A year ago it was The Game No One Should Have Lost, a gut-wrenching thriller in which the Miami Dolphins overcame a 24-0 first-quarter deficit only to lose 41-38 in overtime to the San Diego Chargers. Obviously, Sunday's rematch—in the same Orange Bowl for the same stakes, the right to play for the AFC Championship—demanded a title, too.
The Chargers arrived in Miami with the NFL's most prolific offense, led by Dan Fouts, the league's best quarterback (ever?) in the opinion of a growing number of pro football people. In Wes Chandler, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner, Fouts had a trio of crown-jewel receivers who had helped him average a league-record 321 yards per game passing this season. For their part, the Dolphins had the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL. They were also tops in the league in stopping the pass (114.1 yards a game) and in interceptions (2.1). Last season Miami ranked 15th in total defense and 19th against the pass.
In its pregame buildup, the local press took to calling the matchup Miami-San Diego II. But that was just a working title. Hereinafter, the game shall be known as The Revenge of the Killer Bees. The current edition of Miami's no-name defense has become known as the Killer Bees because of a prevalence of Bs among its members. By swarming all over Fouts & Co. they took the sting right out of the San Diego offense. Remember, now: Bokamper, Baumhower and Betters (Kim, Bob and Doug, respectively) across the front; Brudzinski (Bob) at left outside linebacker; and the Blackwoods (Lyle and Glenn), two of the baddest brothers since Frank and Jesse James, at the safeties.
This isn't to take anything away from the non-B Bees, Linebackers A.J. Duhe, Earnie Rhone and Larry Gordon, who stunted and blitzed all afternoon and fulfilled Duhe's pregame promise to "find a way to stay in Fouts's face"; or from cornerbacks Gerald Small and Don McNeal. They were most responsible for limiting Chandler to two receptions and Winslow and Joiner to one apiece.
Not that the offense didn't help. In fact, it was 24-year-old David Woodley—remember how he was ignominiously benched by Coach Don Shula at the 0-24 point in last season's game?—who guided the Dolphins to a 24-0 lead this time before the Chargers had run a dozen plays. That Woodley was the best quarterback on the field, connecting on 17 of 22 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, came as no surprise either to him or Shula. In his two previous games he had completed 30 of 41 passes for 485 yards. "I know the kind of talent he has, believe me," said Shula.
But the Dolphin defense made Woodley's day against San Diego possible, executing Assistant Head Coach Bill Arnsparger's defensive game plan to deal with Fouts almost to perfection: make a good pass rush; jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage; disguise the coverages; get Fouts to force the football into places it didn't belong. Because teams have come to believe that the only sure way of beating the Chargers is to score a heap of points—San Diego averaged 32 a game this season—the Chargers naturally came to believe that themselves. "How would I stop the Charger offense?" said Fouts before the game. "Number one, I'd stop the quarterback."
The Dolphins did. Not since last January's Ice Bowl loss to Cincinnati in the AFC championship game had Fouts completed fewer passes (15 of 34) or thrown for fewer yards (191). Moreover, the five interceptions he served the Bees—two to Glenn Blackwood, one each to Lyle Blackwood, Small and McNeal—equaled his worst performances ever in that department. "I read newspaper stories out of San Diego that the Chargers didn't respect us too much," said Bokamper. "They thought we were a fluke or something. Today we went out and showed the country what kind of defense we are when it comes to the real serious situations."
Said Fouts, once his long day was over, "Miami didn't give us anything. Its defense is the best we've seen."
Fouts didn't see much of the Miami defense in the early going, as the Dolphins scored 24 unanswered points in the opening 23 minutes. During that span he was on the field for all of 5:07. On his first pass attempt, Bokamper sacked him. Standing over him, Bokamper let loose with an animated and obscene greeting. "Just to let him know," said Bokamper, "that I intended to be back there all day." Two plays later Fouts tried to hit Joiner, who was double-covered, and Small made Miami's first interception, returning the ball from the San Diego 42 to the 26. After four running plays, the Dolphins scored on a three-yard pass from Woodley to Nat Moore.
If Miami proved on Sunday that its defense was no statistical mirage, the Chargers confirmed that theirs wasn't either. It ranked 25th in the league, and deservedly so. On the Dolphins' second drive, Miami's offensive line—Bob Kuechenberg, Dwight Stephenson, Jeff Toews, Eric Laakso and Jon Giesler—dominated the Louie Kelchers and the Gary (Big Hands) Johnsons, allowing Tony Nathan and Andra Franklin to slice through for big gains. Franklin put the Dolphins up 14-0 when he dragged Cliff Thrift and Woodrow Lowe across the goal line on a three-yard run.
Fouts was itching to get his offense back on the field, but Hank Bauer bobbled Uwe von Schamann's ensuing kick-off, and Woody Bennett slammed into Bauer as he was trying to pick up the ball. It squirted out of Bauer's hands and right at a startled von Schamann, who was trotting downfield to back up the action. Von Schamann, you'll recall, was the goat of Miami-San Diego I, the flubber of two field goals, either of which would have won the game. "I was looking for anything that would redeem me," he said. "A field goal, a fake field goal, an onsides kickoff, a pass—anything."
Von Schamann plucked the ball out of the air at the San Diego 23. He might have picked up some yardage, but he had held a live football only once before, and that was to punt. So he fell on it and took a mighty helmet in the back for his trouble. "I tried to roll up like an embryo," he said, "but they stuck me anyway." Eight plays later Woodley hit Ronnie Lee with a six-yard pass in the end zone.
Now was it time for Fouts to come back? Not yet. First the Chargers had to fumble away another kickoff. This time a hit by Steve Shull jarred the ball loose from James Brooks. That resulted in a 24-yard field goal. Finally, in the last 4:07 of the half, San Diego woke up, striking for two TDs. First Fouts threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Joiner. Then, after a 23-yard von Schamann field goal, Chuck Muncie went over from the one to make the score 27-13.
The Chargers being the Chargers, this was still considered a nip-and-tuck ball game. A couple of quick Fouts-to-Winslow or Fouts-to-Chandler hookups and the Dolphin defense would start having to worry about the running of Muncie and Brooks. "That was something we couldn't let happen," said Arnsparger later. And it didn't. Miami's secondary stayed tight on Chandler and Joiner, while the linemen and linebackers kept pressuring Fouts.
The game was particularly frustrating for Winslow, who had caught 13 passes for 166 yards in a remarkable performance in last year's classic. But on Sunday he not only aggravated the turf toe he'd suffered a week earlier against Pittsburgh but also twisted an ankle. By his own estimation, he was reduced to 50% efficiency. But even 50% of Winslow is a lot of receiver.
"The way they were playing us, I was set up for another big day," said Winslow. "They were trying a little man-to-man, leaving the middle open. I knew where the dead spots were, but I couldn't get to them." In fact, the Dolphins laid off Winslow because they knew he was hurt, which made it easier for them to stop the other receivers.
Listen to Chandler, who hadn't been held to as few as two catches since the final regular-season game of 1981: "They did a tremendous job of disguising what they were going to do. Once we receivers got through their jams at the line of scrimmage, the safeties took away our bread and butter. I know that today, for the first time I can remember, I was having thoughts about whether to release inside or outside. I started trying to do some things differently, give them a different look."
Still, the Chargers had a drive going late in the third quarter, thanks to a fake punt. They were at the Miami 36 when Fouts threw to Joiner at the 19. Small was covering him man-to-man, but when Joiner curled toward the middle, Glenn Blackwood moved in. Fouts forced the ball into the coverage, and Blackwood picked off the pass without breaking stride. Woodley then engineered another scoring drive that he completed himself with a seven-yard quarterback draw. Three interceptions in the fourth quarter snuffed San Diego's remaining hopes. Final score: Miami 34-13.
So ended the assault of the Killer Bees. If they give another such performance this week against the Jets and, equally important, Woodley stays hot, Miami should earn its fourth ticket to the Super Bowl. "I can smell Pasadena," said Small. "I can smell the roses."
In his last three games, Woodley has connected on 47 of 63 passes for 680 yards.
McNeal intercepted one pass and broke up four others, including this one to Chandler.
Betters and his fellow Bees swarmed around Fouts as no other defense had all season.
Charger Coach Don Coryell's time ran out.