As one would expect, the Miami Dolphins had their way with the San Francisco 49ers in the early stages. The Dolphins were a dominant team from the moment Don Shula took over in 1970, going 105-39-1 during the 1970s during the regular season, winning two Super Bowls and completing the NFL’s only ever undefeated season.
Miami’s superlative play continued into the 1980s, and in the process the Dolphins won each of the first four games they played against the 49ers.
1. Sept. 16, 1973: Miami Dolphins 21, San Francisco 49ers 13
2. Sept. 25, 1977: Miami Dolphins 19, San Francisco 49ers 15
3. Nov. 16, 1980: Miami Dolphins 17, San Francisco 49ers 13
4. Nov. 6, 1983: Miami Dolphins 20, San Francisco 49ers 17
It wasn’t until that last game that the 49ers and Dolphins could be considered equals, even though Miami only won those first four matchups by a combined total of 19 points. Not that it matters, but 49ers quarterback Steve Spurrier completed 6-of-18 passes for 65 yards in relief of John Brodie in the ’73 game.
In the 1983 game at Candlestick, both teams entered with 6-3 records and the 49ers outgained the Dolphins 394-316 (Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler rushed for 85 yards apiece). However, the 49ers lost the turnover battle 2-1 and were penalized 6 times for 99 yards — compared to 3 times for 25 yards for Miami.
That was Dan Marino’s rookie season, and a year later Marino was the darling of the NFL. He threw for over 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984, winning every award imaginable. Joe Montana already had one Super Bowl under his belt and led San Francisco to a 15-1 record (Miami finished the 1984 regular season 14-2), but Marino still got most of the pub leading in. Montana responded by leading the 49ers to their first ever win over the Dolphins — a 38-16 thrashing at Stanford Stadium in the days before Super Bowls were only played in stadiums with luxury suites and metal detectors.
If you want to see Roger Craig high-step into the end zone during that game, I set up Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” to that segment of the video (I didn’t remember this video including so many bloopers — it’s definitely recommended viewing if you have four minutes to spare and like seeing athletes collide … there’s also a scene where a guy puts his cup on, if you’re into that sort of thing.):
If the 49ers didn’t lose 20-17 to the Steelers at home in Week 7 (in a game where the dependable Ray Wersching missed a field goal), the 1984 49ers would be considered the best team of all time. No. 2 in the league in points scored (behind Miami) and No. 1 in points allowed, those Niners also forced 38 turnovers … the same number the opportunistic 2011 49ers defense collected. And they flattened the Dolphins in a Super Bowl where Montana’s passing (24-of-35, 331 yards and 3 TD) and mullet (lustrous and slightly curly) out-shined Miami’s brash Isotoner Gloves spokesman.
Miami was supposed to be in the beginning stages of a second, Marino-led dynasty, but the 49ers put an end to that during Super Bowl XIX. Miami lost the AFC Championship at home to New England a year later, mediocrity followed for a few years, then in the early ’90s they rose once again but were never good enough to get past the Buffalo Bills.
In the meantime, the 49ers made a habit of smashing the Dolphins every three-to-six years.
5. Jan. 20, 1985: San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16 (Super Bowl XIX)
6. Sept. 28, 1986: San Francisco 49ers 31, Miami Dolphins 16
7. Dec. 6, 1992: San Francisco 49ers 27, Miami Dolphins 3
8. Nov. 20, 1995: San Francisco 49ers 44, Miami Dolphins 20
9. Dec. 16, 2001: San Francisco 49ers 21, Miami Dolphins 0
Five wins in a row by a combined differential of 106 points, which is utterly ridiculous. God, the Niners were good. But then they got bad (really bad), and the Dolphins got a little revenge in their last two meetings.
10. Nov. 28, 2004: Miami Dolphins 24, San Francisco 49ers 17
11. Dec. 14, 2008: Miami Dolphins 14, San Francisco 49ers 9
A few notes about these games:
2004: Both teams went in with 1-9 records, so this could’ve been considered a victory of sorts for the 49ers since the No. 1 overall spot in the draft was at play. A.J. Feeley started for Miami and Tim Rattay started for the 49ers, who would draft Alex Smith months later (the Dolphins would take Ronnie Brown with the No. 2 pick). Maurice Hicks and Kevan Barlow combined for 22 carries and 66 yards on the ground. Also, Andy Lee punted NINE TIMES. No wonder I wiped this game from my memory.
2008: Mike Nolan’s Niners actually had a respectable performance, given that the game was in Miami and San Francisco’s record (5-8) was the inverse of Miami’s (8-5) going in. Ted Ginn Jr. had a pretty Ginn Jr.-like day for Miami (3 kickoff returns for 70 yards; 2 receptions for 6 yards). Shaun Hill threw 46 passes for only 233 yards (5.1 ypa) and no touchdowns or interceptions. This was a rare defeat on my birthday — the 49ers are 7-3 on Dec. 14 since I’ve been born, and I don’t remember the first loss in 1980 at Atlanta. Quite important, that last note.
Now the 49ers host the Dolphins in a game that for them means playoff positioning, and for Miami means the opportunity to either cling to playoff hopes or improve their draft positioning. It also gives San Francisco a chance to even up their all-time record against the Dolphins. Here are some stats from their series to end a fairly jumbled, sentimental post:
- Head-to-head record: Dolphins lead 6-5
- Head-to-head scoring: 49ers lead 245-170
- Top passing performance: Elvis Grbac in 1995 (31-for-41, 382 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT)
- Top rushing performance: Larry Csonka in 1973 (104 yards on 22 carries)
- Top receiving performance: Jerry Rice in 1995 (8 receptions, 149 yards and 2 TD)
Don’t forget to predict how many sacks Aldon Smith will have against the Dolphins for a chance to win a free large pizza from Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria!