For most of us, Christmas means last-minute shopping, egg nog and another look at “Home Alone.” But for Hall-of-Famer Larry Little and the Miami Dolphins, it goes one step further.
All the way back to Dec. 25, 1971.
That’s when the Dolphins and Chiefs met in an AFC divisional playoff game and didn’t stop until 82 minutes and 40 seconds later. Miami won 27-24 in double overtime on a Gary Yepremian field goal in a contest so long that, afterward, Miami running back Larry Csonka said he lost 18 pounds.
That was 51 years ago, and the game was … and still is … the longest in NFL history.
It doesn’t get the notoriety of, say, The Immaculate Reception, which celebrates its 50th anniversary Saturday when the Raiders and Steelers meet again in Pittsburgh. But it should. Because it was unforgettable, a colossal tug-of-war that featured such a herculean performance by the Chiefs’ Ed Podolak that the contest is often referred to as “The Ed Podolak Game.”
“I never get tired talking about it,” Podolak told the New York Times.
Understandable. He produced 350 all-purpose yards in a losing effort.
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But what about the other side? The Dolphins were the victors. So it figures that they never tire talking about it, too. Except that’s not what we found when we checked in with Little on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
“Let’s see,” he said when asked about Podolak’s remark. “Ed didn’t go undefeated. That was his claim to fame … having that great playoff game that he had. But I had more than just that one game because (we went) undefeated the next year … and the year after that (we were) not going undefeated but winning another Super Bowl.”
He’s right about that.
With the defeat of Kansas City, Miami’s first playoff win in franchise history, the Dolphins moved on to meet Baltimore in the conference championship game. They won that one, too, 21-0, before advancing to Super Bowl VI where they lost to Dallas.
But in 1972 they produced the first and only unbeaten season of the Super Bowl era, going 17-0 after outlasting Washington Super Bowl VII. That season is always a topic of conversation every year when a franchise wins all of its starts through the first two months … as happened this season with Philadelphia.
But the longest game ever? Not really, with last year as an exception. That was its 50th anniversary, and, like the Immaculate Reception, it was replayed in the national media. But now? Not so much.
It was a game won after Hall-of-Fame kicker Jan Stenerud missed a 31-yard field goal to break a 24-24 tie with a half minute left in the fourth quarter –then clinched after Larry Csonka’s 29-yard run set up Yepremian’s game-winning kick.
It was Little who pulled from his right-guard position to lead Csonka downfield.
“That’s a play we really hadn’t run all year,” he said, “(though) we had practiced it before. It was called “roll right, trap left.” That’s where the offense would go one way, then come back to the weak side … which would be the left side.
“When I pulled, it was wide open. All I had to do was run. But what I tried to do … because I knew where the defensive back was and because I knew I had a clean shot at him … (was that) I was going to try to take his head off. But he ducked into the ground, and I had to crawl over him. “
Rewind the videotape. He’s right. As defensive back Kerry Reardon approaches Little, he goes low … with Little rolling over him and Csonka running by. But that’s not what most people remember. Nor was Yepremian’s game-winning field goal.
Nope, it was Stenerud’s atypical miss — “a painful, hurtful thing” as he called it. And it’s what Little admitted he remembers most, too.
“Every time I see Jan,” he said, “I say, ‘Thank you, Jan.’ He doesn’t like it. But I do it intentionally.”