June 25, 2011

1981: Bob Griese Retires from Dolphins

A significant era in Miami Dolphins history came to an end on June 25, 1981 as 36-year-old Bob Griese announced his retirement at a press conference. The 6’1”, 190-pound quarterback, who seemed smaller, had overcome leg injuries and a significant vision problem that forced him to wear glasses on the field over the course of his career, but was unable to sufficiently recover from a lingering shoulder injury suffered during the ’80 season that made it impossible for him to throw, and thus chose to walk away after 14 eventful seasons.

“I think that's one of the things I've always done is not to look at how long I can do something, but how well I can do it,” said Griese. “That's the way I came into the league and I was as shocked as anybody to play for as long as I have.”

“This is a somewhat emotional moment in the history of the Miami Dolphins," team owner Joe Robbie, standing next to Griese, told reporters. “He has been with us 14 or 15 years. Bob has been more important than any of us to this franchise.” Head Coach/GM Don Shula was unable to attend the press conference, but referred to Griese as “the most unselfish player I’ve ever been around.”

Having one year remaining on his $400,000 per year contract, Griese agreed to remain with the club as an assistant to Shula in addition to doing public relations work for the team.

A two-time All-American at Purdue, where he kicked as well as played quarterback, he placed second to Florida’s Steve Spurrier in the 1966 Heisman Trophy balloting. The Dolphins, coming off of their first season as an AFL expansion team that had gone through several quarterbacks along the way, chose Griese in the first round of the ’67 AFL/NFL draft. When starting QB John Stofa went down with a season-ending broken ankle in the opening game, it didn’t take long for the rookie to move into the starting lineup (after overcoming his first pro injuries, a concussion and sprained shoulder). Mobile as well as a good passer (even if his arm was not the strongest), he finished fifth in passing in the AFL and went through one stretch of 122 throws without an interception.

Griese was named to the AFL All-Star Game after each of his first two seasons, but the Dolphins still had plenty of holes and were not yet a winning team – his record as a starter from 1967 to ’69 was 10-20-2 and he led the league by being sacked 33 times in 1969.

All of that changed with the arrival of Shula as head coach in 1970. The team went 10-4 and made it into the playoffs as a wild card entry in the newly-restructured NFL. Griese began to become a more disciplined quarterback, less likely to scramble and more adept at throwing long – particularly thanks to the addition of WR Paul Warfield. With a strong running game led by FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and HB Eugene “Mercury” Morris, Griese threw less but won more, and his skills developed accordingly. His interceptions dropped from 17 in 1970 to 9 in ’71, a season in which he led the NFL in percentage of touchdown passes (7.2 on his 19 scoring throws) and the Dolphins advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time. The fifth-year veteran was a consensus first team All-Pro selection and received MVP honors from the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

In 1972, the Dolphins were even better, although Griese suffered a broken leg five games into the season. Veteran backup QB Earl Morrall guided the club through the remainder of the undefeated regular season and into the playoffs. However, when he struggled in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh, Griese came off the bench in the third quarter and led the offense on two touchdown drives to secure the win (his pass completion to Warfield that covered 52 yards highlighted the first one). He was behind center for the Super Bowl victory over the Redskins.

Miami won back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1972 and ’73 seasons, yet Griese threw a combined 18 passes in those two games, completing 14. He deftly guided the ball-control offense, was effective when he did throw, and as Shula said later, “He got as much of a thrill calling the right running play for a touchdown as he did throwing a bomb.”

Analytical and intense, Griese would go on to show, if there was any doubt, that he could excel throwing the ball. When Warfield, Csonka, and Kiick jumped to the World Football League following the ’74 season, the veteran quarterback became all the more important to the team. While he rose to the occasion when healthy, injuries became an issue over the next two years. He suffered a knee injury in 1975 that cost him six games, and a concussion in a ’76 season in which the Dolphins posted a losing record for the first time under Shula.

Wearing glasses for the first time in 1977, Griese recovered to have an outstanding year, throwing more passes (307) than he had since the pre-Shula 1968 season, completing 58.6 percent of them for 2252 yards and a league-leading 22 touchdowns (against 13 interceptions) while also pacing the NFL in passing (87.8 rating). There was no dominant running back (Benny Malone led the team with 615 yards) and the defense was in transition with several young players, but Miami bounced back to 10-4, narrowly missing the playoffs. Griese was a consensus first-team All-Pro for the second time, was selected to the Pro Bowl, and received the Bert Bell Trophy as NFL Player of the Year.

Injuries again took their toll thereafter, although Griese still performed well when he played. He missed a total of five games in ’78 but led the league’s passers in completion percentage (63.0) and was selected to the Pro Bowl once more.

Overall, Griese was selected to two AFL All-Star Games and, after the merger, six Pro Bowls and passed for 25,092 yards with 192 touchdowns. The Dolphins won nearly 70 percent of their regular season games (82-36-1) with Griese at quarterback after Shula took over as coach, and were 6-5 in the playoffs with two NFL Championships. The cerebral quarterback who made up for a lack of flamboyance with cool, precise play was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. His son, Brian, also was a quarterback in the NFL with the Broncos, Buccaneers, and Bears, as well as a year with the Dolphins.