1974 Miami Dolphins: Chasing Super Bowl Greatness

After appearing in three straight Super Bowls and winning two, the 1974 Miami Dolphins were determined to become the first team to win three Vince Lombardi trophies. They had the talent and drive to do it, but something disrupted their focus during the off-season.

Two All-Pro players, fullback Larry Csonka and receiver Paul Warfield, along with running back Jim Kiick, signed contracts with the World Football League. The signings were a distraction, even though they wouldn’t play for the new league until 1975.

1974 Miami Dolphins

They started the season looking like a distracted team, losing to a mediocre NE Patriots team 34–24. The Dolphins running game sputtered with Mercury Morris injured, gaining only 89 yards.

Despite getting sacked five times, quarterback Bob Griese played well, completing 19 of 30 passes for 254 yards. Receiver Paul Warfield gained 104 yards on five catches, and Marlin Briscoe caught nine passes for 113 yards and one touchdown. The Miami defense played poorly, giving up 196 yards on the ground, and they did not register any sacks.

Mercury Morris was back in action for a week two win against Buffalo, gaining 88 yards on 13 carries. The “No Name Defense” played better, recording five sacks and holding OJ Simpson to 63 yards rushing. The final score was 24–16.

Jake Scott and Dick Anderson (Miami Dolphins)
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Jake Scott and Dick Anderson (Miami Dolphins) football cards

The Miami offense looked as powerful as ever in a week-three win over the SD Chargers. Larry Csonka rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns. Bob Griese threw for 248 yards, and tight end Jim Mandich had four catches for 101 yards.

But as in week one, the Dolphins’ defense struggled, allowing running back Don Woods to run all over them for 157 yards on 18 carries. Final score: Miami 28, SD 21.

Bob Griese had another excellent game in a 21–17 win against the Jets, completing 17 of 23 passes for 199 yards. The Dolphins had no trouble stopping the Jets’ running game, but they did have a tough time stopping Joe Namath, who passed for 290 yards and two touchdowns, one, an 89-yard bomb to tight end Rich Caster. Caster gained 117 yards in total, and running back John Riggins added another 74 yards in receiving.

Losing Steam?

The Dolphins offense looked a bit sluggish in a week five loss to the Redskins, gaining only 233 total yards, and their defense got torched by veteran quarterback Sonny Jurgensen who completed 26 of 39 passes for 303 yards. Roy Jefferson caught seven of those passes for 111 yards. The final was Washington 20, Miami 17, and the Dolphins did not look like the team that had dominated the NFL in 1972 & 1973.

Bob Griese didn’t have one of his better days in a 9–3 win over the KC Chiefs, completing only 11 of 25 passes and throwing three interceptions. But the Dolphins’ running game made up for it by rushing for 189 yards. Chiefs running back Woody Green ran for 98 yards on the Miami defense, but the Chiefs could do little else, scoring only one field goal. Tim Foley scored a safety for Miami on a blocked punt.

The 17–7 score did not indicate how badly the Dolphins dominated the Baltimore Colts. The Colts’ offense gained only 158 yards, while the Dolphins’ running attack gained 252 yards on 53 carries. But it wasn’t the usual combo of Csonka, Morris, and Kiick that got the job done. Rookie Benny Malone gained 104 yards, while former Colt Don Nottingham gained 102 yards. Another rookie, receiver Nat Moore, caught six passes for 95 yards.

Running on All Cylinders

The Dolphins looked dominant again in a 42–7 win over the Falcons in week eight. The Miami D held Atlanta to only 196 total yards, while the Dolphins’ running game churned out 196 yards. Again, it was the combo of Benny Malone and Don Nottingham, as Malone gained 108 yards and Nottingham added 87.

In a week nine game against the Saints, New Orleans outgained Miami 273 yards to 222, but the Dolphins scored all the points, winning 21–0. The Miami Defense recorded four sacks. The Dolphins were now 7–2, and their defense, which had looked anything but Super earlier in the season, had allowed only 17 points in the last four games.

The winner of a week ten showdown with the Buffalo Bills would take sole possession of first place in the AFC Eastern Division. Miami had complete control of the game, leading 21–7 at the end of three quarters. But a 42-yard defensive fumble return for a touchdown by Bills linebacker Dave Washington changed the game’s momentum.

With the score tied 28–28 late in the fourth quarter, Dolphins fullback Don Nottingham rambled 23 yards for a touchdown to give Miami a 35–28 win. Bob Griese completed 11 of 18 passes for 237 yards and connected with Paul Warfield on a 49-yard touchdown strike. Warfield had four receptions on the day for 139 yards.

Bob Griese and Paul Warfield (Miami Dolphins)
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Bob Griese and Paul Warfield (Miami Dolphins) football cards

Too Confident?

The Dolphins were on a roll, winning five games in a row. They were first in their division with an 8–2 record. Perhaps they were feeling a little too good about themselves and got overconfident against a mediocre Jets team. The Jets played a game of ball control, running the ball 43 times. John Riggins had 22 carries for 93 yards, and Rich Caster caught six passes for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns. Miami held the lead in the fourth quarter until Joe Namath connected with Caster for a 45-yard touchdown, giving the Jets a 17–14 upset win.

The Dolphins bounced back strong in week twelve with a 24–3 win over the Bengals. Larry Csonka rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries. The Miami defense held the Bengals to only eight first downs and 162 total yards.

In week thirteen, the Dolphins had a 17–3 lead against the Colts and almost blew it, but they hung on for a 17–16 victory. Benny Malone had a big day, rushing for 104 yards on 17 carries. Colts receiver Roger Carr had four receptions for 99 yards.

In the final game of the regular season, the Dolphins trailed the Patriots 24–0 but stormed back to win 34–27. Having already clinched their division, Coach Don Shula held many of his starters out of this game. Backup quarterback Earl Morral played well despite throwing three interceptions, completing 15 of 23 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Backup receiver Melvin Baker had four receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Many Player Accolades

As usual, the AFC Pro Bowl team was loaded with Miami Dolphins players. In all, ten players made the team. Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, defensive end Bill Stanfill, safeties Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, Guards Larry Little and Bob Kuechenberg, center Jim Langer, and tackle Norm Evans. Jake Scott, Jim Langer, and Larry Little also made All-Pro.

Norm Evans and Nick Buoniconti (Miam Dolphins)
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Norm Evans and Nick Buoniconti (Miam Dolphins) football cards

1974 NFL Playoffs

The 11–3 Dolphins would play the 12–2 Raiders in Oakland in the playoffs. Miami had destroyed the Raiders in the 1973 AFC Championship, but this was a much better Raiders team. Some were calling this game “The Real “Super Bowl”.

Nat Moore ran the opening kickoff 89 yards to give the Dolphins an early 7–0 lead, and it looked like the Raiders could have a long day. But Oakland fought back and trailed by only three points at halftime. After Oakland took a 14–10 lead in the third quarter, Miami regained the lead 16–14 and increased it to 19–14.

The Raiders retook the lead 21–19 before Benny Malone broke several tackles on a spectacular 23-yard run to give the Dolphins a 26–21 lead. Time was running out on the Raiders until Ken Stabler connected with Clarence Davis on an 8-yard touchdown pass that will forever be known as the “Sea of Hands” catch—the final score: Oakland 28, Miami 26.

Miami had great success running the ball on the Oakland defense, grinding out 213 yards on 41 attempts. Larry Csonka rushed for 114 yards on 24 carries. But the Dolphin’s defense was not able to stop the Raider’s passing attack. Kenny Stabler completed 20 of 30 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Fred Biletnikoff had eight receptions for 122 yards and scored one touchdown.

Larry Csonka and Larry Little of the Miami Dolphins
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Larry Csonka and Larry Little (Miami Dolphins) football cards

Many believe the 1974 Dolphins could have been the first team to win three Super Bowls in a row if not for the distraction of two of their future Hall of Fame players signing on with the WFL. While there may be some truth to that, perhaps the Dolphins weren’t as good as they had been in 1973, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

The 1973 Miami defense allowed only 150 points scored against them, while the 1974 defense gave up 217 points. Their struggles on defense were evident in the playoff game against Oakland. As a comparison, the Dolphins gave up only 236 total yards to the Raiders in the 1973 AFC Championship game. In the 1974 playoff game, they gave up 411 yards.

Although the Dolphins would continue to have winning teams in the years to come, they would not win another AFC title until 1982, and they have not won a Super Bowl since 1973. But from 1971 to 1974, the Miami Dolphins were a force to be reckoned with.


Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network

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