Don Shula once lost three key players to the WFL

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Hall of Fame coach Don Shula spent most of his career in a league that didn’t have meaningful, or any, free agency. That doesn’t mean he didn’t lose players when their contracts expired.

The Dolphins and Shula saw three key players — running back Larry Csonka, running back Jim Kiick, and receiver Paul Warfield — leave for the WFL in 1975, after their NFL contracts expired.

Yes, the WFL. An alternate league that competed for NFL players, the WFL played in 1974 and 1975, targeting NFL players for deals that would kick in after their NFL deals.

Without Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield (who collectively were due to receive $3 million on three-year deals), the Dolphins missed the playoffs for the first time in Shula’s tenure, after five straight postseason appearances.

The WFL folded in 1975, with the trio returning to the NFL the next year. Csonka joined the Giants, Kiick signed with the Broncos, and Warfield reunited with the Browns, the team for which he played before joining the Dolphins.

And if the WFL had survived, things would have gotten very interesting for the Raiders in 1976, the year that resulted in the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. Quarterback Ken Stabler had signed a deal to join the Birmingham Vulcans of the WFL after the 1975 season.

The long-forgotten WFL included teams like the Charlotte Hornets, the Houston Texans, the Hawaiians (yes, just “the Hawaiians”), the Southern California Sun, the Philadelphia Bell, and the Shreveport (not Cleveland) Steamer. Fans of the Dolphins from the ’70s surely haven’t forgotten the havoc the league wreaked on one of the NFL’s elite teams of the day.

13 responses to “Don Shula once lost three key players to the WFL

  1. There would have been no Steelers dynasty… no Madden super bowl victory. the Dolphins were head and shoulders above both the Raiders and Steelers in the AFC… until the WFL. Think of how it changed history… Imagine SBX (Super Bowl 10) in Miami… Dolphins vs. Cowboys… that would have been a fun revenge game.

  2. I’m old enough to remember the Sports Illustrated with those three guys on the cover. It was shocking.

  3. raidercop11 says:
    Don’t forget, the Jacksonville Sharks. Great team name, logo and uniforms.
    ==

    Cool, yes. But the team was so shoddily run that it went out of business midway through the WFL’s inaugural season.

  4. Just shows you how cheap owner Joe Robbie was. One of the cheapest owners in NFL history along with the Browns, Sullivans, Klein and others … Should have never let these stars leave. All were still in their prime though Warfield was older …

  5. jeremy3186 says:
    May 5, 2020 at 3:47 pm
    There would have been no Steelers dynasty… no Madden super bowl victory. the Dolphins were head and shoulders above both the Raiders and Steelers in the AFC… until the WFL. Think of how it changed history… Imagine SBX (Super Bowl 10) in Miami… Dolphins vs. Cowboys… that would have been a fun revenge game.

    —————————————————————————————————————

    Conveniently ignores the fact that the fully loaded Dolphins were dethroned by the Raiders in Oakland in the 1974 AFC divisional game (known as the “Sea of Hands”, and truly one of the 10 greatest games I have ever seen – watch it on YouTube if you have never seen it); the Raiders were in turn defeated by the Steelers in the 1974 AFC title game in Oakland, which began the Steeler dynasty of the 70s.

  6. I lived in Shreveport in 1974 and saw Paul Warfield play against the Shreveport Steamer.
    Name came from the steam boats on the Red River near Shreveport.
    Seems unreal to think about those times.

  7. Imagine the Steelers losing Franco, Bleier and Swann all at once, they never would have won a SB even with the Steel curtain.

  8. btw.. before anyone says “but the Dolphins lost to the Raiders in 1974 before they left…” The Dolphins had won the AFC 3 years in a row, then lost a playoff game they lead the entirety of until a miracle hail mary with 24 seconds to play (called the sea of hands)… a miracle that caused them to lose by 2 points. Subsequently losing 2 HOFer’s at skill positions and 2/3 of a dynastic backfield crushed the team’s spirit on and off the field.. that team could have kept going to SB’s until at least 1980.

  9. Conveniently ignores the fact that the fully loaded Dolphins were dethroned by the Raiders in Oakland in the 1974 AFC divisional game (known as the “Sea of Hands”, and truly one of the 10 greatest games I have ever seen – watch it on YouTube if you have never seen it); the Raiders were in turn defeated by the Steelers in the 1974 AFC title game in Oakland, which began the Steeler dynasty of the 70s.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    I ironically answered this before you even posted it (appears our posts went up at the same time)…. It’s funny you call this a “one of the greatest games”…. it was dominated by the Dolphins until less than a minute to play.. and took a miracle hail mary to beat a 3x defending AFC champion. Replay that game 10 times.. the Dolphins win at least 8.

  10. Robbie owned the team but built that stadium with his and private money essentially selling everything he could to build it. The Orange Bowl was a dump and the City of Miami was putting the squeeze on Robbie to stay and pay high taxes or go build with no help from us. Robbie decided to build alright whatever it took and to do it on county land telling the city to go to …

  11. I’m old enough to remember the Chicago Fire, one year WFL wonders. Growing up there, we had teams in all pro sports so when these new leagues came into existence, they always placed teams in the large cities and so we had the Fire. Seems they started in the mid to late summer, it was fun. We also got to enjoy the Cougars in hockey, that lasted longer but was fun too. Played in the International Amphitheater,next to the old stockyards. Good times!

  12. That Broke my heart as a kid. It ruined a dynasty! It was not just three players, it was three of our best players on the team.

    Paul Warfield was one of the best WR’s in the game

    Larry Csonka was one of the best RB/FB at that time

    Jim Kick was a utility Knife that was pivotal to our 3 headed running attack.

    They could have made a SB run for another 2-3 years had they stayed with Miami.

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