Monday, December 31, 2018

NFL72 Update

There are three things I want to say about this Associated Press video.

One, Larry Seiple's fake-punt run (at about 18 seconds in) has to be the best play of its kind ever--15, 20 yards downfield, Seiple is still running by Steelers and teammates who have no idea what is happening around them. I really do believe this might be the first football play I remember actually seeing on TV. I'm pretty sure I remember a lot of hullabaloo among my family, who almost all would've been rooting madly for the Dolphins on this Dec. 31, 1972.

Two, Al Young's one-handed stab of the high Terry Bradshaw slant pass (at about 1:30) is really impressive, considering the short range and how hard a thrower Bradshaw famously was. I don't believe I had ever even heard of Al Young before following NFL72 this fall. He was a 13th-round draft choice in 1971, and he never played in the NFL again after this game. This catch is a heck of a way to cap a short career.

Three, I'm stunned that Bob Griese (at about 2 minutes in) tried that weaving-backward scramble so deep in his own territory so soon after the same tactic played out so disastrously in Super Bowl VI.

Now here are some more photographs from my memorabilia utility room/River's bedroom. Thanks again to Rob for the autographed picture of Seiple's big play against his team (that's a class gift right there, boy), and thanks again to my brother for the autographed picture of Griese (for which he stood in line back in the day when Griese appeared at an apartment complex's grand opening in Evansville).

Previous and future NFL72 reports:


  1. The Dolphins rushed for 193 yards in this game and allowed no sacks. In The Miami News, Jim Langer and Larry Little discussed the success of "sucker" plays in which the Dolphins would use leave especially Joe Greene unblocked and tempt him with pulling guards to pursue across the line of scrimmage. The ball would then go to a runner who would slip through the space vacated by Greene. Greene said in the coverage that the Dolphins were better than what they appeared on film and admitted, "I wasn't effective at all." Chuck Noll noted that both Greene and L.C. Greenwood had been limited during the week preceding the game by sickness.

    1. Ron Reid in the Jan. 8 Sports Illustrated:

      Miami probably won the war because it also won the celebrated battle of stars between Larry Little, the Dolphin who may be the best offensive guard in the game, and Mean Joe Greene, the Steeler tackle who may be the best defensive lineman.

      Greene is used to being double-teamed and, while he admits that the ploy once frustrated him, he has grown to understand that such personal concentration helps the team. "It's not important who makes the play, but just that the play is made," he says. "I think that's the basic reason for our success—we're unselfish. And when anybody double-teams me, it's going to help someone else up front."

      Little was so proficient, however, that he was able to handle Greene by himself, almost never requiring backup blocking support. Not once did the Steelers sack a Miami quarterback, and twice when the Dolphins drove to a first down in a fourth-and-short situation near the Pittsburgh goal they actually elected to run straight over Greene. Little, who explained that he had been "in a deep concentration bag" all week, understood the stakes of his man-to-man match. "I know if I don't do the job on him, we won't win the game," he had said. "If I do, we'll win. I have a lot of pride and I can't see myself getting beat."

      This is certainly not to suggest that the awesome Greene was the man who cost the Steelers the game. Overall, if only occasionally, the Steelers showed the effects of a championship debut by suffering lapses of poise and concentration. In contrast, the Dolphins showed a penchant for the gamble—but with a cool head and steady hand. Miami was not afraid to risk fourth-down runs instead of playing it the usual dull NFL way and taking the easy field goal. "You have to go for the short ones if you want to be the champ," Coach Don Shula said.

  2. Pittsburgh was impressive at the game's outset, intercepting Earl Morrall's fourth pass and then putting together a 10-play/49-yard drive which included no passing attempts. On the last of those plays, Terry Bradshaw rolled left and sprinted toward the goal line. Jake Scott leveled Bradshaw at the 5; the ball bounded into the end zone, and Steeler guard Gerry Mullins recovered for a 6-0 Pittsburgh lead.

  3. Bradshaw said in The Miami News that he couldn't remember the rest of the first half. Noll went to Terry Hanratty to direct Pittsburgh's run-oriented attack, a job for which the coach said his backup quarterback was particularly adept. However, he said, the Steelers' plan was hindered by another head injury--to second-string tight end John McMakin. Noll said he had wanted to run Franco Harris and John Fuqua behind a seven-man line a lot of the game.

  4. Even still, Harris and Fuqua did combine to average better than 4.9 yards a carry, and the only Steeler fumble was Bradshaw's which Mullins recovered for a touchdown.

  5. It was a very close game, and Miami’s statistical advantages were quite small or non-existent. For example, each team completed 10 passes; Pittsburgh’s led to 137 yards but came on 20 attempts that included two interceptions, while Miami’s led to only 121 passes but required only 16 attempts that included only one interception. The Dolphins actually averaged one fewer yard per rushing attempt than did the Steelers. Bobby Walden’s punting for Pittsburgh was spectacular—a 51.3 average on four punts.

  6. The difference in the game appears to have been a handful of individuals' actions and decisions. This does not appear to have been a case where Miami was clearly the better team. "Our football team has found out they have the capabilities of going all the way," Noll said in the Miami News coverage.

  7. Anyway, sometimes it feels like one team just beats a lesser team, and then sometimes it feels like two equal teams play a game that is mostly decided by spurty individual people and moments. From what I've read and the little bit I've gotten to see, this game seems like the latter.

  8. For example, Jack Ham is at the start of what is going to be a Hall-of-Fame career. He was a second-round draft choice out of Penn State, and he has started at outside linebacker both of his two seasons with the Steelers. I wonder if this game is the one where he starts to get real national acclaim as one of the league's best. Starting in NFL73, Ham is going to be picked for eight straight Pro Bowls, including six selections as a first-team All-Pro.

    In the second quarter, with Pittsburgh still holding a 7-0 lead, Miami has a third-and-2, and Ham throws Mercury Morris for a three-yard loss--but then the next play is the punt where Larry Seiple goes it alone on his fake-punt run to the Steeler 12. And, in the third quarter, with Pittsburgh ahead 10-7, Ham intercepts with the Dolphins deep in Steeler territory--but then the play is nullified because Dwight White is called for an offsides penalty, and Miami eventually gets its go-ahead-for-good touchdown on a short Jim Kiick run.

    Reading this stuff feels like one of the stories of this game could've been Jack Ham Is The Now The Best Defensive Player In Football On What Is Now The Best Team In Football--except for Larry Seiple, Dwight White and a few other people and things happened.

  9. Another thing that happened in this game was Earl Morrall, Don Shula and Bob Griese.

  10. I was just reading the Jan. 5, 1972, Madisonville Messenger, and the first-team Associated Press All-Pro quarterback for NFL72 was Earl Morrall. What an amazing thing it really was that, in the only perfect season in NFL history, the team's first-string quarterback was injured and missed most of the season, to be replaced by a 38-year-old who apparently in training camp was in a struggle to even be the No. 2 guy. (I'll have to go find a Jim Del Gaizo link for you.)

  11. At halftime of this game, it's 7-7. Morrall had the first-quarter interception, but the first-team All Pro quarterback of the whole league has also completed seven of his 11 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Griese played a little against Cleveland in the playoffs last week, but he hasn't played in earnest since Week 5 of the regular season. Shula, who did not turn from Morrall to Johnny Unitas earlier in Super Bowl III (I need to go find that link, too), goes to Griese in the NFL72 AFC Championship.

    1. Correction ... Griese had played a bit in the regular-season finale against Baltimore, not the playoff win over Cleveland.

      And clarification ... it was 10-7, Steelers, by the time Griese actually got his hands on the ball in the third quarter.

  12. On Miami's first possession of the second half, Griese leads an 80-play drive that ends with the Dolphins moving ahead 14-10. The drive includes a 52-yard completion to Paul Warfield (one more yard than Morrall had thrown for in the entire first half); it also includes the misfire to Ham, but that play got called back because of a penalty. Griese ends up logging only five pass attempts and three completions for 70 yards in the game, but, calling his own plays, he also leads two touchdown drives.

    1. “I felt by changing at half-time I’d be able to look at Griese in the third quarter and if he was performing the way that I hoped he would I’d continue to go with him,” Shula was quoted by Al Levine as saying in The Miami News. “If not, then I could still go back to Earl as opposed to waiting.”

      Shula said he would decide later whether Morrall or Griese would start the Super Bowl. He was giving the Dolphins off until Wednesday, Jan. 3, before resuming practice.

  13. In contrast, Bradshaw and Hanratty each directed five possessions, and their passing statistics were pretty similar. But the Steelers scored two touchdowns on Bradshaw's possessions and none on his backup's. Bradshaw, incidentally, was quoted in The Miami News as saying, "I was okay at halftime, but Chuck decided to go with Terry. Terry was moving the ball club all right and Chuck wanted to stay with him."

    I'll bet Chuck Noll never forgot that one.

  14. The last thing that happened in this game that I specifically want to mention is Noll, Roy Gerela, Maulty Moore, Shula and Larry Csonka.

    Somewhere at the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth, with his team trailing 14-10, Noll sends on Gerela for a field-goal try of 48 yards. That's pretty long--especially for a kicker whose four-season record on attempts of 40 or more yards is 11 of 44 and whose career long is 50 yards (a distance from which he had success only that one time).

    Now I would need to go back and look up the NFL rules at this point, but I'm pretty sure missed field goals resulted in the opponent's taking over at its own 20. And in that case, it tilts the scales more toward Noll's decision to try to cut Miami's lead to one point, even with a kicker with so little success at a distance as far as 48 yards.

    But here's the thing: Maulty Moore blocked the kick (and one of my all-time-favorite Dolphins, Curtis Johnson), recovered). Topps didn't make any football cards of Maulty Moore, and the Dolphins waived him when I was 7, in NFL75. So I had only heard of the guy before this NFL72 dive, and I certainly had no idea he was responsible for such a crucial game in Dolphins history. According to Wikipedia, he ended up playing a bit for the Bengals and expansion Bucs after being cut by Miami but returned to teach in Broward County after his NFL career. Hooray for my new friend, Maulty Moore, and I'm excited to learn more about him in the years ahead!

  15. So after the Dolphins' block and recovery, Miami takes over at the Pittsburgh 40, and here's what happened:

    — Mercury Morris run, 4 yards
    — Griese pass to Marv Fleming, 9
    — Morris run, 2
    — Csonka run, 11
    — Csonka run, 9
    — Morris run, -2
    — Csonka run, 3
    — Csonka run on fourth-and-1, 1
    — Kiick run, 2
    — Kiick run, 1 and TOUCHDOWN!

    I freaking LOVE it that Shula, with a 14-10 advantage and facing the fourth-and-1 at Pittsburgh's 4 and about eight minutes to go, ran Csonka into the "Steel Curtain" in pursuit of the two-score lead!