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. That Dolphins’ squad 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 New York Football Giants 30-13 in the NFL Championship Game. And who could forget the Giants spoiling the New England Patriots run at glory in 2007 only to be refuted by - 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 professional football. That distinction would be the Miami Seahawks.
A new league on the horizon
After World War II, there were several wealthy businessmen who had wanted to own an NFL team. At the time, the league was only 12 clubs and the problem was that none of those owners wanted to sell. 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 which cut down on travel time as teams traveled mainly 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. They enjoyed their close nit group and the idea of new blood with newfangled ideas did not sit well among the old guard.
Subsequently, in 1945 those men with money (and lots of it) who were refuted by the powers that be in the NFL 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 over 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. As the sports editor in charge of covering two NFL clubs, he was quite aware of a diverse group men who wanted to buy into the league.
Plus, Major League Baseball was the current king of sports and had the National and American Leagues. It just made sense to these men that in pro football already established was the National League of football, and what was needed was an American League of football. There had been several leagues that came and went that had called themselves the “American Football League” that had the same dream.
In this case, the “American” portion of the AAFC’s moniker was meant to continue this thought process.
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 – again, back to what Americans followed and loved. And Ward knew just who to call to begin his dream.
The Cleveland Browns are born
Immediately into the mix were four millionaires that bought franchises in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. At the time, there weren’t any professional sports teams in California. Next, a team was placed in New York City – but not without controversy.
Dan Topping owned the NFL team the Brooklyn Tigers. He wanted to move his club from the cramped and aging confines of Ebbets Field into the much larger - and nicer - Yankee Stadium. The problem with that notion was that Giants’ owner Tim Mara utilized his territorial rights and blocked the move.
Topping was incredibly rich, so along with two other investors he simply bought the Yankees, Yankee Stadium and all of the minor league squads for $2.8 million. He then relocated his Tigers from Brooklyn to their new home in New York City, and then renamed them the New York Yankees.
And because the other NFL owners gave him grief and that territorial situation that still remained unresolved with the Giants, he took his NFL franchise and left the league and joined the newly-formed AAFC.
Soon thereafter, the final three teams in the now eight team AAFC would be added: Buffalo, Baltimore and Brooklyn. But there was a problem in Baltimore. That franchise had an issue finding and entering a lease with a suitable stadium and had to rescind their charter making an uneven seven clubs.
Enter the 1946 Miami Seahawks.
Florida’s very first professional sports franchise in any sport
The Seahawks were signed to play in Burdine Stadium (later renamed the Orange Bowl) which had just been updated from 23,330 seats to a healthy 35,030 capacity. The new owners chose as their team colors orange and green which represented the Florida orange industry’s success. Jack Meagher was hired as the head coach who had gained fame while playing for Notre Dame under Knute Rockne.
The Seahawks’ 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 college player draft to assist clubs in forming rosters, so it was up to each franchise to find their own players in order to field a team.
Because World War II had taken many college-aged athletes, 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 for the Miami people was that most of the other teams had a full year to contact players whereas the Seahawks were a new team thrown together in the league’s 11th hour. Their efforts to get quality players was at - or near - the bottom as the rest of the league – plus the NFL – had picked over just about every pro prospect.
Dreadful from the start
There were other problems that existed for the Seahawks early on into that inaugural 1946 AAFC season.
For one, at the time the City of Miami was not very large with a population of just over 190,000. This meant Miami instantly became the smallest city in either league.
Another obstacle was that Jim Crow laws were still being observed and enforced regarding black people. These obligatory rules meant the Seahawks could not hire any black players, or black coaches, or black administrators or physicians. Even worse, no black player on a visiting club could play and compete. In fact, Florida state law prohibited white and black players from any sort of competition on the same playing field at any time.
Yet another obstacle was the league’s schedule.
Miami’s first three games were all on the road: at the Cleveland Browns, at San Francisco 49ers and at the Los Angeles Dons. The latter two games meant the Seahawks had to spend an entire week in California before returning home because of travel expenses. After their home opener against San Francisco, the team had an additional four more road games. This wide span ultimately 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 as the final home games only averaged 9,000 a contest.
At the completion of the season the club was in the red just under $400,000. Hester and the other owners could not repay their debts mainly because their home gate never materialized.
Another Miami group had expressed interest in taking over the troubled franchise, but the AAFC required that all their debts must be satisfied was a stipulation of any impeding sale. This obviously stalled any negotiations. Then, Hester filed for bankruptcy which further put a damper on any 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 had originally agreed to own the league’s eighth club had reformed and gained permission to sign a lease in a suitable stadium. The league granted the rights to the franchise for the 1947 season to which they would relocate and rename themselves “the Baltimore 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. The duo called their new team the “Miami Dolphins” and chose orange, white and teal as their team colors.
And the orange jersey lived on.