50 years later, Miami’s franchise history sacks NFL expansion rival Atlanta

Fifty years ago this summer American Football League owners granted Miami an expansion franchise, but only because they couldn’t keep their first choice.

The more-established NFL swooped in and took Atlanta, which left the AFL looking around for a replacement, which wound up being Joe Robbie. In no time flat Robbie pulled together actor Danny Thomas and some other investors, rustled up a contract with the city-owned Orange Bowl and, just like that, on Aug. 16, 1965, Miami was granted an AFL franchise, pushing that league from eight teams to nine.

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 08: Damien Williams #5 of the Miami Dolphins is tackled by Kimario McFadden #40 of the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter of a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 8, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Falcons won 16-10. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Damien Williams of the Miami Dolphins is tackled by Kimario McFadden of the Atlanta Falcons in the a preseason game at the Georgia Dome on August 8, 2014. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

It could have gone a lot of different ways, of course. Without the growing war between between the NFL and the AFL, it might have taken much longer to bring pro football to Florida. Next came the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, which gave the Dolphins more credibility than they really had earned, and then came Don Shula and, well, you know the rest.

Let’s just throw all of these unmatched apples and oranges into a barrel that’s half-a-century deep now and see which city came out better from the expansion frenzy of 1965.

Atlanta thought it had won the day and the NFL thought it had scored the plum market of the moment, but not according to this chart.


Atlanta                             Miami

Super Bowl titles                                    0                                       2

Super Bowl appearances                       1                                       5

Division championships                        5                                     13

Playoff appearances                               12                                   22

Winning seasons                                     14                                   28

Hall of Famers                                          2                                      9

Longest postseason drought              12 yrs.                               6 yrs.

All-time passing yds. leader            Matt Ryan                        Dan Marino

All-time rushing yds. leader           Gerald Riggs                     Larry Csonka

All-time receiving yds. leader         Roddy White                  Mark Duper

Times city hosted Super Bowl               2                                     10


All right, so maybe it doesn’t make perfect sense accrediting the successes or failures of any given NFL cities to the markets alone. It’s up to decades of different owners and coaches and draft picks and injuries and on and on.

Let’s just say that Miami is 8-4 in head-to-head play against the Falcons, and that Miami has won 443 games to just 329 for Atlanta, and that the Falcons don’t have to claw their way around New England in the AFC East every year. They’ve got New Orleans and Tampa Bay and Carolina instead.

Make what you want of that information concerning the expansion rivals of 1965. I’m sure you’ll be fair.

My view is that the NFL saw something that wasn’t there in Atlanta, and missed something in Miami that was.