Most football fans have experienced memorable moments, championships, games, and even bitter losses in the postseason over the last 87 years. But, many people only remember the champion or the runner-up in the last game of the NFL season, the NFL championship or Super Bowl. The December 18, 1932 playoff game featuring the Portsmouth Spartans (now known as the Detroit Lions) and the Chicago Bears was a memorable event as the NFL’s first postseason game with the Bears winning 9-0. In this special 32 part series, I will analyze each NFL team’s best championship season and the one season where they finished just short of claiming the NFL’s ultimate prize. The second team to be analyzed is… the 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS!
The 1984 Dolphins: Dan Marino’s MVP Season
Three months after coming up short to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII, Don Shula and general manager Mike Robbie made a big change to the Miami Dolphins offense when they drafted future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino from the University of Pittsburgh in the 1983 NFL Draft. In his junior year at Pittsburgh, Marino led the Panthers to their third straight 11-1 season and set a new school record with 37 touchdown passes in 1981. However, after his disappointing senior season and falling in the draft due to strange rumors, Marino started in nine games in 1983 while throwing 20 touchdown passes and led the Dolphins to their third straight AFC East division title before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in his first postseason start.
Despite their playoff upset to Seattle, the Dolphins used the 1984 off-season to change their offensive philosophy to fit Marino’s strengths. With his son, David Shula, coaching Miami’s dynamic receiving corps led by Mark Clayton as well as Mark Duper, Don Shula had the NFL’s No. 1 ranked offense in 1984 and the Dolphins dominated the AFC with a 14-2 record after starting the season 11-0. With a weak AFC East, Dan Marino swept all four teams (Patriots, Jets, Colts, Bills) and set new single season NFL records for passing yards (5,084 yards) as well as touchdowns (48 TD’s).
After earning league MVP honors, Dan Marino led the Dolphins offense to a convincing 31-10 revenge win over the Seahawks in the divisional round before facing his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the 1984 AFC Championship. In his only playoff game against Pittsburgh, Marino set new AFC Championship records for passing yards (421 yards) as well as touchdowns (4 TD’s) and led the Dolphins to their fifth AFC conference title with a 45-28 victory. However, despite Marino’s record setting season, Miami’s offense had overlooked a disappointing season for Don Shula’s “Killer Bee” defense as the Dolphins headed into Super Bowl XIX against the 17-1 San Francisco 49ers.
In Super Bowl XIX, Dan Marino and the Dolphins offense took an early 10-7 lead in the first quarter before future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and the 49ers offense scored three touchdowns in the 2nd quarter to take a 28-16 advantage into halftime. But, in the second half, San Francisco’s defense overwhelmed Miami as Marino threw two interceptions and the Dolphins were held scoreless while Montana secured the 49ers 38-16 victory with another touchdown against Shula’s defense in the third quarter. Despite leading the Dolphins back to the AFC Championship in 1985 and 1992, Marino fell short in his only Super Bowl appearance in his Hall of Fame career.
1984 DOLPHINS OFFENSE
Strengths: Passing attack and lack of turnovers. From 1966-1983, the Dolphins never had a quarterback throw for at least 3,000 yards in a season, but in 1984, Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, and Mark Duper transformed Miami’s run-first offense into an aerial attack. While Marino set new NFL records in passing yards as well as touchdowns, Clayton set a new NFL record with 18 receiving TD’s while Duper earned his second straight Pro Bowl selection with 71 receptions for 1,306 yards and 8 TD’s. But, Dan Marino also had other receiving targets and 10 different receivers on the Dolphins offense had at least one touchdown reception!
The 1984 Dolphins also committed the 3rd fewest turnovers in the league (28; 18 interceptions, 10 fumbles lost) and had a disciplined offense as Miami was only penalized 67 times during the regular season (fewest in the NFL). The Dolphins offensive line played a big role in Dan Marino’s league MVP season as well by giving him great protection and allowing 14 sacks.
Weaknesses: Rushing offense. After having one of the NFL’s best running attacks in 1982, the 1984 Dolphins had the league’s 16th ranked rushing offense, but scored 18 rushing touchdowns (6th most in the NFL). Despite their veteran offensive line led by future Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson and All-Pro right guard Ed Newman, Miami only had one 100+ yard rusher in 1984 (rookie Joe Carter in Week 7 vs. Houston) and struggled to find a solid backfield behind Dan Marino with Woody Bennett, Tony Nathan, Joe Carter, and Pete Johnson splitting time.
In Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers defense exploited this weakness by only allowing 25 rushing yards after the Dolphins rushed for 277 combined yards in their first two playoff games against the Seahawks and the Steelers.
1984 DOLPHINS DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Strengths: Scoring defense and interceptions. After working as a defensive coordinator for Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco, Chuck Studley had the NFL’s 7th ranked scoring defense in 1984 and allowed the fewest field goals in the league (9 of 17 FG’s). Studley inherited Bill Arnsparger’s “Killer Bee” defense, which was the NFL’s No.1 ranked defense in 1983, and gave up 18.6 points per game with Pro Bowl nose tackle Bob Baumhower and Pro Bowl inside linebacker A.J. Duhe leading the charge.
The 1984 Dolphins also had the 9th most interceptions in the NFL in 1984 (24) and Miami’s experienced secondary recorded three more interceptions in the AFC Championship against the Steelers. Led by their dynamic safety pair, Lyle and Glenn Blackwood (“The Bruise Brothers”), the Dolphins allowed a 71.4 passer rating during the regular season and held Pittsburgh’s quarterback Mark Malone to a rating of 77.5 in the AFC Championship.
Weaknesses: Overall defense and overall special teams. Despite having the league’s 7th ranked scoring defense, the 1984 Dolphins had the NFL’s 14th ranked passing defense as well as the league’s 22nd ranked rushing defense. After replacing Arnsparger in the offseason, Studley’s defense allowed the highest yards per carry average in the NFL (4.7 yards) and had only 42 sacks during the regular season (9th fewest in the league). With Miami’s prolific offense overlooking these issues, the Dolphins defense was not exploited for most of the season, but in their three losses (including Super Bowl XIX), Studley allowed 30+ points against the Chargers, Raiders, and 49ers.
The 1984 Dolphins also struggled with their special teams unit, but kicker Uwe von Schamann led the NFL with 66 extra points and punter Reggie Roby was an All-Pro selection with the 3rd highest yards per punt average in the league (44.7 yards on 51 punts). However, Schamann made only 9 of 19 field goals (47.4 percent) and Miami’s primary kick returner Fulton Walker struggled with his expanded role after Mark Clayton left his punt return duties to become one of Dan Marino’s dynamic wide receivers.
COMING UP NEXT… THE NEW YORK JETS!
https://pittsburghpanthers.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=8659 https://www.123movies.gdn/episode/a-football-life-season-7-episode-1/ https://www.profootballhof.com/football-history/the-first-playoff-game/ https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1985-01-16-8501020923-story.html