The last two decades have not been kind to the Miami Dolphins, but the first decade certainly was.
In their first nine years as a franchise, the Dolphins won two Super Bowls, three AFC titles and four straight AFC East championships. The last of those division titles was clinched on this day 45 years as Miami held off the lowly Baltimore Colts, 17-16.
At 9-3, the Dolphins entered their final road game of the season at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in a first-place tie with the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 8, 1974. Miami had won both meetings over Buffalo that season. The Colts were a lowly 2-11, but was looking to play spoiler.
Early on, it didn’t look as though Miami would get much resistance as it raced to a 14-0 lead. Howard Twilley got the scoring started with a 4-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Bob Griese for the only points of the first quarter. Larry Csonka added a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but the Dolphins would not find the end zone again.
Baltimore was able to get on the board in the first half on Toni Linhart’s first of three field goals. Miami led 14-3 at halftime and in the third quarter, Garo Yepremian for the Dolphins and Linhart exchanged field goals.
As the Dolphins and Colts were playing in the final quarter, a contest at Shea Stadium had gone final. The New York Jets had upset the Bills, 20-10, meaning that all the Dolphins would have to do to clinch the AFC East was to hold on.
That task ended up being tougher than it would seem. After Linhart’s 20-yard field goal made it an 8-point game, the Colts found the end zone for the first time on Bert Jones’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Bill Olds. Unfortunately for Baltimore, there was no 2-point conversion at the time and the Colts would never threaten again.
Baltimore held the edge in most statistical categories, but settled for too many field goals. Miami’s Benny Malone led all rushers with 104 yards on 17 carries. Jones passed for 180 yards for Baltimore in the loss. Colts’ wide receiver Roger Carr finished with a game-high 99 yards receiving.
With the win and the Buffalo loss, the Dolphins clinched a fourth straight AFC East crown. That remains the longest streak in franchise history. It would be five years later before Miami won another division crown. The 17-16 victory would serve as the closest game the Dolphins would play all year and it happened on this day four and a half decades ago.