Thursday, May 10, 2007

Joe Thomas: The Architect of the 1972 Miami Dolphins

Imagine if you will, a general manager of an NFL franchise who negotiates shrewdly, spots opportunities others miss, and superbly evaluates football talent. And imagining such a creature is all you could have been doing if you've been a fan of the Miami Dolphins this decade. Yet, once upon a time the Dolphins actually had such a person in charge of the organization. His name was Joe Thomas and the moves he made as Dolphins' GM from 1967 to 1970 rival anything any GM has ever done in NFL history. Submitted for your approval, Joe Thomas’ major trades (Pay particular attention to the bolded names):

1) QB John Stofa to Cincinnati for 1st and 2nd round picks in 1968. 1st round pick used to take OT Doug Crusan.

2) QB Jon Brittenum to San Diego for 3rd round pick in 1968. Pick used to take Dick Anderson.

2) LB John Bramlett, QB Kim Hammond and 5th round pick to Patriots for LB Nick Buoniconti

3) CB Mack Lamb to San Diego for G Larry Little

4) 1st round pick in 1970 to Cleveland for WR Paul Warfield

5) WR Jack Clancy to Green Bay for TE Marv Fleming

As you may have noticed, the bolded names are current members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Five trades. Three Hall of Famers (Three!), plus a two-time All-Pro in Anderson and two long-time contributors in Crusan and Fleming. As great as Don Klosterman’s moves were for the Rams, none of his deals netted even one Hall of Famer. And what did Thomas have to give up in exchange for his haul? Not much. Apparently professional football teams back in the day just enjoyed handing out Hall of Famers for nothing. “Just take them. What possible use could we have for them?” A quick look at the flotsam Miami parted with:

Stofa--The Patriots’ quickly tired of his awful play and he was back in a Miami uniform just a year later.
Bramlett--Was a Pro Bowler for Miami in 1968. Gave the Patriots two seasons and was out of the league after half a season more with Atlanta.
Brittenum--One season with the Chargers, threw 17 passes, and never played again.
Hammond—Three games with the Pats and done.
Lamb—Never played again.
Clancy—One season with the Pack, caught 16 balls, and never played again.

The only real loss was that #1 pick for Warfield. Miami’s crappy 1969 season, their final one before the coming of the Don, earned the overall third pick of the draft. But even losing that to Cleveland wound up working to Miami’s benefit. You see, the Browns used that draft pick to select their quarterback of the future, Mike Phipps, and in 1972 that future arrived. Phipps and his wild-card Browns matched up against the undefeated Dolphins in the first round of the 1972 playoffs. Cleveland gave Miami all they could handle, even taking a 14-13 lead in the 4th quarter. Luckily, Miami mounted a comeback and a late Phipps interception sealed the 20-14 victory. Phipps threw five, count ‘em five, freaking picks that day, giving away the game and keeping the perfect season alive. With perfect symmetry, if not irony, Phipps played the goat for the Browns while the man Cleveland traded to get Phipps, Paul Warfield, took the hero’s role for Miami on their winning TD drive, catching 50 yards worth of passes and drawing a key pass interference penalty to set up the score.

Thomas didn’t just make great trades. He also drafted QB Bob Griese, RB Larry Csonka, DE Bill Stanfill (two-time All-Pro), S Jake Scott (two-time All Pro), RB Mercury Morris (three Pro Bowls), RB Jim Kiick (two Pro Bowls) and DB Tim Foley (one Pro Bowl). He also signed C Jim Langer and OG Bob Kuechenberg (two-time All Pro) as free agents. 21 of the 22 starters on the 1972 Dolphins were players acquired by Joe Thomas. Don Shula molded those players into one of the greatest teams of all time. But Joe Thomas was the guy who built that team.

1 comment:

JB said...

Joe Thomas, from what I heard, was an excellent GM. He built 2 expansion teams into powers, and rebuilt another former champion:
1. He got hired in 61 by the expansion Vikes on Pete Rozelle's recommendation. He was the one who chose Fran Tarkenton. He built the Vikes for Bud Grant.
2. He went to the Dolphins, and made several big moves that you documented. I watched an NFL Films show about him, and he wasn't very popular in Miami, however. He hated that Shula got all the credit. The coaches played a trick on him by drawing a fictional player on the blackboard that Thomas might confuse for an actual prospect.
3. He went to Baltimore in 72 and rebuilt them. He got rid of an aging Unitas, and drafted Bert Jones, Fred Cook, Mike Barnes, Joe Ehrmann, Ken Huff, and traded for George Kunz and Tom Mcleod. But people were really mad for him getting rid of Unitas, especially Mike Curtis, who Thomas got rid of in the 76 Expansion Draft.
In addition, I also think that Thomas, in a small way, had something to do with helping the Niners become a power in the 80's because he got rid of old vets in the late 70's, like Jim Plunkett and Gene Washington, and under his tenure, the team got so bad that they fired Thomas in Jan. 79 and brought in Walsh, who brought in the players over the next 3 years that would make them a power.