For a brief while, the Miami Dolphins were arguably the greatest team ever to play in the NFL, ultimately becoming the first team to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls. Unfortunately for Fins fans, ever since the glory days of Don Shula, results Miami Dolphins teams right through the 2017 season have consistently been well lower than results.
The Miami Dolphins were born in 1967 as the American Football League’s answer to NFL expansion into the South with establishment of the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints in ’66. (Bizarre to think that the NFL left the entire south untouched for 4½ decades…) The Dolphins rapidly went from expansion doldrums to bona fide contention after just four seasons.
For the first post-season merger, 1970, the Dolphins brought in Don Shula, a guy who’d already been to one Super Bowl with the Baltimore Colts. All Shula did was help morph a 3-10-1 bottom-feeder into a 10-4 playoff team in his first season as coach. For an encore, Shula led his fabled “No Name Defense” plus an offense led by Bob Griese with Shula additions Larry Csonka – still Miami’s all-time leading rusher – and Paul Warfield into Super Bowl VI. Topping that, the Dolphins won it all in Super Bowl VII and capped a back-to-back to (still) the only undefeated season in the NFL’s modern era.
While naturally perfection cannot be beaten (even by Shula in his prime), the Dolphins were off and running. From 1971 to 2001, Miami made the playoffs in 21 of the next 31 seasons and appeared in five Super Bowls. Of the Super Bowl appearances, Shula was Miami coach of each. After stumbling into Super Bowl XVII following the shortened season of ‘’82, the Dolphins landed QB Dan Merino in the legendary 1983 NFL Draft. By ’85, Marino teamed with Mark “Super” Duper and Mark Clayon (and later Irving Fryar) to create the AFC’s highest-flying passing attack, but only another Super Bowl loss followed that season.
Marino would help the Dolphins get into the playoffs five more times (including two more AFAC Championship games), but in hindsight never truly looked like a contender. Post-1999 retirement, Marino has gone form being called a Top 10 quarterback of all-time to The Greatest QB To Never Win the Super Bowl.
As for the team itself, the 21st century has not been kind. From 2002 to ’17, living firmly in the shadow of the New England Patriots, the Dolphins have managed just three seasons of minimum 10 wins and two playoff appearances. Since 2004, their best single-season point differential has been +28. The crumbling of the Patriots dynasty may represent a window of opportunity for the Dolphins, maybe…?
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