Jets-Dolphins, A Perfect Season and What Almost Was — NFL Six Picks

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When I think about the nearly 50 years I’ve spent watching NFL football, the two best teams I’ve ever witnessed over the course of a full season were the 1972 Dolphins and the 1985 Bears. That ’72 Dolphins team, of course, authored the league’s only unbeaten season, while the dominant ’85 Bears suffered just one loss during their Super Shuffle championship season — ironically enough at the hands of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.

I got to thinking about that incredible Dolphins season this week as an alternative to trying to create hype around this weekend’s lackluster showdown between the 2018 Dolphins and New York Jets. The listing Dolphins (4-4 and taking on water weekly after starting the season 3-0) serve as hosts to the 3-5 Jets (also listing, and looking at this weekend as perhaps their last chance to salvage anything meaningful out of Sam Darnold’s rookie year).

Any fan of either of these two teams can tell you that theirs is an exciting history, with more than it’s share of Canton-bound stars, epic slugfests and drama — from Marino’s fake spike, to the Monday Night Miracle, and across A.J. Duhe’s three-interception AFC Championship demolition, to Wesley Walker hauling in three TD tosses from Ken O’Brien in that 51-45 seesaw Jets win back in ’86. It’s a long list containing magical moments for each side.

However, what is often ignored when reminiscing on the history of this rivalry, is how close the Jets came back in 1972 to derailing that undefeated Miami season.

The date was November 19th, almost 46 years ago to the day, and the Dolphins were hosts that afternoon, too. They entered the contest 9-0 behind super-backup QB Earl Morrall and the league’s best running game, featuring soon-to-be Pro Bowlers Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris (not to mention a pretty fair blocking back named Jim Kiick, “Sundance” to Csonka’s “Butch Cassidy”). Csonka, Morris and Kiick would combine for over 2600 yards rushing that year, not to mention 23 touchdowns, for the NFL’s top rushing offense.

What’s been lost in the years since this game took place is that the 1972 Jets were actually one of the better Jets squads of the early-’70’s. Gang Green entered this matchup at 6-3 with a dangerous offensive attack behind Joe Willie Namath that would end the season #2 in total yards (the Dolphins were first), and #1 in passing offense. Namath’s favorite target was TE/WR Richard Caster, who would also finish the season with a Pro Bowl nod, following 39 catches for 833 yards (21+ yards a catch!) and 10 TD’s.

Other notable Jets weapons that season included young John Riggins, who blasted out 944 yards on only 207 carries, while also sporting what, to this day, remains the best mohawk in NFL history. His backfield mate, Emerson Boozer, posted 11 TD’s himself (Riggins had seven — Morris led the league with 12), while the Jets were on their way to scoring 367 points in that 14-game season (again, second only to the unbeaten Dolphins’ 385). At the time, this was a big game.

And should things have broken a bit differently that afternoon, we might still be waiting for a team to complete an entire NFL season unbeaten and untied. Yes, coulda, woulda, shoulda, but consider the following:

*The Jets jumped on the Dolphins early that day in the Miami heat, leading 17-7 in the first half behind a long touchdown throw from Namath (14-23, 175 yards with 2 TD’s and 2 picks that day) to Caster.

*Morrall brought the Dolphins back and regained the lead in the third quarter,  21-17, calling his own number. The 38-year-old Morrall, never known for his wheels, took it in on 31-yard QB keeper, no doubt earning a measure of revenge for his Super Bowl III defeat while a Colt.

*Not to be denied, the Jets regained the lead and entered the 4th quarter leading the unbeaten Fish 24-21, as an uncomfortable hush fell over the mostly pro-Dolphin crowd (even back then there were a lot of Jets fans/snow birds in the Miami stands).

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*Unfortunately for the Jets, but in good news for the NFL history books, that relentless  Miami ground game wore down the barely-average Jets defense, and when Mercury Morris (the speedster would finish 1972 with an even 1000 yards rushing) scored from 14 yards out early in the 4th quarter, that proved to be the final margin in the Dolphins 28-24 win.

The Dolphins completed the rest of their perfect regular season barely challenged, not facing another above-.500 team the rest of the way, and steamrolled through three more postseason conquests to establish their immortality.

The Jets? Well, they got to 7-5 and appeared playoff bound with two games to go (tell me if this sounds at all familiar), only to drop the final two games on the schedule in crushing fashion, ending the season a disappointing 7-7 and out of postseason contention (much to the Dolphins relief).

But it was a heckuva game that November day of long ago, and here’s hoping that tomorrow’s tilt between these two old division rivals delivers a few more memories to their colorful history (are you listening Sam Darnold?).

So much for the nostalgia, football fans, here’s this week’s NFL Six Picks (home team in ALL CAPS):

SAINTS (+1) over the Los Angeles Rams — Okay, we have to start with a toast for that 1972 Dolphins team, who famously (some might say obnoxiously) pop the corks on a bottle of champagne every season once the league’s last unbeaten team takes a loss. And this looks like the week. The Rams have been the bane of AtticBro’s Six Picks existence this year, but maybe the key is I’ve only been going against them when they were favored by a touchdown or more? The Saints and Drew Brees as home dogs for a game the whole country will pay attention to seems like safe money, and the odds continue to rise that the clunker I’ve been predicting weekly for the Rams finally comes to us this Sunday. This is the kind of game that allows me to justify my investment in the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package every year. (Saints 31-27)

CLEVELAND (+10) over the Chiefs — I’m clearly hoping for the “fired coach bounce” that occasionally lifts a team following the dismissal of their head man (you can’t fire 53 players, right?). There’s some talent on this Browns team (did I really just type that?), and I’m seeing the Chiefs gradually returning to the rest of the AFC pack following their annual big start. Let’s hope for some rotten Ohio weather to test young Patrick Mahomes, and that Baker Mayfield relishes his chance to show up everybody’s darling All-World QB in front of the Cleveland fans. (Chiefs 24-20)

FALCONS (pick ’em) over Washington — There are a lot of pick’ems this week, and with the Falcons at home, that means Vegas believes that Washington is the better team on a neutral field. Sorry, but challenge… if Danny Snyder’s Native Americans go down to Atlanta and win this one I’ll have no choice but to give them their due. But if you watched them scuffle against the waving the white flag Giants last week, you have to feel pretty good going with Atlanta and Matty Ryan scoring a bunch as they desperately try to stay on the outskirts of the playoff race in a tough NFC South. (Falcons 34-20)

Houston Texans (pick ’em) over the BRONCOS — Didn’t the Texans start the season 0-3, which included a loss to the woebegone Giants (who would be underdogs if they played Alabama this week)? Yup, that’s Houston. Yet somehow here they are fulfilling preseason promise, with Deshaun Watson lighting it up with both arm and legs, and the defense flying around wreaking havoc. And now they travel to Denver to play the embarrassing Broncos, who can thank Jon Gruden and the Raiders for not being called out more regularly over their disappointing performances this season. How is this a pick ’em? (Texans 37-17)

PATRIOTS (-5) over Green Bay — I never pick the Jets game as part of Six Picks to avoid emotion and rooting interests clouding my already questionable judgement. Keeping emotion out of this game wasn’t easy, but these aren’t Lombardi’s Packers we’ll be rooting for on Sunday night, and we may have seen their final gasp last week in their painful defeat to the Rams. On the other hand, the hated Patriots are starting to groove, like they always seem to at this time of year. Two all-time greats behind center make this one worth watching regardless of the score, which is a good thing. (Patriots 28-16)

Tennessee Titans (+5.5) over the COWBOYS — Two awful matchups in a row from the folks at ESPN and Monday Night Football. I don’t think I could care any less about this game, but it is MNF and the Six Picks rules state it must be included, so here goes nothing. Please note that I still feel the need to spell out both city and team name when it comes to the Titans and the Texans, since the Titans used to be in Houston, and the Texans are now in Houston, and without the nicknames it’s too easy for me to get confused. Luckily for us all, the Titans are so bland at the season’s midway point that it’s becoming easy to forget about them entirely, leaving the spotlight to the juggernaut Texans. Once we get past this Monday night, that is. Oh yeah, the game — at least the ‘Boys have some star power, but despite that it’s too many points to bestow on one of the NFC’s biggest underachievers this year. (Cowboys 14-10)

Last Week’s Six Picks Ledger: 3-3 (21-19-2 on the year)

Which brings us to the weekend’s true showcase, where we will introduce to the world Pradeep the Numbers Guy, from Foster City, CA. While recognized by many for his prolific mustache and encyclopedic knowledge of  pop culture and obscure statistics from the worlds of soccer and cricket, Pradeep also happens to be a closet American Football fan. He joins us this weekend determined to right the LUCKY 7 Guest Prognosticator ship, which has spiraled completely out of control, the latest body blow coming courtesy of last week’s epic misfire by Brian the Fish Fan.

When Pradeep isn’t scouring Netflix for the latest psychological thriller (no doubt featuring subtitles), or reciting the results of every World Cup final since 1900, apparently he’s spending considerable time brushing up on some of the lesser known  notes on ProFootballReference.com. And that makes him the perfect foil as this week’s LUCKY 7 Guest Prognosticator. Here’s Pradeep the Numbers Guy:

Steelers (-3) over the RAVENS — “Hi SportsAttic Nation, I am probably the most unlikely guest prognosticator for SportsAttic, having little interest in “Football” outside of the fantastic halftime Super Bowl performances. I also don’t normally follow sports primarily played in and by one country. But being a numbers guy, not to mention a thorough professional, I took the challenge and did some research. While people are saying this matchup is more likely to be a coin flip decided in the fourth quarter, to me this is a pick for the Steelers offense over the Ravens defense. I think Big Ben steps up tomorrow. Did you know Roethlisberger hasn’t had a 300-yard game in Baltimore in his entire career? He is averaging 327 yards passing per game this season, so I really like Ben’s odds of throwing for 300+ down in Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s success this year in the Red Zone (#2 in the NFL) further bolsters my case. On defense, the Steelers are allowing 100 yards less per game through the air than they did a year ago. Recently Sean Davis, apparently a successful free safety for Pittsburgh, had this to say: “I’m liking the way we (in the secondary) are going, we are making plays. I feel like we are a group on the rise. We are getting better, stacking wins now, shutting offenses down, a lot more three-and-outs.” I am not sure what Sean means by all that, but he does sound very confident that the Steelers will end up triumphant tomorrow. Yours sincerely, Pradeep The Numbers Guy.” (Steelers, 33-28)

SportsAttic take: While tipping our hat to the inordinate number of words that went into that selection by the self-proclaimed “Numbers Guy,” I have to take the other side of this bet. I like the Ravens to snap back after embarrassing themselves (along with Brian the Fish Fan) last week against the Panthers. The Steelers are due for a stumble, and I anticipate a low-scoring affair in Charm City. I have to admit that I’m duly impressed by Pradeep the Numbers Guy’s nugget about Big Ben never throwing for 300 yards in Baltimore, but I believe that streak will extend another year at least. (Ravens, 19-17)

And there you have it. The NFL takes center stage this weekend with baseball over and done, and the NBA just getting started, so let’s see some good games, especially from our Airplanes down in Miami. Win one for Richie Caster, Broadway Joe, Riggins, Boozer, Barkum and the rest of that high flying offense that nearly altered history 46 years ago.

J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!

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