The 1982-83 NFL season was unlike any other before it. A 57-day player strike for fairer wages chopped seven games from the regular-season schedule, forcing teams to approach the playoffs with just nine games under the belts. The top eight teams from each conference qualified for playoff contention, disqualifying the reigning champions — the San Francisco 49ers, who closed out the season with a dismal 3-6 record — and allowing 4-5 teams to advance.
January 30, 1983, marked the latest-scheduled Super Bowl on the calendar at the time (the latest before Super Bowl XVII was January 25) and a chance for teams that usually wouldn't make the playoffs to see the big stage. By the time you're done reading this article, you'll know whether the Miami Dolphins or Washington Redskins won, what made the Redskins the "underdogs," and which TV star was in attendance.
The Miami Dolphins — back-to-back Super Bowl victors in 1973 and 1974 — finished out regular season play with a league runner-up 7-2 record and a "Killer Bees" defense known for keeping opponents off the board (allowing just 2,312 yards all season).
Although Miami quarterback David Woodley was arguably the "worst" in the NFL during the 1982-83 season with 13 interceptions and only eight touchdowns, the rest of the Dolphins lineup made up for what he lacked. Miami's starting roster consisted of high-performance players like wide receiver Jimmy Cefalo (averaging 20.9 yards per catch), running back Andra Franklin (701 yards), and a slurry of defensive backs amassing 11 regular-season interceptions.
The Washington Redskins approached Super Bowl XVII looking to redeem the franchise after a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1973. The Redskins qualifying for another Super Bowl was a feat in and of itself — Washington previously suffered a six-year playoff drought and scored the fewest number of points among all league teams (128).
Leading the Redskins on the gridiron was veteran quarterback Joe Theismann, who completed 63% of passes, rushed for 150 yards, and nabbed 13 touchdowns during regular-season play. Other threats on Washington's roster included running back John Riggins (three touchdowns and 553 yards), placekicker Mark Moseley (20 for 21 on field goal attempts), and an offensive line earning the moniker "The Hogs" for their ability to keep opponents from advancing.
While both teams earned similar records during the season, the Miami Dolphins stepped on the field as "favorites" for two reasons. Miami's "Killer Bees" defense secured 13 interceptions during the playoffs, making their defensive line a threat to opponents of any playing caliber, and over half of the players on the Redskins’ roster were "free agents” (26 out of 45).
On January 30, 1983, 103,667 fans (including Mr. T) rushed into the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California to watch Super Bowl XVII live, the third time Pasadena acted as the "host city" and just 318 fans short of Super Bowl XIV. Fans shelled out around $40 for a ticket (valued at $104.53 today) to see how this unusual NFL season would end.
Pre-kickoff festivities began with a moment of silence for the late Bear Bryant (Alabama coach) and a concert by the Los Angeles Unified School District All-City Band. Then, Laverne & Shirley actress Leslie Easterbrook — who barely made it to the stadium on time — took center stage for a rendition of the National Anthem. After a confusing coin toss aided by Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch that landed on tails (not heads like first believed), a Redskins' kickoff started Super Bowl XVII.
The Dolphins handily put themselves on the scoreboard in just their second possession of Super Bowl XVII. Quarterback David Woodley managed to dodge a linebacker before throwing a direct pitch to Jimmy Cefalo, dashing 76 yards into the end zone and putting Miami on the board with a seven-point lead. That same linebacker — Dexter Manley — then forced a fumble by Woodley to return possession to the Redskins.
The second quarter began with an immediate scoring opportunity for the Redskins — kicker Mark Moseley clinched a 31-yard field goal to narrow Miami's lead to 7-3. Miami knocked over eight minutes off the game clock before bringing kicker Uwe von Schamann to the 20-yard-line and giving the Dolphins a loftier 10-3 lead.
Miami held onto this lead for just a few minutes until Theismann, Walker, and Riggins helped the Redskins push 80 yards down the field before Theismann connected on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Garrett. Now tied at 10-10, the Dolphins responded immediately. Fulton Walker crusaded 98 yards on the kickoff into touchdown territory — narrowly defeating the previous Super Bowl record of 97 yards.
Unable to control the clock and out of timeouts, the Redskins failed on their final scoring opportunity of the first half. Super Bowl XVII's score at halftime was 17-10 Miami.
As the Dolphins and Redskins darted off to the locker room for halftime, a concert performance was underway on the turf. The Los Angeles Super Drill Team took to the Rose Bowl field for a show titled, "KaleidoSUPERscope."
The second half of Super Bowl XVII started slowly and with a series of turnovers, but the Redskins added three points to the scoreboard just halfway through the third quarter. The Redskins came head-to-head with the Killer Bees defense, forcing Washington to opt for a 20-yard field goal by Moseley to trail the Dolphins by four.
After nearly throwing an interception at the end of the third quarter, the Redskins began the final quarter with possession and a desire to score even more. While unable to capitalize on this early possession, Washington held off Miami's scoring attempts and regained the ball in excellent scoring position.
Theismann and Riggins smoothly ran a play called the "I-Right 70 Chip," allowing Riggins to escape the hold of Miami's D-line and dart 43 yards down the field to give Washington a 20-17 lead. Riggins crushed through five back-to-back running plays on the Redskins' next possession before Theismann lobbed a 6-yard bullet to Charlie Brown for another touchdown.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game and a 27-17 lead, the underdog Redskins secured their first Super Bowl victory.
Redskins running back John Riggins didn't just close out Super Bowl XVII with the honor of MVP.
Interestingly, this veteran player voluntarily sat out of the 1980 season due to failed contract negotiations, returning the following season to help the Redskins clinch a Super Bowl title.
The civil unrest caused by a shortened NFL season brought a whirlwind of excitement to Super Bowl XVII. A massive 109.04 million people from coast-to-coast clicked over to NBC to watch the Redskins take on the favored Dolphins. This highly anticipated match-up amassed a near-record Nielsen rating of 48.6 — just 0.5 points below Super Bowl XVI.
The seventeenth installment of the Super Bowl also came with a brand new audience. Super Bowl XVII marked the first time in NFL history that the game aired across the pond in the United Kingdom — many in Canada tuned in as well.
Despite securing the No. 1 seed in their conference, an 8-1 record in a shortened season, and having a future Hall of Famer Joe Theismann at quarterback, the Redskins weren't "favorites" to win.
The Redskins' 27-17 upset over the Dolphins helped the underdog to cover the 3-point spread. And with an over/under of 36.5 points decided before the game, the 44 total points scored in Super Bowl XVII was 7.5 points beyond "over" territory.
Super Bowl XVII ended in an upset, with the Redskins snagging a victory over the favored Dolphins. While the Dolphins fell to the Seahawks during the playoffs in the following season, the Redskins held onto their Super Bowl momentum.
Washington earned a spot as Super Bowl XVIII contenders and a shot at back-to-back championships — but did they win?