath were polar opposites off the field. Morrall was a conservative, crew-cut, family man. Namath was very single, had long hair, wore fur coats, and had worked hard to earn the nickname “Broadway Joe.” There is little doubt that Morrall was speaking from the heart.
I find it easy to imagine the uproar these comments, published on a Thursday before the Dolphins-Jets game, would have caused in 2022. Not only would the talking heads on television and radio sports talk be bloviating about it endlessly, but it would certainly spill over onto cable news and talk radio with the right attacking Namath and the left attacking Morrall.
This debate would churn through multiple news cycles and become an overarching commentary about our society in general. Of course, Twitter would be in overdrive, endlessly arguing about those comments and attacking not only one of the protagonists but people who supported them.
In 1972, however, there were…crickets. I could not find any further reference to these comments in the local media from that time, and of course, there was no cable television. Sports radio or social media to serve as an avenue for that type of discourse.
Simpler times indeed.
The only visible ramification of Morrall’s comments came before kickoff on Sunday at the Orange Bowl. Namath and Morrall were both team captains and met with others at midfield for the coin toss. Captains normally shake hands with those from the opposing team, but Namath apparently made a point of doing so with everyone but Morrall, putting his hands behind his back when it came time to shake his hand.
Then it was time for the game, and what a game it was.
Miami came in with the opportunity to clinch the AFC Eastern Division, while the Jets were tied with Cleveland for the lone wild card spot available and only one game ahead of Cincinnati and Kansas City.
Namath’s reputation and flamboyance often causes people to misunderstand the type of team the Jets were. Remember, they did not win Super Bowl III because Namath bombed the Colts into submission. They won with a punishing defense and running game, with Namath carefully picking his spots to attack Baltimore through the air.
While the team’s fortunes had been up and down since then, usually tied to Namath’s health, the Jets still featured a strong, physical defense and a dangerous running game with a young John Riggins now the feature back.
It was not uncommon, even when two good teams like these got together, to see multiple turnovers committed by each team. That especially applied to interceptions, which at that time were not considered a moral failure like they are now since teams took more chances by design to throw the ball downfield.
No one did more damage downfield than Namath, but sometimes that damage was to his own team. That happened on New York’s first possession of this game when Namath tried to drop a throw in to Don Maynard, who was surrounded by a crowd of defenders. Safety Dick Anderson drifted back in his coverage to intercept the pass and set Miami up at the Jets 33-yard line.
Seven plays later, Morrall found Howard Twilley for a nine-yard touchdown pass to put the Dolphins up 7-0. It was the start of another long day for Jets defensive back Steve Tannen. Not only was Twilley his “daddy,” but the Miami Herald published a picture of Mercury Morris leaping over him after guard Larry Little had administered a pancake block on him and looked like he was devouring Tannen, who suffered a shoulder injury in the process.
New York responded with something rarely accomplished against the ’72 Dolphins-a long touchdown drive. The Jets finished off a 13-play 80-yard drive with John Riggins scoring from the one. This drive included six passes, but all were targeted to either running backs or tight end Rich Caster.
Momentum swung firmly in the Jets favor in the second quarter after Mercury Morris bobbled a pitchout and lost a fumble at the Miami 37-yard line. New York wasted no time taking advantage. They moved ahead 14-7 on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Namath to Caster and were poised to take control of the game after Miami went three-and-out on their next possession.
Riggins moved the Jets into the red zone on a spectacular 40-yard run. He ran through Jake Scott’s attempt at a shoestring tackle and was finally brought down after defensive back Tim Foley had been dragged about ten yards hanging on to Riggins’ jersey for dear life until help finally arrived.
On the next play, from the Dolphins’ 14-yard line, came one of the key moments that ensured the perfect season. Namath saw that running back Emerson Boozer had beaten linebacker Mike Kolen by a step running toward the middle of the field and launched a pass to him. What Namath had not seen, however, was linebacker Nick Buoniconti coming in from the other side. Buoniconti intercepted the pass at the six, and a quiet Orange Bowl crowd erupted. Shula said after the game, “We have had a big-play defense all year and it made the big plays today just when we needed them.”
The Dolphins were not out of trouble yet, however. New York defensive back J.J. Hicks jumped the route on a pass Morrall intended for tight end Jim Mandich and returned the interception down the sidelines to the Miami nine. The No Name defense rose up and held the Jets to a field goal, increasing their lead to 17-7.
With 2:35 remaining in the first half, Morral quickly move the Dolphins downfield on a critical drive. He found Twilley, who continued to beat Tannen like a drum, for 22-yard and 44-yard passes. With the ball at their one-yard line, the Jets stuffed Larry Csonka twice, the second time forcing a fumble that guard Bob Kuechenberg recovered. Mercury Morris then dove over the line on third down for the touchdown that made the score 17-14 at halftime.
On their second possession of the second half, Miami picked up a couple of first downs to advance to the Jets’ 31. From there, Morrall took off on a 31-yard stroll to reach the end zone untouched. Asked after the game if that was a designed play, Morral; said, “Are you kidding? They don’t plan runs for me. I’m a 10-second man for the 40-yard dash. I’m so slow the coaches are embarrassed to tell me my time.” Dolphins play-by-play man Rick Weaver exclaimed after the play, “How about that for old bones!” Miami had taken a 21-17 lead. Miami had taken a 21-17 lead on the strength of Earl Morrall’s…legs.
To their credit, the Jets kept coming. They responded with another 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was extended by a penalty against Miami for running into the punter. The big play was a 41-yard pass from Namath to Maynard, and New York had regained the lead, 24-21 going into the fourth quarter.
Garo Yepremian missed a 42-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter, giving the Jets a chance to take control of the game with another score. Instead, they gave it right back to Miami on a Cliff McClain fumble. He never could get the handle on a handoff from Namath, and ball hawk Dick Anderson recovered for the Dolphins.
Miami would regain the lead four plays later when Mercury Morris, who usually headed for the edge, instead cut inside from the 14-yard line and ran through two New York defenders for a touchdown.
Now ahead, 28-24, the Dolphins’ defense said ENOUGH! The Jets would pick up only one first down in the fourth quarter and 29 yards rushing in the second half-the threat was over, and Miami had hung on for a 28-24 victory.
Morris had another big game with 107 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns, seeing more action with Jim Kiick ailing. His 11 touchdowns for the season now led the AFC. Howard Twilley stepped up to fill the breach with Paul Warfield out with an injured ankle. Twilley caught three passes for 75 yards and one score, continuing his mastery of the Jets Steve Tannen.
Miami was now 10-0 and had clinched their playoff berth with four games remaining. New York, though, was toast. They had seven men go down and would miss the playoffs in 1972. Joe Namath would never make the playoffs again.
The Dolphins had their own casualties in a game that was compared to an alley fight. Csonka broke his nose for the 10th time in his career but kept playing, and punter Larry Seiple tore ligaments in the knee of his kicking leg on a late hit.
Jets coach Weeb Ewbank was disappointed but impressed with Miami. “I think they’ll go undefeated. Who can beat them?”
This is a question that, in 1972, did not have an answer.
Coming Next: Part 18-Monday Night Mess
The Monday Night Football circus came to Miami. The Dolphins didn’t always look ready for their national TV closeup, but six St. Louis Cardinals turnovers fueled a 31-10 win.
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