Jets, Dolphins Rivalry: Always A Battle For The Ages

This past Sunday was a day Jets fans will never forget.  A lopsided loss to one of their biggest rivals, the New England Patriots.  But if there is one other team the Jets fans hate as much as the Pats, it is the Miami Dolphins.  This Sunday the Jets place at the Meadowlnds to redeem themselves not just to themselves, but to their fans.  For as long as I could remember, this way always a home game I looked forward to.  When my brother and I were younger, my father would take us to four home games each.  We both battled over who would go to the Dolphins game.  Just like the Patriots, facing the Dolphins just brings out the inner warrior in every Jets fan.

One my of earliest Jets game memories was from a Dolphins game.  I was about 7.  A few rows in front of us were some Dolphins fans.  They were talking up a storm.  The Jets fans around us were saying stuff back and the banter kept going.  I was quiet the whole time.  The minute everyone around was quiet you hear a tiny voice scream out”Miami sucks!”. The Miami fans turn around puzzled what diminutive voice could have said that.  The fellow Jets fans around told them to turn around and not to care where it came from.  I was getting pats on my back, fans around telling me good job and way to go.  My father could not stop laughing.  I will always feel that way.

They have often competed for divisional supremacy, and have played a number of classic, memorable games. Currently, the Jets hold the advantage in the all-time series with a record of 47-42-1, while the Dolphins have won the lone postseason meeting, defeating the Jets in the 1982 AFC Championship.

The Jets were established in 1960 and the Dolphins in 1966; both as members of the now defunct American Football League.  After the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1970 the Dolphins and the Jets were placed in the AFC East, guaranteeing that they would meet twice a year annually.  The rivalry has stayed intense through the years as both teams are always competitive against one another no matter what the standings indicate.  The rivalry also keeps a high intensity because of the large amount of transplanted New York Jets fans that retire to South Florida.

Prior to the New England Patriots rise to dominance in the early 2000s, the Jets and Dolphins regularly contested for the AFC East title (along with the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s).  Upon the Dolphin’s joining of the AFL in 1966, the Jets were laying the seeds for their 1968 Super Bowl III victory. After the Jets Super Bowl victory in 1968, the Dolphins began their ascension to the top of the NFL, culminating back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1972 and 1973. The 1972 season also Miami finish with a 17-0 record; the only NFL team to finish the regular season and post-season without a loss or tie.

When the Dolphins joined the AFL in 1966, the Jets were ascending the ranks of the AFL powerhouses on the arm of quarterback Joe Namath. The Jets won the first eight contests against the Dolphins. When the Dolphins finally posted their first winning record in 1970, injuries plagued Namath and the Jets stumbled to a 4-10 record. Thanks to Namath’s inability to consistently stay healthy, the Jets never posted a record above .500 in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Dolphins quickly surged to the NFL’s elite after the AFL-NFL merger, peaking with one the first and so far only undefeated season in NFL History 1972 and back-to-back Super Bowl wins in Super Bowls VII and VIII.

The 1978 season began a string of Jets success against the Dolphins that ran into the early 1980s. Entering the 1980 season, the Dolphins were aiming toward another playoff run, while the Jets were struggling. The Jets won a total of only four games. Two of those games were wins over Miami:17-14 in New York on October 27, and 24-17 in Miami on December 20. Miami went on to finish with a record of 8-8, but it was the season sweep by the Jets that largely cost them their chances of a playoff berth.

The mid-1980s saw both teams become simultaneously competitive for the first time, beginning with a battle for the AFC East in 1981. That season also saw the only tie in the series, a 28-28 stalemate in Miami. The game lead tied or changed on every score; in the first half Jet leads of 7-0 and 14-7 were answered by Miami touchdowns. Miami took a 21-14 lead in the third but in the fourth touchdowns by Wesley Walker and a Richard Todd pass to Bobby Jones offset a Don Strock touchdown to Nat Moore. In overtime neither team could advance the ball, ending the game deadlocked.

The tie became crucial in the final standings; had the Jets won the game, combined with their 16-15 home victory during the season, they would’ve clinched the division on a tiebreaker. Instead, Miami won the division by one game. Still, the Jets’ 10-5-1 record allowed them to clinch their first postseason berth in twelve seasons. but they lost to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round, 31-27, while Miami lost a 41-38 overtime epic to the San Diego Chargers.

With the conclusion of the 1981 season the Jets had won seven of the previous eight meetings with the Dolphins with the one tie. Miami, however, returned to the rivalry’s fore in 1982, a season that saw the apex of the rivalry, coming in the 1982 AFC Championship on January 23, 1983, more appropriately known as “The Mud Bowl.”

After the Dolphins swept the Jets during the strike- shortened regular season, the two teams met again, this time with a trip to Super Bowl XVII on the line. The tarp was left off the field of the Orange Bowl during a 72 hour rainstorm leading up to the game, which resulted in a sloppy field covered in mud which kept both teams scoreless in the first half. The game was a classic defensive battle that featured ten turnovers, eight of them on quarterback interceptions. The star of the game was undoubtedly Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe who picked off three of Jets quarterback Richard Todd’s five interceptions, returning one 35 yards for a touchdown to help seal the 14–0 win and send the Dolphins to Super Bowl XVII. To this day, former Jets coach Walt Michaels believes that Miami coach Don Shula ordered to keep the tarp off the field, to neutralize New York’s superior team speed.

Two of the most memorable contests between the teams occurred in 1986. On September 21, Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien and Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino put on a legendary offensive performance. The two quarterbacks combined set NFL single game records of 884 net passing yards and ten touchdown passes, records that still stand to this day. Dan Marino completed 30 of 50 passes for 448 yards and six touchdown passes.  Ken O’Brien threw for 479 yards and four touchdown passes.

In 1994, the Jets found themselves one game back of the Dolphins for the AFC East division lead heading into their November 27 match at the Meadowlands. In a game with first place on the line, the Jets held a 24-6 lead, outplaying the Dolphins for three quarters. However, Dan Marino led the Dolphins back with two touchdowns, cutting the score to 24-21. Marino got the ball one last time and drove the Dolphins down the field to within the Jets’ five-yard line. With thirty seconds remaining, and the clock continuing to wind down, it appeared Marino was going to spike the ball to stop the clock and send out the field goal unit to tie the game. Instead, Marino took the snap from center, and after motioning as if he would spike the ball, fired the ball in the corner of the end zone past Aaron Glenn and into the hands of Mark Ingram.  The touchdown gave the Dolphins a 28-24 victory, and Miami went on to win the division. The Jets went into a spiral after that play, losing all of their remaining games. Indeed, the game marked the beginning of a period of ignominy for the Jets as they compiled a record of 4-33 from that game to the end of the 1996 season.

After 1996, the Jets made several changes to turn things around, the most significant of which was the hiring of Bill Parcells from the New England Patriots. The turnaround was immediate, and by 1998 the team once again was a serious division contender. Both teams were 9-4 on December 13, 1998 when they met on Sunday Night Football with the division lead, and possibly the division title, on the line. Very similar to this past Sunday.  The Jets led 14-10 when Jets defender Chad Cascadden picked up a Marino fumble and returned it for a touchdown with just under two minutes to play to put the Jets ahead 21-10. The Dolphins were able to score a quick touchdown to come close, but it was not enough, and the Jets won 21-16, and they went on to win their first post-merger division title the following Saturday at Buffalo.

Both the Jets and Dolphins started the 2000 season 5-1 when they met on Monday Night Football on October 23, 2000, to determine control of the AFC East. What looked to be an exciting match between two of the top teams in the NFL at the time was anything but for the first three quarters. The Dolphins held a 23-7 lead at halftime that grew to 30-7 at the end of the third quarter. Vinny Testaverde threw three interceptions, running back Curtis Martin was limited to 30 yards on the ground, and the Jets offense could only manage two first downs in the first half. So great was the 23-point advantage that Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler was heard on the sidelines telling defensive end Jason Taylor, “They ain’t coming back on us!” to which Taylor replied, “Hell no! You kidding? C’mon now.”

However, the Jets looked to prove that statement wrong. Touchdowns from Testaverde to Laveranues Coles and Jermaine Wiggins cut the lead to 30-20. After a field goal by John Hall, Testaverde fired a touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet to tie the game 30-30 with 3:55 left. Fans who had left the stadium when the game looked to be a rout suddenly piled back in wanting to see the Jets’ comeback. Still, it took only two plays for Miami to respond.  Nonetheless, Testaverde marched the Jets down field and, with 42 seconds left, found eligible Jumbo Elliott on a three-yard touchdown (which Elliott memorably bobbled as he fell to the ground) to tie the game at 37-37 and sent it to overtime. In the fourth quarter, Testaverde was 18 for 26 for 235 yards and four touchdowns, and the offense converted twenty first downs in the quarter, after managing just five beforehand.

In overtime, Fiedler was intercepted for the third time, setting up the dramatic finish. At 1:08 AM EDT, Hall nailed a 40-yard field goal to win the game for the Jets, 40-37. The game came to be known in NFL lore as The Monday Night Miracle. When Monday Night Football celebrated its 500th telecast on November 11, 2002, fans picked the game as the greatest in the series’ history. It was also the largest comeback from a fourth quarter deficit in NFL history.

The teams have seen players go back and forth between the teams over the years.  Chad Pennington and Jason Taylor being the most notable recently.  Even Rex Ryan flashing an obscene gesture towards heckling Dolphins fans during a Strikeforce mixed martial arts event at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida.  It does not matter if it is the fans, players, or coaches, everyone gets caught up in the rivalry.  I am sure this Sunday will be no different.  Every Jet fan grew up waiting for the Dolphins to come to town.  It was a game to look forward to.  A game you would sit and watch in zero degree weather.  A game where every fan no matter the age, wants to say “Miami sucks!”.

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