Don Shula’s Game Plans From the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 Perfect Season

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The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.

The perfect season almost ended with the perfect score: 17-0, just like the 1972 Dolphins’ final record. Late in Super Bowl VII against Washington, with his team holding a 14-0 lead, coach Don Shula sent out kicker Garo Yepremian to attempt a 41-yard field goal. What happened next was an epic gaffe: Yepremian’s kick was blocked, and when he scrambled to try to pass the ball instead, it slipped out of his grasp into the hands of a Washington player who returned it for a touchdown. It changed the final score (the Dolphins won by 14-7 instead) but not the team’s singular achievement: Perfection.

“Nobody did it in the 40 years before we did it, and nobody has done it in the 40 years since,” Shula says. “When you think about it that way, it just stands by itself.” That year’s team was the crowning achievement of the NFL’s winningest coach, who rode a strong ground game with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and was equally capable of winning with Bob Griese or backup quarterback Earl Morrall when Griese was sidelined by injury. The team played like its coach, smart and careful, which only added to the legend of Yepremian’s miscue. All 17 game plans from that season are carefully filed away in a safe in Shula’s Miami Beach home, the blueprints of history.

— Jenny Vrentas

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