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Giants vs. Dolphins: Pro football’s history in South Beach

Each week during the preseason, football historian Barry Shuck will teach us something about the team the Giants are facing. This week, the Miami Dolphins.

Every season in the National Football League (NFL), when one or more club has garnered a successful run of victories and find themselves undefeated deep into the season, sportscasters are quick to reference the NFL’s only undefeated and untied team in history: the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

And for good reason. The ’72 Dolphins did what no other NFL team has ever accomplished – finished the year without any losses and zero ties. Now, there have been plenty of NFL teams that have finished their respective season with zero losses - but with some tie games. Take the NFL’s very first season for example. The Akron Pros went 8-0- 3. Two years later the Canton Bulldogs also finished undefeated but with three tie games. And there are others.

Plus, there have been several times that a team entered the championship match with goose eggs in both columns only to lose the title game. The 1934 Chicago Bears compiled a stellar 13-0- 0 regular season stanza only to lose to the Giants 30-13 in the title game. And who could forget the Giants spoiling New England’s run at glory in 2007 only to be refuted by…what’s this? Again the Giants?!?

So, the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the pinnacle by which all others are judged.

But, the Dolphins were not South Beach’s first attempt at pro football. That distinction would be the Miami Seahawks.

After World War II, there were several wealthy businessmen who had wanted to own an NFL team. The problem was that none of the 12 franchises were for sale. And the league was very content with the ownership group they occupied, plus the fact that every team was located in the Northeast or Midwest part of the country. At the time, teams traveled by train so it was imperative that players and coaches could get to an opponent’s city within a reasonable amount of time - and then back home again.

The Washington Redskins were the league’s most southern team while Chicago, which had both the Cardinals and Bears, were the NFL’s westernmost clubs. And the current owners would not even parlay the thought of any expansion teams.

Subsequently, in 1945 those men with money (and lots of it) who were refuted by the powers that be in pro football decided to form their own league. They called it the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).

The AAFC was the brainchild of Arch Ward, the sports editor of the “Chicago Tribune.” For more than a decade Ward had organized the “Chicago Charities College All-Star Game” played each pre-season with a squad of NFL stars against a team of the best in-coming drafted rookies. The game’s proceeds benefited various Chicagoland charitable organizations. Being the sports editor in charge of covering two NFL clubs, he was aware of different men who wanted to buy into the league.

Ward was also tuned into the NFL’s stance of not wanting to expand. His vision was a second entity that would provide a championship round of playoffs against the NFL and his version of baseball’s World Series. And he knew just who to call to begin his dream.

Immediately into the mix were four millionaires with franchises in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. At the time, there were no professional sports teams in California. Next, was a team in New York – but not without controversy.

Miami Seahawks jersey

Dan Topping owned the NFL’s Brooklyn Tigers. He wanted to move from the cramped and aging confines of Ebbets Field into the much larger (and nicer) Yankee Stadium. Problem was Giants owner Tim Mara utilized his territorial rights and blocked the move. Topping was incredibly rich, so along with two others bought the Yankees, Yankee Stadium and all the minor league squads for $2.8 million. He then renamed his Tigers the New York Yankees; and for his encore, the Yankees left the NFL and joined the newly formed AAFC.

Then, the final three teams in the AAFC would be added: Buffalo, Baltimore and Brooklyn. However, the Baltimore team had to rescind their charter when a suitable stadium could not be obtained.

Enter the Miami Seahawks – Florida’s very first pro sports franchise.

The Seahawks would play in Burdine Stadium (later renamed the Orange Bowl) which had just been updated from 23,330 seats to 35,030 capacity and chose as team colors orange and green.

They hired Jack Meagher as head coach who gained fame while playing for Notre Dame under Knute Rockne. The primary owner was Harvey Hester among several other minority owners.

Because the timeliness of Baltimore’s stadium woes, the Seahawks were hurriedly thrown together as a playing squad as well as a coaching unit. The AAFC did not hold a player draft, so it was up to each franchise to field a roster. Because World War II had taken many a college player, when these men returned from the war their college eligibility had expired yet they still yearned to play. This meant there was an explosion of players to choose from. The problem was most of the other teams had a full year to contact players whereas with Miami’s 11th hour efforts to gain acceptance into the league their player pool choices were at - or near - the bottom.

There were other problems that existed for the Seahawks early on into the inaugural 1946 season. For one, at the time the City of Miami was not very large with a population of just over 190,000 which would Miami the smallest city in either league. Another obstacle was that Jim Crow laws were still being observed and enforced. This meant the Seahawks could not hire any black players, nor could any team bring their black players to compete. Another obstacle was the league’s schedule.

Miami’s first three games were all on the road: at Cleveland Browns, at San Francisco 49ers and at the Los Angeles Dons. The last two meant having to spend an entire week in California before returning home. After their home opener against San Francisco, the team had an additional four more road games. This created a disconnect to whatever fan base the team had accumulated.

After the sixth game Meagher quit as head coach. When the club finally arrived back in South Florida, their record was 1-7- 0. Attendance obviously became an issue. The final home games only averaged 9,000 a contest.

At the completion of the season the club was in the red for just under $400,000 to which Hester and the other owners could not repay. Another Miami group had expressed interest in taking over the troubled franchise, but the league required that all debt must be satisfied and be a stipulation in the sale. This obviously stalled any negotiations. Then, Hester filed for bankruptcy which further put a damper on a new ownership group coming forward in Miami. The AAFC had no alternative than to confiscate the Seahawks. In the meantime, the same Baltimore group that would have been the league’s eighth club had reformed and gained permission from a suitable stadium. The league granted the rights to the franchise for the 1947 season to which they would rename themselves the Colts.

In 1967, the fourth league that called themselves the American Football League granted their very first expansion franchise to actor Danny Thomas and attorney Joe Robbie. They called their new team the Dolphins.

And the orange jersey lived on.