No pro football club in history ever advanced more quickly from the first-year dregs every expansion team faces to the ultimate achievement in its sport than the Miami Dolphins did in the six-year period between 1966 and 1972. In 1966, they began their pro football life as the ninth member of the American Football League. Six years later, Miami became the only National Football League team ever to record a perfect season.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins won the AFC Eastern division and AFC championships and then defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete an unblemished 17-0-0 record. The Dolphins, who were founded by Joseph Robbie, also got off to a perfect start in the first game of their first AFL season when running back Joe Auer returned the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. But the Miami team returned to reality even before the end of its first game. Oakland rallied to win and the Dolphins finished their first season with a 4-10 record.
George Wilson was the Dolphins' first coach. He finished his four-year AFL tenure after the 1969 season with a 15-39-2 record. But those were not wasted years for the Dolphins because they were steadily adding new talent -- quarterback Bob Griese in 1967, running back Larry Csonka in 1968 and guard Larry Little in 1969 -- that would eventually turn them into winners.
The transition from losing to winning came in just one season in 1970 when new coach Don Shula led the Dolphins to an AFC wild-card playoff berth with a 10-4 record. Miami then followed with three straight AFC championships in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and victories in Super Bowls VII and VIII. Their combined 1972-73 record was 32-2, also an all-time mark. From 1970 to 1974, their cumulative record was 65-15-1.
There is no telling what heights the Dolphins might have reached had not three of their finest stars, Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, defected to the rival World Football League after the 1974 season. Miami never again reached the world championship level the Dolphins attained in 1972 and 1973. But Shula, who in 1993 surpassed George Halas' record of 324 coaching victories to become the all-time leader, kept the Dolphins among the league's elite year after year.
The Dolphins since 1970 have won 13 AFC Eastern division championships and five AFC titles. In the 1984 season, quarterback Dan Marino threw a then-record 48 touchdown passes.
The Dolphins first playing home was the Orange Bowl in Miami. Fan support was excellent, in 1973, the Dolphins established an NFL record with 74,961 season ticket sales. But Robbie had long dreamed of his own privately-funded stadium and, on Aug. 16, 1987, he proudly unveiled a new 73,000-seat stadium. Two years later, the stadium served as the site for Super Bowl XXIII and again hosted a Super Bowl following the 1994, 2006 and 2009 seasons.