January 30, 2012

1983: Riggins Runs Redskins Past Dolphins to Win Super Bowl XVII

Super Bowl XVII capped a 1982 NFL season that was shortened to nine games due to a players’ strike and, as a result, necessitated a change to the usual alignment and playoff structure. The divisions were done away with and the teams with the eight best records in each conference qualified for a postseason tournament. The clubs that came out of the process to meet in the Super Bowl on January 30, 1983 were the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.

The Redskins, under second-year Head Coach Joe Gibbs, had made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1976 and did so in impressive fashion, topping the NFC with an 8-1 record. QB Joe Theismann, the NFL’s top-ranked passer (91.3 rating), operated behind an outstanding offensive line known as “The Hogs”. Wide receivers Charlie Brown and Art Monk were productive, and FB John Riggins (pictured above), typically lined up as a single back in a two-tight end offense, gained 553 yards during the season and had been most impressive in the playoffs with 444 yards on 98 carries (4.5 avg.) in three dominating wins over the Lions, Vikings, and, for the NFC title, the Cowboys. The defense lacked big names but gave up the fewest points in the NFL. To top it off, a special teams performer was selected as league MVP by the Associated Press and Sporting News – PK Mark Moseley, successful on 20 of 21 field goal attempts. Moseley and DB Mike Nelms, an outstanding kick returner, were both named to the Pro Bowl.

The Miami Dolphins, coached by Don Shula, were the second-seeded AFC team at 7-2. With the unspectacular but mobile David Woodley at quarterback, Miami emphasized the ground game on offense, led by Pro Bowl FB Andra Franklin (701 yards). The tough, league-leading defense contained several notable players with last names that began with B and thus were dubbed “The Killer Bees”. They included NT Bob Baumhower, ends Doug Betters and Kim Bokamper, LB Bob Brudzinski, and sibling safeties Glenn and Lyle Blackwood. Outstanding defenders in the 3-4 alignment with non-B last names included inside linebackers A.J. Duhe and Earnest Rhone and CB Don McNeal. Miami defeated the Patriots and Chargers in the first two rounds of the playoffs and then shut out the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game.

There was a giant crowd of 103,667 on hand at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for the contest. The teams traded punts to open the first quarter, but on the second play of the second Miami possession Woodley threw a sideline pass to WR Jimmy Cefalo, who made the catch 21 yards up the field and continued on to the end zone for a 76-yard touchdown.

The Redskins went three-and-out on their next series and the Dolphins ran effectively when they got the ball back, with RB Tony Nathan gaining 12 yards up the middle and Franklin adding another 13 yards on two carries. But with a first down on the Washington 37, Woodley dropped back to pass and was hit hard by DE Dexter Manley, forcing a fumble. DT Dave Butz recovered for the Redskins, who then proceeded to put together an eight-play scoring drive that stretched into the early seconds of the second quarter. After converting a third down to get to the Miami 35, it was Riggins running on five consecutive plays and gaining 21 yards. Moseley kicked a 31-yard field goal and Miami’s lead was cut to 7-3.

The Dolphins started their next series with good field position thanks to CB Fulton Walker’s 42-yard kickoff return to the Miami 47. They drove methodically down the field with Nathan and Franklin running the ball and Woodley throwing short passes. However, after getting a first-and-goal at the Washington eight yard line, the Dolphins couldn’t get into the end zone and settled for Uwe von Schamann’s 20-yard field goal that capped the 13-play possession and made the score 10-3.

The Redskins came back with a long drive of their own, going 80 yards in 11 plays. Theismann started off by passing to TE Rick Walker for 27 yards and the tight end followed up by running for six yards on a reverse. Two Riggins carries garnered a first down at the Miami 43 and Theismann threw twice for 19 yards, 15 on a screen pass to Riggins. Two plays later, Theismann ran the ball 12 yards to the 13 and, following two more runs by Riggins that got the ball to the four, Theismann threw to WR Alvin Garrett in the corner of the end zone. Moseley’s extra point tied the game at 10-10, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Fulton Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown (pictured below) – the first on a kick return in Super Bowl history. It put Miami back in front at 17-10, and that remained the score at halftime. It would prove to the high water mark of the game for the Dolphins.

The clubs traded punts to start the third quarter before the Redskins put together a six-play, 61-yard scoring drive. The highlight was Garrett running on a reverse for 44 yards to the Miami nine. Moseley kicked a 20-yard field goal that narrowed the score to 17-13.

After neither team could generate a first down on the next three possessions, Theismann tossed a pass that Duhe intercepted at the Washington 47. The Dolphins were unable to capitalize, however, as Woodley’s long pass intended for Cefalo was deflected and picked off by FS Mark Murphy at the five yard line. Riggins ran twice for 13 yards but, with the ball out to the 18, disaster nearly struck for the Redskins when Theismann’s first-down throw intended for Charlie Brown was tipped up into the air and almost intercepted by Bokamper. As the defensive tackle tried to pull the ball in, and with nothing between him and the goal line, Theismann alertly reached over to jar the ball loose for an incompletion.

Washington continued its drive, with the game entering the fourth quarter, to the Miami 43 and a long pass by Theismann intended for Brown was intercepted by Lyle Blackwood at the one. In a critical series, the Dolphins were able to gain only three yards and Tom Orosz’s punt sailed 41 yards - with a three-yard return by Nelms, the Redskins had good field position at the their 48.

They made the most of it. Following two runs by Riggins and a carry by RB Clarence Harmon, Washington faced a fourth-and-one situation and went for it. Riggins took the handoff, headed toward left end, and kept going all the way for a 43-yard touchdown. With Moseley’s extra point, the Redskins took a 20-17 lead.

The Washington defense was steadily taking control and the Dolphins responded with a short series that started at their 22 and ended with a net loss of a yard at the 21. Orosz punted only 32 yards, Nelms returned for 12, and the Redskins again had outstanding field position, starting at the Miami 41.

It was all ball control now as Riggins carried on six of the next seven plays. Theismann rolled out on a third down play and threw to Charlie Brown for the needed nine yards to get inside the Dolphins’ ten and three plays later he threw to Brown again for a six-yard TD that sealed the win for Washington. The 12-play drive ran nearly seven minutes off the clock and the Dolphins were down by ten points with under two minutes to play. Miami turned to backup QB Don Strock, a better passer than Woodley, but it made no difference. The Redskins won their first NFL title since 1942 by a score of 27-17.

Washington’s domination was complete, outgaining the Dolphins by 400 yards to 176 and posting 24 first downs to Miami’s 9. 276 of the Redskins’ yards came on the ground, and the Dolphins gained only 34 total yards in the second half, with no pass completions at all. Each team turned the ball over twice.

John Riggins was the game’s MVP as he rushed for 166 yards on 38 carries and a TD – 108 of those yards came in the second half. Joe Theismann (pictured at left) completed 15 of 23 passes for 143 yards with two touchdowns and two intercepted. Charlie Brown had 6 catches for 60 yards and the game-clinching TD.

For the Dolphins, David Woodley was successful on four of his 14 throws for 97 yards with the one long touchdown that accounted for most of the yardage and one interception. Jimmy Cefalo, who caught the scoring pass, had two catches for 82 yards and WR Duriel Harris pulled in the other two completions, gaining 15 yards. Andra Franklin led the ground game with 49 yards on 16 attempts. Fulton Walker, with his 190 yards on four kickoff returns for a 47.5 average and a TD, was Miami’s most productive offensive weapon.

After Coach Gibbs had received the congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan and Riggins learned that he was the game’s Most Valuable Player, the irrepressible fullback said, “At least for tonight, Ron may be the President, but I’m the King.” The Super Bowl performance crowned an impressive postseason for Riggins, in which he ended up with more rushing yards in the four playoff games (610) than he did in the nine regular season contests (553).

The Redskins proved it was no fluke in 1983, putting together a record-setting offensive season while going 14-2. They again won the NFC title, but were upset by the Raiders in the Super Bowl. Miami went 12-4, losing in the Divisional round of the playoffs, although the stage was set for a return to the Super Bowl in ’84 due to the impressive play of rookie QB Dan Marino.