1971–72 NFL playoffs

The National Football League playoffs for the 1971 season began on December 25, 1971. The postseason tournament concluded with the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24–3, on January 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Like the previous NFL seasons, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road. It was the first time that the NFL scheduled games on Christmas Day, a decision that drew considerable criticism.

1971–72 NFL playoffs
1986 Jeno's Pizza - 01 - Duane Thomas
Dallas Cowboys' running back Duane Thomas rushing the ball for a touchdown in Super Bowl VI
DatesDecember 25, 1971–January 16, 1972
Games played7
Super Bowl VI site
Defending championsBaltimore Colts
ChampionsDallas Cowboys
Runners-upMiami Dolphins
NFL playoffs
1970–71 1972–73


Within each conference, the three division winners and one wild card team (the top non-division winner with the best overall records of all remaining teams in the conference) qualified for the playoffs. The NFL did not use a seeding system until the 1975 season, and instead home teams during the first two rounds of the playoffs alternated by division. Thus it was possible for a team to host another club with a better regular season record. For the Super Bowl, the third and final round played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.

Playoff participants
East winner Miami Dolphins Dallas Cowboys
Central winner Cleveland Browns Minnesota Vikings
West winner Kansas City Chiefs San Francisco 49ers
Wild card Baltimore Colts Washington Redskins


Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation of division winners. Had the playoffs been seeded, the divisional round matchups would have been #3 Cleveland at #2 Miami and #4 wild card Baltimore at #1 Kansas City in the AFC; #4 wild card Washington at #1 Minnesota and #3 San Francisco at #2 Dallas in the NFC.
Divisional PlayoffsConf. Championship GamesSuper Bowl VI
December 26 – Candlestick Park
Washington Redskins20
January 2 – Texas Stadium
San Francisco 49ers24
San Francisco 49ers3
December 25 – Metropolitan Stadium
Dallas Cowboys14
Dallas Cowboys20
January 16 – Tulane Stadium
Minnesota Vikings12
Dallas Cowboys24
December 26 – Cleveland Stadium
Miami Dolphins3
Baltimore Colts20
January 2 – Miami Orange Bowl
Cleveland Browns3
Baltimore Colts0
December 25 – Municipal Stadium
Miami Dolphins21
Miami Dolphins (2OT)27
Kansas City Chiefs24

Divisional playoffs

December 25, 1971

AFC: Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24 (2OT)

In the longest NFL game played to date at 82 minutes, 40 seconds[2] (and the Chiefs' last-ever game at Municipal Stadium), Miami kicker Garo Yepremian kicked the winning 37-yard field goal after 7:40 of the second overtime period.

The Chiefs opened up the scoring with Jan Stenerud's 24-yard field goal. Then Chiefs defensive back Willie Lanier intercepted a pass from Bob Griese and returned it 17 yards to set up Len Dawson's 7-yard touchdown pass to Ed Podolak, increasing the lead to 10–0. However, Griese rallied the Dolphins back on their next drive, completing a 23-yard pass to Paul Warfield and a 16-yarder to tight end Marv Fleming on the way to Larry Csonka's 1-yard touchdown run. Shortly before halftime, the Dolphins defense recovered a fumble from Podolak deep in Chiefs territory, enabling Garo Yepremian to kick a 14-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10.

Kansas City retook the lead in the third quarter, on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 10 minutes off the clock and ended with Jim Otis' 1-yard score. Miami responded quickly though, storming right back to tie the game with a 1-yard touchdown run from Jim Kiick.

In the fourth quarter, Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti recovered a fumble to give his team a big scoring opportunity. But Kansas City took the ball right back when safety Jim Lynch intercepted Griese's pass on the Chiefs 9-yard line. Kansas City then stormed 91 yards, including a 63-yard completion from Dawson to rookie receiver Elmo Wright, to retake the lead, 24–17, with Podolak's 3-yard touchdown run. Miami struck right back as Griese completed passes to Warfield for gains of 17 and 26 yards before finishing the 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Fleming, tying the game at 24 with 1:25 left in regulation. Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins 22-yard line before being shoved out of bounds by Miami's Curtis Johnson, giving Stenerud a chance to win the game for the Chiefs in the final minute of regulation. But he missed the field goal attempt from 32 yards wide right. The Chiefs' Dennis Homan made a fair catch of a Larry Seiple punt as time expired in regulation, giving the Chiefs the option to attempt a fair catch kick from 68 yards, which, if good, would have resulted in a game-winning field goal. Fearing a return by Miami speedster Mercury Morris if Stenerud's kick fell short, Kansas City declined, and the game went to overtime.

Kansas City took the opening kickoff of the first overtime period, and Podolak returned it to the 46-yard line. Kansas City then drove into scoring range, but Stenerud's 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Yepremian also attempted a 52-yard field goal later in the period, but it was short. As the first overtime period came to an end, Dolphins safety Jake Scott intercepted a pass from Dawson on the Chiefs 46. But the team was unable to move the ball and had to punt. Following a Kansas City punt, Csonka's 29-yard run set up Yepremian's game-winning score.[3]

Podolak's 350 all-purpose yards (8 receptions for 110 yards, 17 carries for 85 yards, 3 kickoff returns for 154 yards, two punt returns for two yards) in this game remain an NFL playoff record, and is still the fourth highest total in NFL history. "I don't think any one player in a big game, a monumental game like that, had a day like Eddie Podolak had," said Chiefs coach Hank Stram after the game.[1] Chiefs running back Wendell Hayes added 100 rushing yards, while Wright caught 3 passes for 104 yards. Dolphins receiver Paul Warfield finished with 7 receptions for a career postseason high 140 yards, while Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti racked up 20 tackles.[2]

NFC: Dallas Cowboys 20, Minnesota Vikings 12

Although the Vikings outgained the Cowboys in total yards 311–183, Dallas forced 5 turnovers and converted some of them into 13 points en route to a 20–12 win.

Early in the first quarter, Cowboys defensive lineman Larry Cole forced a fumble from Dave Osborn that was recovered by fellow lineman Jethro Pugh on the Vikings 36-yard line. Dallas then drove to the Minnesota 19, mainly on the strength of an 18-yard completion from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes, before defensive tackle Alan Page's 3rd down sack forced them to settle for Mike Clark's 26-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead. The Vikings responded with a 27-yard field goal by Fred Cox that tied the score.[4]

In the second quarter, the Vikings got a big chance to take the lead when quarterback Bob Lee completed a 49-yard pass to Bob Grim on the Dallas 29-yard line. But linebacker Chuck Howley ended the drive with an interception, returning the ball 26 yards to the Vikings 37, and the Cowboys drove to a 44-yard Clark field goal that put them up 6-3. Minnesota had another chance to score as Clint Jones returned the kickoff 61 yards, but all this would result in was 3 incomplete passes and a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Cox.

Early in the second half, Cliff Harris intercepted a pass from Lee and returned it 30 yards to the Vikings 13-yard line, setting up Duane Thomas' 13-yard touchdown run to give Dallas a 13–3 lead. Minnesota had a big chance to get back in the game when Charlie West returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, but this merely resulted in another missed field goal try by Cox, this one a 46-yard attempt. Late the third quarter, Dallas safety Charlie Waters returned a punt 24 yards to the Cowboys 48, sparking their only sustained drive of the second half. Moving the ball 52 yards, including a 30-yard completion from Staubach to Lance Alworth on 3rd and 15, Dallas went up 20-3 on Staubach's 9-yard touchdown pass to Hayes.

Still, Minnesota was not quite out of the game. Early in the 4th quarter, Paige sacked Staubach in the end zone for a safety. Then Vikings coach Bud Grant replaced Lee with Gary Cuozzo, who led the team to the Dallas 19 after the free kick. But Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan made a clutch interception that essentially put the game way. Cuozzo did manage to lead the team to a touchdown on a 6-yard pass to tight end Stu Voigt, making the score 20-12, but by then barely more than 2 minutes remained on the clock.

December 26, 1971

AFC: Baltimore Colts 20, Cleveland Browns 3

1986 Jeno's Pizza - 31 - Rick Volk and Leroy Kelly
The Colt defense stopping a Browns run during the AFC Divisional Playoffs Game

Don Nottingham scored two touchdowns for the Colts, while their defense limited the Browns to only 165 yards, 11 first downs, and 3 points.

However, the Browns had plenty of scoring chances early in the game. On their first series, quarterback Bill Nelsen completed a 39-yard pass to Fair Hooker, but defensive back Rex Kern forced and recovered a fumble from him on the Colts 12-yard line. Baltimore had to punt on their ensuing drive, and Leroy Kelly's 48-yard return gave the Browns a first down on the Colts 4. All the Browns got from this field position though, was a 16-yard field goal attempt from Don Cockroft that was blocked by defensive tackle Bubba Smith (who would also block another field goal later on.)

After the blocked field goal, the Colts drove 93 yards in 17 plays, including a 7-yard run by Nottingham on 4th and inches, to score on Nottingham's 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the second quarter, Baltimore safety Rick Volk intercepted a pass from Nelsen and returned it 37 yards to the Browns 15-yard line, setting up Nottingham's second touchdown run on a 7-yard burst.

After three consecutive drives in the third quarter ended in turnovers, Cleveland finally got on the board with a 14-yard field goal by Cockroft. But Baltimore stormed right back on 74-yard drive to go up 17-3 on a field goal by Jim O'Brien. O'Brien added a 14-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to finish off the scoring.[5]

Nottingham was the sole offensive star for either team with 92 rushing yards, 5 receiving yards, and two scores.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers 24, Washington Redskins 20

The 49ers defense made key plays to lead San Francisco to a 24–20 victory over the Redskins after trailing 10-3 at the end of the half.

Washington scored first after Jon Jaqua blocked a punt from Steve Spurrier, enabling his team to take over on the 49ers 28. This set up quarterback Billy Kilmer's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jerry Smith. San Francisco responded with a 23-yard field goal from Bruce Gossett, but Speedy Duncan returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to set up a field goal for the Redskins, a 40-yard kick by Curt Knight. With the score at 10-3 and time running out in the half, Washington defensive back Ted Vactor returned a punt 48 yards to the 49ers 11-yard line. But with 32 seconds left, receiver Roy Jefferson was dropped for a 13-yard loss by defensive end Cedrick Hardman on an end around play, and Knight's ensuing field goal attempt was blocked by linebacker Frank Nunley

Duncan returned the second half kickoff 66 yards to the San Francisco 34, but the 49ers made a key defensive stand, stopping Washington on the 12 when Nunley tackled Larry Brown for a 2-yard loss on 4th and inches. Three plays later, facing 3rd down and 1, quarterback John Brodie threw a deep pass that went just over the outstretched arms of defensive back Pat Fischer and into the arms of receiver Gene Washington, who caught the ball in stride at the 40 and took off for a 78-yard touchdown reception. Then on the next series, Roosevelt Taylor's interception set up Bob Windsor's 2-yard touchdown reception to give San Francisco a 17–10 lead.

Duncan returned the next kickoff 67 yards to set up a 35-yard Knight field goal, making the score 17-13. But with 3:20 left in the game, San Francisco put the game away when defensive tackle Bob Hoskins recovered a bad snap on a Washington punt attempt in the end zone for a touchdown. After this, the Redskins managed to cut the final score to 24-20 on Kilmer's 16-yard pass to Brown in the game's closing seconds.[5]

Brown rushed for 84 yards, while also catching 6 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Kilmer completed 11 of 26 passes for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Duncan set a franchise playoff record with 170 yards on 3 kickoff returns. Brodie finished with 10/19 completions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

Conference championships

January 2, 1972

AFC Championship: Miami Dolphins 21, Baltimore Colts 0

Although Miami quarterback Bob Griese completed only 4 passes, the Dolphins defense shut out the Colts. Defensive back Dick Anderson intercepted Johnny Unitas three times, returning one of them 62 yards for a touchdown.

Paul Warfield recorded a 75-yard touchdown reception midway through the first quarter on the Dolphins second drive. Meanwhile, the Colts managed to move the ball close enough for Jim O'Brien to twice attempt field goals, but he missed both times. In the second quarter, the Colts drove from their own 18 to the Dolphins 9-yard line, featuring a 28-yard reception by Don Nottingham, but on 4th down and 1, Nottingham was stuffed by a gang of Dolphins defenders just inches short of the first down marker.

In the third quarter, Unitas threw a pass that was deflected by cornerback Curtis Johnson into the hands of Anderson, who took off for a 62-yard scoring return. Then in the fourth quarter, Griese's 50-yard pass to Warfield set up Larry Csonka's 5-yard touchdown run.

NFC Championship: Dallas Cowboys 14, San Francisco 49ers 3

In the first playoff game at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys defense dominated the 49ers offense by allowing only 61 rushing yards and 9 first downs, and forcing 3 interceptions.

In the second quarter, Dallas defensive end George Andrie intercepted a screen pass from John Brodie and returned it 7 yards to the 49ers 2-yard line to set up Calvin Hill's 1-yard touchdown run. This would be the only score of the game until 6:52 remained in the third quarter, when Brodie's 24-yard completion to tight end Ted Kwalick set up Bruce Gossett's 28-yard field goal.

Following a missed 47-yard field goal by Gossett on San Francisco's next drive, Dallas QB Roger Staubach finished the quarter with a 17-yard completion to halfback Dan Reeves. Then he started off the fourth with a 23-yard pass to tight end Billy Truax. Duane Thomas eventually finished the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, making the score 14-3.

With 9 minutes left in regulation, the Dallas defense took over the rest of the game, forcing turnovers on San Francisco's last three drives. First, linebacker Chuck Howley broke up a 4th down pass. Then on San Francisco's next possession, Brodie was intercepted by linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. Finally, after Mike Clark's 24-yard field goal attempt was blocked by 49ers linebacker Frank Nunley, safety Cliff Harris picked off a pass from Brodie that enabled Dallas to run out the clock.

After the game, Dallas received a visit in the locker room from former US President Lyndon Johnson, who told Staubach "You're the best. They should rename this place Staubach stadium."[6]


  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
  • The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)


  1. ^ "Don't Hit Him, He's Dead," McDonough/Owens, 1978 Celestial Arts
  2. ^ "Kansas City Chiefs – CHIEFS VS DOLPHINS – GAME 6". kcchiefs.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  3. ^ Yowell, Keith (25 December 2009). "Today in Pro Football History: 1971: Dolphins Defeat Chiefs in Longest NFL Game". fs64sports.blogspot.com. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  4. ^ Yowell, Keith (25 December 2014). "Today in Pro Football History: 1971: Cowboys Defeat Turnover-Prone Vikings in NFC Divisional Playoff Game". fs64sports.blogspot.com. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  6. ^ Lyndon B. Johnson

External links

1977–78 NFL playoffs

The National Football League playoffs for the 1977 season began on December 24, 1977. The postseason tournament concluded with the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII, 27–10, on January 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Due to Christmas, the Divisional playoff games were held in a span of three days. The AFC playoff games were played on Saturday December 24 while the NFC games were held on Monday, December 26. It also marked the only year since the AFL–NFL merger in 1970 that one conference held both of its divisional playoff games on one day and the other conference held both of its games on the other day. In every other season since 1970, the conferences have split their playoff games over the two days.

This was also the last season that the NFL used an eight-team playoff tournament.

John Niland (American football)

John Hugh Niland (born February 29, 1944) is a former American Football offensive guard in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro. He played college football at the University of Iowa.

NFL playoffs

The NFL playoffs are a single-elimination tournament held after the National Football League (NFL)'s regular season to determine the NFL champion. Six teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs based on regular-season records, and a tie-breaking procedure exists in the case of ties. The tournament culminates in the Super Bowl, the league's championship game, which matches the two conference champions.

NFL postseason history can be traced to the first NFL Championship Game in 1933, though in the early years, qualification for the game was based solely on regular season records. From 1933 to 1966, the NFL postseason generally only consisted of the NFL Championship Game, pitting the league's two division winners (pending any one-game playoff matches that needed to be held to break ties in the division standings). After 1967, the playoffs were expanded to allow four teams to qualify for the tournament. When the league merged with the American Football League (AFL) in 1970, the playoffs were expanded to eight teams. The playoffs were expanded to ten teams in 1978 and twelve teams since 1990.

The NFL is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States to use a single-elimination tournament in all rounds of its playoffs. Major League Baseball (MLB) (not including their Wild Card postseason round), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) all use a "best-of" series format instead.

National Football League Christmas games

Christmas Day and Christmas Eve games in the National Football League are an occasional part of the league's schedule. In contrast to Thanksgiving Day games, however, they are not an annual occurrence; as of 2017, there have been just 19 Christmas Day games in the NFL's history.

After the NFL held two Divisional Playoff games on Christmas Day 1971, the league avoided any more games on Christmas Day until 1989. Since then, the NFL has held occasional games on Christmas Day in some years, as part of week 16 or 17 of the regular season. Two games were played each Christmas Day from 2004 to 2006 and then from 2016 to 2017.

In recent years, the NFL has scheduled games on Christmas Day only if it falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. The NFL scheduled one Friday Christmas game, in 2009, a very rare occasion for an NFL game to be played on a Friday (because Christmas falls outside the window set in the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 that prohibits pro football telecasts on those days for most of the regular season, it is one of the few times of the year when the league plays on a Friday or Saturday). If Christmas falls on a Sunday, most games are moved to Saturday, Christmas Eve, and then one or two games are scheduled for Christmas Night to be broadcast nationally. One game is generally held over for the regular Monday night slot. This situation occurred in 2016 and will occur again in 2022. In rare cases when a game must be played on the evening of Christmas Eve, the game is typically hosted on the West Coast of the United States so that the game takes place in the late afternoon there, and likewise, games played in the afternoon on Christmas Day are hosted in either the Eastern or Central time zones so that they do not start before 4 p.m. local time. This provides a window of roughly 20 hours of local time, spanning late Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, in which the league will not play.

Overtime (sports)

Overtime or extra time is an additional period of play specified under the rules of a sport to bring a game to a decision and avoid declaring the match a tie or draw where the scores are the same. In some sports, this extra period is played only if the game is required to have a clear winner, as in single-elimination tournaments where only one team or players can advance to the next round or win the tournament. In other sports, particularly those prominently played in North America where ties are generally disfavored, some form of overtime is employed for all games.

The rules of overtime or extra time vary between sports and even different competitions. Some may employ "sudden death", where the first player or team who scores immediately wins the game. In others, play continues until a specified time has elapsed, and only then is the winner declared. If the contest remains tied after the extra session, depending on the rules, the match may immediately end as a draw, additional periods may be played, or a different tiebreaking procedure such as a penalty shootout may be used instead.

The terms "overtime" and "in overtime" (abbreviated "OT" or "IOT") are primarily used in North America, whereas the terms "extra time" and "after extra time" (abbreviated "a.e.t.") are usually used in other continents. However, in basketball, the terms "overtime" and "in overtime" are used worldwide.

Game information
  • Scoring
    • KC – field goal Stenerud 24 KC 3–0
    • KC – Podolak 7 pass from Dawson (Stenerud kick) KC 10–0
    • MIA – Csonka 1 run (Yepremian kick) KC 10–7
    • MIA – field goal Yepremian 14 10–10
    • KC – Otis 1 run (Stenerud kick) KC 17–10
    • MIA – Kiick 1 run (Yepremian kick) 17-17
    • KC – Podolak 3 run (Stenerud kick) KC 24–17
    • MIA – Fleming 5 pass from Griese (Yepremian kick) 24–24
    • MIA – field goal Yepremian 37 MIA 27–24
Game information
  • Scoring
    • DAL – field goal Clark 26 DAL 3–0
    • MIN – field goal Cox 27 3–3
    • DAL – field goal Clark 44 DAL 6–3
    • DAL – D. Thomas 13 run (Clark kick) DAL 13–3
    • DAL – Hayes 9 pass from Staubach (Clark kick) DAL 20–3
    • MIN – Safety, Page tackled Staubach in end zone DAL 20–5
    • MIN – Voigt 6 pass from Cuozzo (Cox kick) DAL 20–12
Game information
  • Scoring
    • BAL – Nottingham 1 run (O'Brien kick) BAL 7–0
    • BAL – Nottingham 7 run (O'Brien kick) BAL 14–0
    • CLE – field goal Cockroft 14 BAL 14–3
    • BAL – field goal O'Brien 42 BAL 17–3
    • BAL – field goal O'Brien 15 BAL 20–3
Game information
  • Scoring
    • WAS – Smith 5 pass from Kilmer (Knight kick) WAS 7–0
    • SF – field goal Gossett 23 WAS 7–3
    • WAS – field goal Knight 40 WAS 10–3
    • SF – Washington 78 pass from Brodie (Gossett kick) 10–10
    • SF – Windsor 2 pass from Brodie (Gossett kick) SF 17–10
    • WAS – field goal Knight 35 SF 17–13
    • SF – Hoskins recovered fumble in end zone SF 24–13
    • WAS – Brown 16 pass from Kilmer (Knight kick) SF 24–20
Game information
  • Scoring
    • MIA – Warfield 75 pass from Griese (Yepremian kick) MIA 7–0
    • MIA – Anderson 62 interception return (Yepremian kick) MIA 14–0
    • MIA – Csonka 5 run (Yepremian kick) MIA 21–0
Game information
  • Scoring
    • DAL – Hill 1 run (Clark kick) DAL 7–0
    • SF – field goal Gossett 28 DAL 7–3
    • DAL – Thomas 2 run (Clark kick) DAL 14–3
Conference tiebreakers
NFL playoff system

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