The Vikings and Dolphins play on Sunday for only the 12th time, and the first two meetings were remarkably important in the histories of the two storied franchises.
In 1972, the Dolphins went 17-0 to complete the only perfect season in NFL history. But had it not been for a late roughing the passer penalty against the Vikings in Week 3 at old Met Stadium, there would have been no run of perfection.
The Vikings led 14-6 with under five minutes to play when Garo Yepremian kicked a 51-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-9. Up to that point in his career, that was the longest field goal Yepremian had ever made.
The Vikings were being quarterbacked by Fran Tarkenton, who had returned to the Vikings in ’72 after spending five years with the New York Giants, and the offense went three-and-out and gave the ball back to Miami.
Then the Dolphins got their biggest break of the season when Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema was called for roughing the passer on second-and-8, which gave Miami a first down at the Vikings 42-yard line with 1 minute, 20 seconds to play. Four plays later, the great Bob Griese connected on a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jim Mandich and the Dolphins won 16-14.
If that penalty hadn’t been called, there is no doubt the Vikings would have won the game and the Dolphins’ unbeaten season would have never happened.
The Vikings’ Purple People Eaters had done a tremendous job shutting down the great running back tandem of Larry Csonka (66 rushing yards) and Mercury Morris (28) in that game, but the roughing the passer call completely swung the momentum to the Dolphins.
How big was the play? Various rumors exist that then-Dolphins coach Don Shula or linebacker Nick Buoniconti sends Lurtsema a Christmas card every year.
Super Bowl VIII
The Vikings met the Dolphins again the following season in Super Bowl VIII and lost 24-7, but once again there was a key play that went against the Vikings that could have changed the game.
The Vikings had fallen behind 17-0 in the second quarter when they started a 12-play drive that brought them all the way down to the Miami 8-yard line with under a minute to play in the first half. Tarkenton handed off to Oscar Reed, who fumbled the ball at the 6 and gave it back to Miami, who ran out the final 30 seconds of the half.
The Vikings played better in the second half, but that lost touchdown opportunity really hurt. Still, there’s no denying that those Dolphins teams were two of the best in NFL history.
That was always the toughest part about the Vikings’ four Super Bowl losses under Bud Grant: They were to some of the best football teams to ever play in the NFL. They lost to the 1969 Chiefs, who in 2007 ESPN ranked as the seventh-greatest defense in NFL history. The ’73 Dolphins might have been better than the 17-0 team. The ’74 Steelers lost three games by a combined 27 points. And the ’76 Oakland Raiders lost only once and were one of the most dominant teams ever.
What a lot of people don’t know was that the original Miami franchise was owned by a local lawyer named Joe Robbie, who got the team through the courtesy of his friend, AFL Commissioner Joe Foss, when a possible Philadelphia franchise fizzled because they couldn’t find an available stadium (the NFL Eagles had exclusive rights to Franklin Field). Robbie owned the Dolphins from 1965 until his death in 1990.
• Joel Maturi has decided to give up his teaching position at the University of Minnesota, something he has done since he retired from his former position as athletic director. Maturi, who recently had back surgery, likely will keep his position on the NCAA Committee on Infractions. One thing I miss while covering Gophers athletics is visiting with Maturi every day unless he was out of town. People don’t appreciate the contributions he made to the athletic programs.
• The Vikings already know seven of their nine non-NFC North opponents for the 2015 season. They will play at Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and Arizona while facing Kansas City and San Diego at home. There are still two more teams to be decided once the season is finished and the NFL can finalize schedules based on competitive balance.
• The Dolphins have allowed 10 sacks in the past two games, a good reason why the Vikings’ opponent this Sunday lost their past two games to the Patriots and Ravens by a total of 43 points. The Dolphins are 1-4 in their past five December games.
• Monte Kiffin, who was on the Vikings coaching staff from 1986-89 and 1991-94, is now the assistant head coach on defense for the Dallas Cowboys (10-4), who are fighting for a playoff spot and have a huge game against Indianapolis on Sunday.
• Alex Illikainen, the Grand Rapids native who is committed to Wisconsin, and Kamali Chambers, the former Hopkins point guard who is unsigned as of yet, are playing for 12-0 Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. Chambers had a nice game in a 108-53 victory over Bill Crothers Secondary School, scoring 13 points. Illikainen, who is starting, recently had a big game in a 85-59 victory over Holderness, scoring 18 points with four three-pointers and a team-high nine rebounds. … East Ridge freshman center J.C. Hassenauer, who played in one game for No. 1 Alabama and will travel with the team to the College Football Playoff series game against Ohio State on Jan. 1 in the Superdome, could have an increased role next season.
• Former Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson, now at Long Beach State (5-6), plays a much tougher schedule than he played at Minnesota and what the Gophers play now. Monson has victories over Kansas State, San Francisco State, Western Michigan, Xavier and Nevada. They lost close games to BYU, Washington and San Diego State.
• Malik Smith is the lone former Gopher playing in the NBA Developmental League. He is averaging 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in seven games with the Iowa Energy, who play in Des Moines.
• Mario Lucia is third in scoring for the University of Notre Dame with 14 points (11 goals, three assists) in 18 games. That goal total is the best on the team and tied for sixth in Division I hockey.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org