Ranking the Dolphins' 54 season openers
Dolphin Digest|September 2020
The Miami Dolphins will open the 2020 regular season against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 13 and it’s really hard — practically impossible, really — to envision a worse season opener than what they produced a year ago.

The 59-10 loss against the Baltimore Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium was utterly forgettable and every bit as ugly as the final score would suggest.

It’s no stretch to suggest it was — by far — the worst season opener in Dolphins history.

But what about the rest? The Dolphins actually have fared pretty well in season openers, compiling a 29-24-1 record in their first 54 years of existence.

Besides the abomination of last season, there have been some memorable performances on opening day, some thrillers and other not-so-good efforts.

So let’s rank the 54 Dolphins season openers, using as criteria the quality of the game, the Dolphins’ performance and unique factors that made them stand out.

1 — 1994: MIAMI 39, NEW ENGLAND 35

Maybe the most memorable Dan Marino moment in a career filled with them. In his first regular-season game since he had torn his Achilles tendon the previous October, Marino outdueled Drew Bledsoe in a dazzling display of passing. Three of Marino’s five touchdown passes on the day went to Irving Fryar, including the game-winning 35-yard hook-up on a fourth-and-5.

2 — 1984: MIAMI 35, WASHINGTON 17

This was a masterful performance by Dan Marino that served as an opening act to his record-setting 1984 season. Marino threw five TD passes in a convincing road win against a Washington team coming off two consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

3 — 1972: MIAMI 20, KANSAS CITY 10

This was the much-anticipated rematch of the Christmas Day classic, as well as the first game at Arrowhead Stadium, and the Dolphins dominated to start their march to a perfect season. The Dolphins took advantage of four turnovers to build a 20-0 lead on a day when Larry Csonka rushed for 118 yards.

4 — 2001: MIAMI 31, TENNESSEE 23

The Dolphins had a tough opening assignment on the road for a Sunday night game but pulled off an impressive victory thanks to Lamar Smith’s 65-yard touchdown reception and Zach Thomas’ famous pick-six punctuated by his forward flip into the end zone.

5 — 2014: MIAMI 33, NEW ENGLAND 20

The second half of this opener in Miami, when the Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0, might have been the finest half of the millennium. Newcomer Knowshon Moreno set the tone with 134 rushing yards, while Cameron Wake had two sacks and two forced fumbles.

6 — 2018: MIAMI 27, TENNESSEE 20

This game forever will be remembered for the two lengthy lightning delays that made it the longest game in NFL history, clocking at a ridiculous 7 hours, 8 minutes. But the game at Hard Rock Stadium also was filled with big plays — in the fourth quarter alone, the Dolphins got a 102-yard kickoff return by Jakeem Grant and a 75-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills, and the Titans got a 94-yard kickoff return by Darius Jennings.

7 — 1992: MIAMI 27, CLEVELAND 23

This actually was a Week 2 game, but it became the Dolphins opener after the original opener against New England was postponed because of Hurricane Andrew. The Dolphins won at Cleveland on a late Mark Higgs touchdown after future Miami backup Bernie Kosar had brought the Browns back from a 20-3 fourth-quarter deficit to take a 23-20 lead.

8 — 1966: OAKLAND 23, MIAMI 14

This game belongs high on the list because it was the first game in franchise history and because former Coral Gables High star Joe Auer returned the opening kickoff at the Orange Bowl for a touchdown.

9 — 1982: MIAMI 45, N.Y. JETS 28

The Dolphins ended an eight-game winless streak (0-7-1) against the Jets in style, scoring three touchdowns on returns (Tom Vigorito punt return, Glenn Blackwood interception return, Don McNeal interception return) as well as on a pass from running back Tony Nathan to quarterback David Woodley.

10 — 1999: MIAMI 38, DENVER 21

The Dolphins opened the 1999 season with a Monday night road game against the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, though it was Denver’s first game without John Elway. Future Dolphins backup Brian Griese actually had a good game for Denver, but the Dolphins played a clean game and got a Jason Taylor fumble return for a touchdown as an exclamation point.

11 — 1993: MIAMI 24, INDIANAPOLIS 20

This was a classic Marino moment, as he drove the Dolphins 80 yards in 13 plays and threw a game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Baty in the final minute.

12 — 2017: MIAMI 19, L.A. CHARGERS 17

Like 1992, this was a Week 2 game after the threat of Hurricane Irma postponed the scheduled opener. The Dolphins won this game at tiny StubHub Center when Cody Parkey kicked a 54-yard field goal with 1:05 left and the Chargers’ Younghoe Koo then missed a 44-yard attempt on the final play.

13 — 1967: MIAMI 35, DENVER 21

The Dolphins’ second season opened with first-round pick Bob Griese having to come off the bench after starting quarterback John Stofa was injured in the first quarter. The Dolphins got a 68-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Auer, and broke a 21-21 tie in the fourth quarter with touchdown runs by Abner Hayes of 3 and 65 yards.

14 — 1995: MIAMI 52, N.Y. JETS 14

This wasn’t a particularly exciting game, but beating the Jets by 38 points deserves recognition. The Dolphins took advantage of six Jets turnovers.

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