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Erased Super Bowl VIII: Miami Dolphins 24 Minnesota Vikings 7
The Miami Dolphins of the early 1970s were one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Their roster included seven future Hall of Famers. They won three straight AFC Championships and, in 1972, recorded the NFL’s only undefeated and untied season in history. Miami entered Super Bowl VIII as a slightly weaker version of the championship team that went 17-0 the prior season. However, they still possessed the number one scoring defense and an efficient balanced offense. They cruised through the AFC Playoffs with a pair of 17-point victories. The Minnesota Vikings of the early 1970s were also one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Their roster included eight future Hall of Famers. They won four NFC Championships in eight years from 1969-1976. In 1973, Minnesota wasn’t as dominating as they were or would be in other years but still had a very solid club. They dominated Dallas in the NFC Championship game 27-10 by intercepting Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach four times and holding him to just 89 yards passing. On paper, this looked like it should have been one of the best games of the decade. Unfortunately, as was the case with all Vikings Super Bowl appearances, it didn’t turn out that way.
 
Despite their greatness, the Vikings could never put it all together on Super Bowl Sunday. They lost each of their four Super Bowl appearances by at least 10 points. In all but one, they failed to score more than a touchdown. Super Bowl VIII was probably their most embarrassing performance. Miami entered the game as a 6.5 point favorite, but some thought Minnesota could record the upset. They hoped to slow down the Miami rushing attack with their legendary Purple People Eaters defensive line and control the game on offense with rookie of the year fullback Chuck Foreman gashing Miami’s slightly vulnerable rushing defense. None of that happened. Instead, Miami dominated from the get-go. Implementing a gameplan better suited for a high school game played in a monsoon, the Dolphins ran 53 times for 196 yards – just 3.7 yards per carry. Their longest gain was a 27-yard pass in the 3rd quarter – one of only seven passes they threw the entire game. Minnesota had no answer. On offense, the Vikings never got on track and didn’t score until punching in a garbage touchdown in the 4th quarter. Miami claimed their second straight championship with a 24-7 victory. Some people romanticize “old-school”, hard-nosed, power football, but I bet those people haven’t seen Super Bowl VIII. I have to imagine this was the game that led to the 1978 rules changes that opened up the passing game and created the modern NFL. Seven passes!? Modern quarterbacks routinely have drives where they throw it seven times. Surely this is a game that no one outside of South Florida will miss. 
 
 
The Switch: 1973 Los Angeles Rams for 1973 Minnesota Vikings
In 1973, the Rams hired Chuck Knox to be the head coach. They hoped he would turn around a Rams franchise that had made the playoffs just three times in the previous 20 seasons. This would turn out to be a great hire. Knox reformed the franchise and the LA Rams would go on to become one of the most successful teams in the NFL, reaching the postseason 14 of the next 17 years. Unfortunately, much like the Minnesota Vikings, they could never get over the hump and win the big games. While that reputation would grow throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the team that started this trend of disappointment was perhaps the best Rams team to play in Los Angeles. 
 
Upon taking the job in 1973, Chuck Knox made drastic personnel changes on offense in an effort to improve a lackluster outfit. He started by trading two players to the San Diego Chargers for former five-time AFL & NFL All-Star quarterback John Hadl. This move made current QB Roman Gabriel expendable, so he shipped him off to Philadelphia for Pro Bowl WR Harold Jackson. He hoped this would provide a deep threat passing game to compliment his run-first offensive philosophy. To remake his run game, he turned to his existing roster. Second-year running back Lawrence McCutcheon didn’t touch the ball once in 1972, but in 1973, Knox made him a featured part of the offense alongside holdover RB Jim Bertelsen. These moves transformed the Rams' average offense into an unstoppable juggernaut. Los Angeles led the NFL in both scoring and total offense. McCutcheon and Bertelsen combined for over 2,500 yards from scrimmage and both made the Pro Bowl. At 33 years old, John Hadl had perhaps his best season. He threw a touchdown pass every 12 attempts. Harold Jackson provided the deep vertical threat needed and averaged 21.8 yards per catch. Both he and Hadl were selected as 1st team All-Pros. If that wasn’t enough, the Rams had the league’s top defense led by 1st team All-Pro LB Isiah Robertson and future Hall of Famers Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olson. On both sides of the ball, Los Angeles ranked in the top ten in nearly every team category. They were perhaps the best team in the NFL – including the Miami Dolphins. 
 
So what went wrong? For starters, it appears like the Rams were a victim of the old NFL playoff format. From the inception of playoff games in 1933 through 1974, the NFL awarded homefield advantage based on a scheduling rotation instead of regular season performance. Although no one is quite sure how the old system works, the 12-2 Rams were sent on the road in the Divisional Round to play the 10-4 Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Dallas jumped on the Rams early and built a 17-0 lead. The Rams offense struggled mightily, but they rallied to close the gap to 17-16 in the 4th quarter. However, Dallas would respond with an 83 yard Roger Staubach touchdown pass to Drew Pearson to put Dallas two scores ahead. They would add a field goal late and down Los Angeles 27-16. The Rams’ season was over, and while they would have other successful teams over their next two decades in Los Angeles, none were as dominant or as promising as the 1973 team. 
 
 
The Rams trailed the Cowboys by just one point in the 4th quarter in the 1973 playoffs. It’s not hard to imagine that a couple of plays changing would be enough to get the Rams past Dallas and on to the NFC Championship game. Had the Rams won, they would have played the Minnesota Vikings. According to newspaper articles from the time, the Rams would have hosted the Vikings despite losing to them 10-9 in the regular season (man, that old scheduling rotation was stupid). In a rematch, the Rams would have likely won. Since losing to the Vikings and Falcons in midseason, the Rams had been averaging 28.5 points per game – and that’s even if they had beaten Dallas 19-17. Los Angeles would have taken advantage of the Vikings’ 23rd rushing defense with McCutcheon and Bertelsen. Hadl would’ve hit a long pass or two, and the Rams defense would’ve contained Tarkenton and Foreman. The Rams beat the Vikings at home and move on to face Miami. 
 
 
Improved Super Bowl VIII: Dolphins vs. Rams - Evaluating the Matchup
The big difference between this matchup and the actual Super Bowl VIII matchup was the quality of the Rams run defense. Los Angeles had the number one run defense in the NFL and allowed just the 5th fewest yards per carry. Against the pass, playmaking linebacker Isiah Roberston and elite pass rusher Jack Youngblood would’ve made life quite difficult for Bob Griese. On offense, the Rams would have struggled to throw the ball against the Dolphins top-ranked pass defense but could have attacked them with the run. The Dolphins average run defense would’ve faced a much more difficult challenge against McCutcheon and Bertelsen than they faced against Minnesota. 
 
However, the defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins would not go without a fight. Their pass rush recorded the 2nd most sacks in the NFL and would have caused problems for the immobile John Hadl when (and if) he tried to throw. On offense, they didn’t have the best rankings, but still had a threesome of ball carriers in Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick that accounted for 2,495 yards of total offense. Matched with Pro Bowlers Bob Griese and Paul Warfield in the passing game, they could have matched the Rams play for play. 
 
 
Prediction
Miami had a great team but, in the playoffs, had relied heavily on the strength of their dominant running game. In their actual final two playoff games, they ran the ball 106 times and threw just 13 times. That strategy would have likely failed against the Rams’ top-ranked run defense. Forced to pass, Miami’s 21st ranked passing offense would have had more difficulty producing points. The Rams would have turned to their talented backfield and relied on them for the bulk of their offense. With Miami’s number one pass defense and the Rams number one run defense, one play would have broken the game open. Between the two teams, Los Angeles’ big-play receiver Harold Jackson would’ve been the most likely to break one free. The Rams get one more big play and win their first Super Bowl title. The win gets Chuck Knox, John Hadl, and perhaps Lawrence McCutcheon in the Hall of Fame. But most importantly, the win makes John Hadl a hero in Los Angeles, thus making him unavailable for the worst trade in Packers history in 1974. Dan Devine has to look elsewhere or to not trade at all. Perhaps the Packers draft a few more impact players that mature and put them over the top in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Or perhaps Dan Devine sends even MORE draft picks to Los Angeles to get John Hadl and the Packers' rebuilding efforts are even more crippled. Yeah, I’m going with that one. 
 
LA Rams 17 Miami 13
MVP: Jack Youngblood
 
In the last few days, I’ve rewritten Super Bowl history to give titles to the Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers, and Los Angeles Rams. Can we give another sad-sack franchise a run in the sun tomorrow with Number 5? We’ll see…. 
 
Eric Drews
Host
Green and Gold Forever
@GreenGold4Ever
 
 
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