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Forgotten NFL Legends: The Perfect Backfield

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Everyone knows about the 1972 Dolphins. Everyone knows the coach, Don Shula, from that era of Dolphins. Most know the quarterback, Bob Griese, from those 70s Dolphins. How many people know about the tough, gritty grinder that is Larry Csonka? What about the do-it-all guy, Jim Kiick? Or how about the electrifying running back in Mercury Morris? People seem to rarely talk about this trio but they were the perfect NFL backfield.

Larry Csonka

Larry Csonka

Larry Csonka was the 8th player taken in the 1968 NFL Draft. During the 60s, the Dolphins were one of the worst teams in the league. Csonka’s first two years didn’t do anything to change that. During his rookie year, he suffered a concussion that left him in the hospital for two days. A few weeks later, Csonka ruptured his eardrum and broke his nose. He missed three games his rookie year and three more the following year. After 1969, it was questioned whether or not Csonka could play football again due to his injuries and poor performances. Enter Don Shula. The legendary coach immediately noticed that Csonka’s run style was ineffective and what was causing so many of his injuries. Csonka would run straight up and down and would always lead with his head. Throughout the offseason, Shula worked with Csonka to completely redesign the way he ran with the football.

Over the next four seasons, Csonka didn’t miss a game. He quickly became the most feared running back in the NFL. Csonka learned to use his frame, 6’3 and 235 pounds, to terrorize defenders. Trying to tackle Csonka was like trying to tackle a bulldozer. He was so feared that one of his coaches said: “When Csonka goes on Safari, the Lions roll up their windows.” One of the most legendary penalties in NFL history came against Csonka when the Dolphins played the Buffalo Bills. As a Bill was attempting to tackle Csonka, Csonka gave him a vicious stiff arm that knocked the tackler out. When Don Shula yelled at the ref and asked why that was a penalty, the ref replied with “did you see what he did to that poor tackler?”

Jim Kiick

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BALTIMORE, MD – CIRCA 1972: Running back Jim Kiick #21 of the Miami Dolphins puts a move on Mike Curtis #32 of the Baltimore Colts during an NFL football game at Memorial Stadium circa 1972 in Baltimore, Maryland. Kiick played for the Dolphins from 1968-73. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Jim Kiick was selected in the 5th round of the 1968 NFL Draft. Kiick wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy on the field. But he could do it all. He was a great inside runner but also had the nimble feet to excel as a receiver out of the backfield. In many clutch situations, where the Dolphins needed three or four yards with the game on the line, Kiick would be their guy. He excelled when the team needed him the most.

In his first four seasons, he had over 1,000 combined yards in rushing and receiving. In 1970 and 1971 he was the only player in the NFL to be top 15 in rushing yards and receiving yards. Despite being the Dolphins running back, he led the team in receiving in 1970 and was second in 1968 and 1971. Kiick was a versatile force that no one could stop.

Eugene “Mercury” Morris

Mercury Morris

Eugene Morris was drafted in the third round of the 1969 NFL Draft. He immediately became a star return man due to his blazing speed. He soon became referred to as “Mercury” Morris due to his incredible speed. During his rookie year, he led the league in return yards and return yards average. In 1970, while still serving as a primary backup, Morris ran for 6.8 yards per carry which was the highest in the league. Despite him being a backup player for his first couple of seasons, everyone could see the explosive potential he had. 1972 is when Mercury Morris finally got a significant amount of touches. He went on to rush for exactly 1,000 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdowns. 

The Perfect Backfield

These three players would go on to be a devastating force. The Dolphins went from a laughing stock in the 1960s to three straight Super Bowls from 1971-1973. They lost in Super Bowl VI against the Cowboys. In 1972, the team went undefeated. Morris and Csonka became the first teammates to each reach 1,000 rushing yards. The season ended with a victory over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. In Super Bowl VIII, the trio dominated the Vikings by combining for 189 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Post Super Bowls

The trio would break up the following years. Csonka and Kiick went to the short-lived World Football League for a year. They returned to the NFL in 1975 but would not play together again. Mercury Morris suffered a neck injury in 1973 that would linger with him for the rest of his career. He was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1976 and would retire the following year.

Forgotten NFL Legends

This trio played together from 1969 to 1974. They didn’t become the perfect backfield until 1971. This short span is part of what has made them lost in time. Individually, these 3 had star qualities. Larry Csonka was the tough no-nonsense guy who could destroy a defense through sheer power. Larry Kiick was the clutch guy who could make you look silly on the ground or in the air. Mercury Morris was the smooth electric player who could take the ball to the house on any given play. Together, they formed a trio that the NFL had never seen before or since; the perfect backfield.

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Colton is a writer for Overtime Heroics. He is an NFL fan and NFL fantasy connoisseur.