Christmas Day 1971 was the day the NFL saw it’s longest game ever played – like actually ever – and of course our Miami Dolphins were the stars.
With a 4PM kickoff, the Kansas City Chiefs were set to take on the visiting Miami Dolphins in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The weather was a brisk 47 degrees which was perfect weather for these teams to embark on a never-ending journey.
Well, it wasn’t really never-ending – after 82 minutes and 40 seconds, the Miami Dolphins would prove victorious and move on to the Championship game thus kickstarting what would be a true dynasty.
But this game wasn’t a cakewalk.
Battle of the Quarterbacks
First, let’s talk about the performance of Chiefs Quarterback Len Dawson.
Drafted in the first round of the 1957 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dawson would find himself in Cleveland playing for the Browns and even in Dallas playing for the then-Texans before finding his way to Kansas City in 1963.
In 1971, as the Chiefs signal caller, Dawson would go 9-3 as the starter with a 55.5% completion percentage with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions en-route to the playoffs.
During this Divisional round game against the Miami Dolphins, Dawson would go 18 of 26 for 286 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
While a Hall of Famer in his own right, it was actually a non-Hall of Famer who would be the main story of the day for the Chiefs rather than Dawson. More on him in a moment.
This wouldn’t be a Dolphins-centric website if we didn’t talk about Miami Dolphin’s Quarterback Bob Griese.
I won’t spend a ton of time giving you background on Bob Griese – not only do you probably know a fair amount about him but I also plan to cover him further right here on this very website.
What I will share is that the 1971 season was a strong one for Griese – finishing with 19 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a 9-3 record as the starter. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl and made 1st team all-pro.
Making the playoffs and, eventually, moving past the Chiefs in the Divisional round was just a notch on what would become a massive hall-of-fame belt for the then-26 year old quarterback.
It’s also important to remember that this was an age where Quarterbacks made the play-calls. Bob didn’t have anyone talking to him in his headset. This was key because the game would eventually come down to one particular play call that was amazingly made by Griese himself.
I promise I’ll get there. There’s just one more player I want to talk about before we talk about the game and ultimately it’s ending.
Ed Podolak goes for 350(!)
The second-most important player in the longest NFL game ever is the player that accumulated the most amount of yards in a single-game, still to this day, over those 82 minutes and 40 seconds: Ed Podolak, Running Back.
Podolak racked up a whopping 350 all-purpose yards in this game.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 17 carries totaling 85 yards
- 8 receptions totaling 110 yards
- 3 kickoff returns for a total of 154 yards
- two punt returns for a total of one yard
For reference, the Kansas City Chiefs had 451 total yards on offense – if we take out the kickoff and punt returns, Podolak still accounted for 43% of their offense. Simply incredible.
How could he not be the most important player on the field that day? I’m glad you asked.
Bob Griese calls THE play
During preparations for this game, the Miami Dolphins coaching staff was working on a new play called “roll-right trap” that they felt would overcome some of the defensive firepower on the Chiefs defensive front.
Griese would go the whole game, and through one overtime, before calling this play but when he did he would help set the Dolphins on a course of dominance.
Rather than explain the play itself, I’ll let Larry Csonka (who was part of it) and his interviewer Ken Willis of The Daytona Beach News Journal explain:
What initially looked like a pitch to Jim Kiick around the right side quickly became a handoff to Csonka in the other direction, where he followed pulling-guard Larry Little through a gaping hole on the left side of the line.The Dayton Beach News Journal
This play would be huge in helping them to get into position for Garo Yepremian to kick a 37-yard game-winner to send them on in the playoffs and thus marking this season as the beginning of their 1970’s dynasty.
In a game with over a dozen Hall of Famers, a yardage record-setter and more elapsed time than any game before or after – it was ultimately a field goal that ended it. For Miami Dolphins fans, it was a Christmas miracle.
Want to hear more about this incredible game?