How Did Miami Win Super Bowl VII? By Losing Super Bowl VI?

A former running back for the 1972 Undefeated Miami Dolphins spoke to me recently about his team’s efforts to win Super Bowl VII back at the conclusion of the 1972 NFL season. As it turned out, it took losing the biggest game of the year to enable them to win the biggest game of the year.

Miami’s 24-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI was both humbling and embarrassing, at least for the players on the Dolphins roster. But it was also beneficial, although at the time, it certainly did not appear to be so.

The team’s debilitating defeat at the hands of the Cowboys also presented one of the Miami players with a bitter sense of anger. Mercury Morris spent most of Super Bowl VI sitting on the bench. His only real action in that game came when he returned several Dallas kickoffs.

After the game, Morris expressed his harsh disappointment in his lack of action to the reporters crowding into the team’s post-game locker room at old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

Mercury Morris on Super Bowl VI

 “This game (Super Bowl VI) was the game that allowed me to have the opportunity to play,” said Morris. “But not because of what went on during the game. It was because of what happened after the game. 

I can remember everybody else getting dressed, and I’m just sitting there pissed off, because I didn’t play. Now I don’t care what you call it on my part…sour grapes or anything else…they (the Cowboys) had us down, and then they tried to kick sand in our face. I was 24 years old I think then. But I was upset, because the story was about me getting mad, afterwards, and being disgruntled about not playing, and we got our ass kicked.  

“And so one of the coaches went and told Don Shula that I was talking to the press. They told him that ‘…Morris is upset that he expected to play more than he did. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t play at all, because the only time that they put him on the field was when the Cowboys kicked off.’ And I said that

‘I expected to play, because he (Shula) said that we were going to try to get outside of them (the Dallas defense).’ I said that publicly. Well we tried, and it didn’t work. So he (Shula) didn’t give me an opportunity to play, and then I made this, well it wasn’t a fatal mistake, and it turned into actually what happened was one of the coaches told him that I was talking to the press. Now keep in mind, here’s a guy (Shula) who hasn’t won a big game yet.”

From Super Bowl VI to Super Bowl VII

But Morris to his credit was able to see the whole picture.

He was actually wise beyond his years, because he instinctively somehow knew what it was going to take to get the team to obtain the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“We understood that there were three seasons involved here: The regular season, the playoff season, and if you’re good enough, your season boils down to one game,” he explained. “And that’s the one game that you’ve got to win.

And we already knew what that was like the year before, when we played in that one game (Super Bowl VI) and got our asses kicked. So we were determined to come back and get ourselves in a position where we could go back to that game and redeem ourselves for that game (Super Bowl VI). So we won 16 games in order to play in that one game. We just happened to go unbeaten on our way towards redeeming ourselves.

Mercury Morris on Super Bowl VII

“Even when we played Washington (in Super Bowl VII). We go there, and now we’re the underdogs.

Because they said ‘Oh they can’t win 17 games.’ Guess what? We already won 16. We only have to win one. And the one game was the one that we came here for in the first place. We just happened to go unbeaten. Our goal was to get back (to the Super Bowl) and redeem ourselves in that one game.”

Immediately following Miami’s loss in Super Bowl VI, Shula and Morris had a verbal confrontation. Now Shula had to have been upset when his young tailback had the nerve to argue with him, face to face. That certainly took guts. But Morris intensely felt that if Coach Shula made him the starting tailback over Jim Kiick, the Dolphins – and Shula – would not have to experience another loss in a Super Bowl like the one that they just endured.

And that is exactly what happened. After some soul searching, Shula sucked up his pride, and made the change in his offensive backfield. He realized that he did not want a player on his roster that would just sit back on the bench and be content to sit on the bench. Shula wanted someone who wanted to play to step forth, and that’s exactly what Morris did. Shula wanted a guy who wanted to prove himself on the field, and that guy was Mercury Morris.

In the end, Miami defeated the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, 14-7. Their historic victory in that game made them the only perfect team with an unblemished record in NFL annals. And it was achieved, in no small measure, to the disappointment that they felt from Super Bowl VI.

Podcast Trivia Time

Trivia Question:  

Mercury Morris played against his fellow collegiate backfield mate in Super Bowl VI. Who as that running back?

Host of Pro Football in the 1970s - Joe Zagorski

Throughout his days, Joe spent some time as a sportswriter and has been a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association since the mid-1980s.  Joe is also a proud member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

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