First meeting with Miami memorable

When Green Bay and Miami kick off on Monday Night Football, it will mark the 11th meeting in series history. More than thirty years ago, the opening of this relatively short series closed a chapter for the Packers and the legendary Bart Starr.<p>

The Green Bay Packers' inaugural game against the Miami Dolphins turned out to be the last of Starr's 16-year career.

It wasn't type of farewell tour we're used to now. No pre-game ceremony marked the event, no press conference was held. But despite the absence of pagentry, the end of that particular game held one of the most poignant moments in team history.

The date was Dec. 19, 1971 and the Packers traveled to Miami to take on a Dolphins team that would run the table in winning Super Bowl VII a year later. The '71 Dolphins weren't so bad either. Don Shula's crew which included Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Paul Warfield, Larry Little among others went 10-3-1 to win the AFC East. Less than a month after facing the Packers, the Dolphins would lose to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. First-year coach Dan Devine's Packers entered the game at 4-7-2 with remnants of Vince Lombardi's team on the roster. Despite the presence of Starr, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Donny Anderson and rookie running back John Brockington, Green Bay was assured of its worst season since Ray "Scooter" McLean's 1-10-1 campaign of 1958.

The only suspense left for the Packers centered around the 37-year old Starr. Plagued by a shoulder injury, there was heavy speculation entering the game that the contest in the Orange Bowl would be the last of Starr's brilliant career.

"My final appearance as a Green Bay Packer occurred against Miami, in the last game of a miserable 4-8-2 season," Starr wrote in his 1987 autobiography: ‘My Life in Football.' "… Coach Devine started me in the game despite the (shoulder) problems I was experiencing. In the third quarter, after throwing a pass that hit the ground 5 yards in front of the intended receiver, I ran to the sideline and said, ‘Coach, we'ld be better off with Scott (Hunter).' Devine, however, did not replace me, and I continued to struggle the rest of the game. We were defeated easily, 27-6."

Starr showed flashes of his legend in the first quarter by driving the Packers deep into Dolphin territory. The Packers' hope at an early TD fizzled when tight end Rich McGeorge didn't turn in time to spot a Starr aerial. Green Bay settled for a 14-yard field goal by Tim Webster and a 3-0 lead.

Miami then crept to within two yards of the Packer end zone but couldn't score a touchdown. Griese misfired on three passes before Garo Yepremian booted a game-tying field goal. The Dolphins closed the half with an extended drive that resulted in another Yepremian three-pointer and a 6-3 lead at intermission. Green Bay opened the second half with a sustained drive but – similar to the first quarter – couldn't finish it off. Webster's 24-yard field goal tied the game but that would be the final time the Packers would be within striking distance of the Dolphins.

Kiick ignited the 21-point Miami barrage with a one-yard run in which he eluded the 34-year old Nitschke. After an Anderson fumble, Csonka bulled over the goal line with Wood on his back to give Miami a 20-6 lead.

The Dolphins finished the scoring in the fourth quarter when Lloyd Mumphord blocked a Webster field goal and Curtis Johnson scooped up the carom and carried it 42-yards for a touchdown. "It has just been the same thing all year," Devine said. "The things that have hurt us all year hurt us again today."

Brockington rushed for 73 yards to put his season total at an NFL rookie record 1,105.

"I'm happy to know about the record but I can't look back on this season and be happy about it," Brockington said. "I'll be going into camp next year with the idea I have to work hard to win my position just like I did this year … all I want to do is win."

Starr was 13 of 22 for 126 yards with no interceptions.

"I'm disappointed," said Starr, who went the distance for the first time all season. "A quarterback's job is to get the ball in the end zone and I didn't do that. I'd have to be disappointed."

Starr said in his autobiography that he didn't want to retire following the 1971 season but his shoulder did not respond after a rigorous off-season rehabilitation program. Starr officially announced his retirement shortly after training camp began in 1972.


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