December 25, 2009

1971: Dolphins Defeat Chiefs in Longest NFL Game

The Miami Dolphins came to Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium for an AFC Divisional playoff game on Christmas Day, December 25, 1971, having never defeated the Chiefs in six attempts. An expansion team in 1966, the Dolphins made the postseason for the first time just the previous year, in Head Coach Don Shula’s first season with the team. Kansas City, under Head Coach Hank Stram, had won three AFL championships over the previous decade and the Super Bowl following the 1969 season.

Both teams had 10-3-1 records during the regular season. Miami, winners of the AFC East, featured a strong ground game led by power-running FB Larry Csonka (1051 yards) and halfbacks Jim Kiick and Eugene “Mercury” Morris. Bob Griese, rapidly developing into an outstanding quarterback, could keep defenses honest by throwing to deep threat WR Paul Warfield and possession receiver Howard Twilley. Kansas City, top team in the AFC West, featured veteran QB Len Dawson passing to WR Otis Taylor (57 catches, 1110 yards) and a good stable of running backs that included HB Ed Podolak, FB Wendell Hayes, HB Warren McVea, and FB Jim Otis; the defense was well-seasoned.

The Chiefs certainly appeared to be the more experienced team as they scored on their first two possessions, delighting the 50,374 fans present, and taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Jan Stenerud kicked a 24-yard field goal and then, after LB Willie Lanier intercepted a pass by Griese, Dawson threw a seven-yard TD pass to Podolak.

However, the Dolphins came back on the next series. The Chiefs were having success stopping Csonka and Kiick, so Griese threw to Warfield for a 23-yard gain to the Kansas City 21 yard line. Griese went to the air again, with a 16-yard strike to TE Marv Fleming, that set up their first touchdown on a one-yard plunge into the end zone by Csonka. The Dolphins tied the score before the half when they recovered a Podolak fumble deep in Chiefs territory and Garo Yepremian booted a 14-yard field goal.

In the third quarter, it was the Chiefs putting on an impressive show of ball control as they drove 75 yards over ten minutes on 15 plays, capped by Jim Otis crashing over from a yard out. Miami came right back again, with Griese throwing key passes to Twilley and Warfield and Kiick scoring on a one-yard TD run (pictured). It was 17-17 after three quarters.

Both teams traded turnovers, with Miami LB Nick Buoniconti recovering a fumble and Chiefs LB Jim Lynch intercepting a pass deep in his own territory. Miami’s zone defense had been neutralizing the Kansas City deep passing game, but Dawson connected with rookie WR Elmo Wright for 63 yards, and Podolak ran the final three yards to put the Chiefs back in front midway through the fourth quarter, 24-17.

The Dolphins came back with a 76-yard drive, with Griese hitting Warfield on passes of 17 and 26 yards, and Twilley catching a pass at the Chiefs five yard line. Fleming caught the resulting five-yard TD from Griese, and with less than two minutes remaining in the game, the score was tied again. However, it appeared that the home team would prevail when Ed Podolak ran the ensuing kickoff back 78 yards, finally being caught by Dolphins CB Curtis Johnson at the Miami 22. The Chiefs were well within Jan Stenerud’s range and conservatively ran the clock down to set up for the field goal attempt. In a stunning development, the typically dependable Stenerud hooked the kick to the left and missed. The game went into overtime.

Kansas City won the toss, and once again Podolak came through, returning the kickoff to the Chiefs 46 yard line. The Chiefs again drove to within Stenerud’s range, but Buoniconti blocked the 42-yard attempt for the Dolphins. It was Miami’s turn to try a field goal, but Yepremian’s attempt from 52 yards failed.

The game proceeded into an additional “sudden death” period. The Dolphins got the ball back, and on a misdirection play, Csonka rumbled 29 yards to the Kansas City 36. Now it was Miami’s turn to maneuver for a field goal, and this time it was Yepremian successfully connecting from 37 yards (pictured at top). The longest game in NFL history, which went 7:40 into the sixth period of play (22:40 altogether into overtime), was finally over, and a 27-24 win for the Miami Dolphins.

The Chiefs outgained the Dolphins offensively, 451-407. Ed Podolak (pictured at right) was truly the player of the game, putting on a spectacular show with 350 total yards (85 yards on 17 carries with a TD rushing, 110 yards on 8 pass receptions, 154 yards on three kickoff returns, and one yard on two punt returns). Dawson completed 18 of 26 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Elmo Wright, like Podolak, had over a hundred receiving yards (104 on three catches) thanks to the long reception in the fourth quarter. Wendell Hayes ran for an even 100 yards on 22 carries.

Larry Csonka (24 rushes for 86 yards and a TD) and Jim Kiick (15 carries for 56 yards and a TD) were the workhorses for Miami. Bob Griese completed 20 of 35 passes for 263 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Paul Warfield led the receivers with 7 catches for 140 yards.

Miami went on to beat the Baltimore Colts for the AFC Championship, but lost in the Super Bowl to Dallas. They were still a team on the rise. Kansas City, however, was on the way down and would not appear again in the postseason until 1986.