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NFL – Highlights – 1971 AFC Divisional Playoffs – Dolphins VS Chiefs – Part 1


There have been some absolutely incredible NFL playoff games that have provided many memorable highlights throughout the history of the NFL….but none more dramatic than the 1971 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs….in which the Dolphins QB Bob Griese completed 20 of 36 passess for 263 yards and one TD…..while the Chiefs QB Len Dawson completed 18 of 26 passes for 246 yards and one TD….when Dolphin RB’s Larry Czonka and Jim Kiick ran for 86 and 56 yards respectively and scoring one TD each….where Chiefs RB’s Wendall Hays and Ed Podolak ran for 100 and 86 yards respectively with Podolak scoring one TD.

Chiefs RB Ed Podolak is often asked about this momentous game which was played on Dec. 25, 1971….a game in which he amassed 350 total yards….still a postseason record….even though his Kansas City Chiefs lost in double overtime to the Miami Dolphins, 27-24….in the longest contest in N.F.L. history.

The game postponed Christmas dinners around the country as fans watched on television while the Chiefs and the Dolphins battled through the afternoon and into the evening.  Though they were hardly aware of it as the game went on and on (and on)….the two teams….including a dozen future Hall of Famers….were involved in a contest of historical significance that went beyond its length. It was a game pitting a great team seeking a permanent place among the league’s elite against an up-and-coming squad eager for the same status…..and for Hall of Fame place kicker Jan Stenerud….it was perhaps the worst game of his illustrious career, with two field-goal attempts missed and another blocked.

The mud-caked clash lasted for an exhausting 82 minutes 40 seconds of game time, providing ample opportunity for epic achievement and ignominious failure, and plenty of reasons for two players on the same team to still have vastly different reactions to its memory….as the game took place on an unseasonably warm day, with the temperature in the high 60s….with nearly 46,000 fans were in attendance. The rest of the city had to make do listening on the radio or imagining the action….as NFL blackout rules were in play at the time….which meant that the local NBC affiliate showed reruns of “Hee Haw” instead of the first home playoff game in Chiefs history.

Kansas City took an early 10-0 lead, with Podolak catching a short pass for the game’s first touchdown. Podolak, in his third season, was a speedy runner with good hands, but was hardly a star.  Miami, led by quarterback Bob Griese, rebounded in the second quarter to tie the game at 10-10….helped in part by a Podolak fumble near halftime that set up a field goal. The teams swapped touchdowns in the third quarter when Podolak broke the tie in the fourth by bowling over safety Dick Anderson to score on a short run. Chiefs receiver Elmo Wright had set up the play by catching a long pass to the 3….and despite not scoring….Wright, one of the forefathers of the touchdown dance, boogied in the end zone and spiked the ball.  

Miami came back to tie the score at 24-24 and, with 1:25 remaining, kicked off to Podolak…for whom this game was a revelation….as he finished with roughly a third as many total yards that day as he had all season. To go with his 85 yards on 17 carries….110 yards on eight receptions….and 2 yards on two punt returns….Podolak, who had not been a regular kickoff returner that season….had 153 yards on three kick returns….with seventy-eight of them came after the Dolphins’ late score….then after three runs….Stenerud came in to attempt a 31-yard field goal with 35 seconds to play….but miss it he did….pushing the ball wide right….his second miss of the game. “My history and legacy were defined by that one kick,” Stenerud said. Podolak said: “Jan’s a great friend of mine, and I’m sorry it pains him so. But there were many other moments in the game that were as decisive.”

Podolak began the first overtime period with a return that put the Chiefs near midfield. The drive ended when Buoniconti blocked a field-goal attempt by Stenerud. Yepremian missed a long kick of his own, and the game slogged on.  The level of play turned as sloppy as the field….which was a quagmire in the unseasonable warmth.

Griese remembered a little-used play from the game plan — a run called Roll Right, Trap Left — which sprung Larry Csonka for 29 yards to set up the winning 37-yard kick by Yepremian. The teams shuffled off the field, too exhausted to appreciate the entirety of what had happened.  “When you take a beating for that long, it doesn’t sink in until the next morning,” Podolak said. “The first thought I had was, ‘We’ll be back,’ but it didn’t happen. Had I known what was coming, I’d have been much more devastated.”

The Dolphins went on to beat Baltimore for a trip to Super Bowl VI….where they were defeated by Dallas, 24-3. Miami went unbeaten the next season….including a defeat of Kansas City in the 1972 opener….the first game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Dolphins won the Super Bowl that season and the next. The Chiefs did not win another division title until 1993.

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