Mud Bowl

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The Mud Bowl
The Mud Bowl was the name given to the 1982 AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. The game, played in terrible conditions on January 23, 1983, resulted in a win for the Dolphins, owing to some underhanded tactics by their head coach, Don Shula (and a nightmare performance by Richard Todd).


Background to the game

The 1982 season

A players' strike reduced the 1982 regular season to nine games. Thus, the league used a special 16-team playoff tournament just for this year. Division standings were ignored. Eight teams from each conference were seeded 1-8 based on their regular season records. The Dolphins were the second seeds, and the Jets were sixth seeds. The teams had met each other twice during the regular season, the Dolphins sweeping the Jets by scores of 45-28 and 20-19.

The first playoff round saw the Dolphins beat New England, while the Jets racked up 517 yards in a 44-17 win over Cincinnati. In the second round, the Jets had to rely on a pair of late interceptions to beat the Los Angeles Raiders, while the Dolphins dominated San Diego to set up the clash with the Jets.

Shula’s sabotage

It had rained heavily in South Florida in the days leading up to the game, and on Shula’s orders, the grounds crew at the Orange Bowl failed to place a tarp on the field, turning the pitch into a morass. The resulting muddy conditions neutralized the strength of the Jets' offense, the running game, which was powered by McNeil, the league's leading rusher that season.

The game

The sloppy field covered in mud kept both teams scoreless in the first half. Neither team covered itslef in glory, sharing twelve turnovers between them. The Dolphins defense held Jets quarterback Richard Todd to only 15 of 37 completions for 103 yards and intercepted 5 of his passes. Linebacker A.J. Duhe led Miami to a victory with 3 interceptions, scoring a 35-yard touchdown and setting up the other Dolphins score. Miami held the Jets to 139 total yards and forced 5 interceptions. Freeman McNeil ran for 46 yards after gaining 303 in the first two playoff games, while Wesley Walker, who had nine touchdowns in the 10 previous games he played versus Miami, had one catch for zero yards. The turning point came in the third quarter, when Duhe intercepted a pass from Todd. Aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Jets, the Dolphins advanced to the New York 7-yard line where Woody Bennett rushed into the end zone for a touchdown. Then early in the final period, Duhe intercepted a screen pass and returned it 35 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

Marty Lyons reflects on the disaster
"After the game in the locker room, I remember it was pretty quiet," said Marty Lyons, "The coaches came around to each player and said, 'We'll get them next year.' I retired in February of 1991. That next year never came. That's the sad part about it." While some blamed Shula for his tarp shenanigans, others blamed Todd’s dismal performance. "It's definitely unfair (to blame Todd)," Lyons said. "It's a team sport. Unfortunately he had a bad day. Maybe the defense could have done something to offset the turnovers. I don't think any of Richard's teammates said, 'Thanks a lot, you lost the game for us.'"


The Dolphins went on to Super Bowl XVII, happily they were run over by John Riggins and the Washington Redskins. Shula would lead his team to another Super Bowl, only to lose again. The Mud Bowl was the last game for Walt Michaels as Jets head coach. He resigned 17 days later. A couple of months later Ken O'Brien was taken by the Jets in the 1983 NFL Draft, heralding the end of Todd’s career with the Jets. After one more season, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints. The Jets wouldn’t make it to the playoffs for three more seasons, and it would be sixteen more years before they would again reach a conference championship game.

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