On January 2, 1982, the San Diego Chargers traveled to Miami, Florida to take on the Dolphins in an AFC Divisional playoff game, what took place was one of the best football games the NFL had ever seen. The Don Coryell Chargers coached stood at 10-6 against Don Shula's 11-4-1 Dolphins, with the table set for a great game, 73,000+ packed the stands. What took place at the Orange Bowl would earn the nickname "The Epic in Miami" after an improbable comeback led to an overtime thriller.
It looked like it was going to be a blowout early when San Diego came out the gate flying. On the first drive of the game San Diego's quarterback Dan Fouts got his team in a rhythm quick. He started from his own 22 and rove itdown to the Miami 14, one of the key plays came on a 3rd and 14 when Fouts hit his wide receiver Wes Chandler on the fly for a 47 yard gain. When the drive stalled at the Miami 14 yard line San Diego brought in Rolf Benirschke who kicked a 32 yard field goal for the first points of the day. After the Chargers forced the Dolphins to punt, Wes Chandler took the punt return 56 yards for a touchdown, the score was now 10-0 and it looked like San Diego was starting to roll. The momentum would stay with the Chargers, on the ensuing kickoff San Diego recovered the ball after an odd bounce went their way, it would lead to a one yard touchdown run for running back Chuck Muncie. When the Dolphins took over on offense it wouldn't take long for them to put the ball right back into the hands of their opponents, their starting quarterback David Woodley was intercepted by safety Glen Edwards, who returned the ball 35 yards. Fouts seized his opportunity by hooking up with rookie running back James Brooks on an eight yard touchdown. With the score 24-0 after one quarter it looked like a heavyweight fighter was in the ring with a featherweight.
I'm sure that a lot of the people that were watching the game thought it was over, the important thing is head coach Don Shula and his Dolphins team wasn't about to give up. After another train wreck of a series, Shula decided to make a change at quarterback, by bringing in Don Strock it gave the team the much needed spark they were looking for. Strock stepped on the field and on his first play he completed a pass to Duriel Harris for a 17 yard gain, from there the Dolphins were able to put together a 63 yard drive, the drive would be capped off with a 34 yard field goal by Uwe von Schamann. With the Dolphins finally able to do something positive it looked like it might have sparked the defense, they forced a Dan Fouts fumble that gave the Dolphins great field position at the Chargers 39 yard line. The Dolphins took the ball all the way down to the one yard line, with a one yard pass to tight end Joe Rose, Strock had converted the Chargers turnover into 7 points for his Dolphins team. The Chargers looked like they had something going but their drive stalled out at the Dolphins 37 yard line, they called upon their kicker who sailed a 55 yard field goal attempt wide right. The Dolphins took over on offense with only 30 seconds to go in the half, it would be plenty of time to work with for Strock. After three plays the Miami team had positioned themselves at the San Diego 40, with only enough time for one more play before the half Coryell called the "hook and lateral", what an exciting play it was. Strock took the snap then fired it to Duriel Harris at the 20 yard line, Harris then lateraled the ball to running back Tommy Nathan who took the rock 25 yards into the endzone. The play that trimmed the Chargers lead to 24-17 was almost too exciting to describe in words and that is a good reason to love Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH-dSc0K8sw, I watched it several times with the way that Harris was almost falling over and Nathan taking it to the house was just awesome. I'm sure at that point the crowd had enough electricity running through it to power all of New York City.
Don Coryell said that it had been the most exciting game in his 30+ years as a coach and Don Shula agreed. I think Bryant Gumbel said it best when he said "If you didn't like this game then you don't like football." It was truly a game for the ages. Fouts and the Chargers would fall to the Bengals in the AFC Championship game, dubbed the "Freezer Bowl" it was one of the coldest games ever played, I'll save that story for another day. Regardless of how the Chargers were knocked out of the playoffs that year they had played in one of the most epic battles of all time.
I wished was able to have seen this one with my own eyes, while I do remember hearing about it I never knew the entire rundown of the game. When I read about this and watched some of the different film I ran across it makes me want the NFL playoffs to start tomorrow. I love how you never know what to expect. It could be a great comeback like this one or "The Music City Miracle" in Tennessee or "The Immaculate Reception" in Pittsburgh. Never turn that tv off early because your team is down, we never know what could happen next.
I was able to come up with 2 highlight reels both are ten minutes long while it isn't the best quality they provide great highlights.
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T6NPDbMKAw
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqNEmjs0KsY