The 1972 Dolphins put up entirely different stats in what was an entirely different game

Every now and again I pull out the box scores from the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl dynasty more than 40 years ago and marvel at how much the game has changed.

The perfect Dolphins of 1972, for instance, averaged 359.7 yards in total offense. That was tops in the NFL at the time but would have ranked 11th in the league last year.

Don Shula and Bob Griese. (Bill Reinke/The Miami News)

Bob Griese completed eight passes for 88 yards in Super Bowl VII, the game that completed that 17-0 season. Ryan Tannehill has been held under 100 yards passing three times in his 77 career starts.

The 1972 Dolphins had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and that was in a 14-game regular season. Jay Ajayi was the only Miami rusher over 1,000 yards last year. Nobody else cleared 200, and that was over 17 regular-season games.

Don Shula’s No Name Defense allowed 10 touchdowns passing during the 1972 regular season and two during the playoffs. Last year’s Dolphins allowed 30 touchdowns passing and two long scoring bombs by Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter of their only postseason game.

Sure, almost everything about the NFL has changed. The game is more wide open now, more exciting.

Got to hand it to Shula, though, for finding a way to win across 26 seasons as the Dolphins head coach, and seven years with the Baltimore Colts before that. He made the transition from Zonk to Dan Marino., but here’s the most unexpected stat of all.

Johnny Unitas attempted 44 passes and threw for 288 yards in Shula’s first career victory. Marino threw it 35 times and totaled 290 yards in completions during Shula’s 347th and final career win.

Bottom line, Shula was better than bold. He was smart enough to let his best players win for him, however that needed to be.

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Turns out Earl Morrall was just a young whippersnapper when he saved Dolphins perfect season

If you live long enough, eventually just about everybody seems young.

Today, for instance, I started comparing Peyton Manning, seven weeks shy of his 40th birthday, against other Super Bowl quarterbacks of a certain age.

10/22/72 Earl Morral, Miami quarterback, warms up. Miami News Photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. ORG XMIT: ORG XMIT: MER0708281510451178
Miami Dolphins quarterback Earl Morrall warms up on Oct. 22, 1972. (Miami News Photo by Joe Rimkus Jr.)

Turns out good old Earl Morrall, the regal reserve who saved the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season, was a relative pup during his championship years.

You never would have known it by his old-school crewcut, but Morrall was only 34 when he won the league MVP award in 1968 as quarterback of the NFL champion Baltimore Colts. That year ended with a shocking Super Bowl III loss to Joe Namath and the AFL champion New York Jets but Morrall, who threw three interceptions in that game, was not finished.

Two years later, at 36, Morrall came off the bench when Johnny Unitas got hurt and led Baltimore to a 16-13 Super Bowl comeback win over Dallas. Nothing fancy, just 7-for-15 passing for 147 yards and no touchdowns, but the Colts got the win and Earl got his ring.

Next thing you know Don Shula, the Baltimore coach, takes off for a new adventure in Miami. Morrall, he remembered, was a pretty good insurance policy, and so the Dolphins picked up the old pro off waivers. He was 38 and, when Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the 1972 season, Morrall was back in business as Miami’s starter.

Could Morrall have started yet another Super Bowl? Well, sure, if Griese hadn’t been able to return from injury in the AFC Championship game.

Earl may not have been Superman, celebrating each touchdown by ripping open his imaginary shirt, but he was a man of steel nonetheless. Morrall died in 2014, just a few weeks shy of 80, a true Dolphins great.

Now let’s list a few more relative youngsters when compared to the age of Denver’s starting quarterback in Super Bowl 50.

John Elway started and won Super Bowls for the Broncos at 37 and 38.

Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon were each 37 when they started and lost Super Bowls.

Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett each won Super Bowls at 36, while Fran Tarkenton lost one at the same age.

What Peyton wouldn’t give to be so young and spry again.

He won a Super Bowl at 30, then came up short in the big game at 33 and 37.

Hey, they’re only numbers in the end. Those who win are just the right size and shape and age. If it weren’t so, the Dolphins would have stayed away from hiring Adam Gase as their head coach. He’ll be 38 next month, just in time to go chasing all of those “kids” in the NFL draft.

[Dolphins and Marino were headliners last time Super Bowl was in Northern California]

[Six players from Florida schools are playing in Super Bowl 50]

[Here’s hoping Dwyane Wade can recapture the fun and the finish of his rookie season]