Joseph Robbie, a Minneapolis lawyer who owns a house in Miami, meets AFL Commissioner Joe Foss in Washington, March 3. Robbie, a former classmate of Foss’s at the University of South Dakota, is representing a friend who sought an AFL expansion franchise for Philadelphia. Foss rejects Philadelphia as a site, noting the Eagles have exclusive rights to Franklin Field. Foss suggests Robbie apply for the franchise in Miami. “With the population growth and climate, it’ll be the best franchise in the league.” Foss says. Seeking financial backing, Robbie goes to entertainer Danny Thomas, a co-worker on the board of St. Jude’s Hospital. Thomas, who earlier sought to buy the Chicago White Sox, agrees to become a partner. Thanks to the influence of United States Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Robbie’s friend from Minnesota, Miami Mayor Robert King High agrees to invite the AFL to Miami, with the assurance that the team could play in the Orange Bowl. The AFL Executive Committee votes to expand in 1966 at a meeting in Monmouth Park, New Jersey, June 7. The league awards its first expansion franchise to Robbie and Thomas for $7.5 million, August 16. Joe Thomas of the Minnesota Vikings is named director of player personnel, September 21. Mrs. Robert Swanson of West Miami wins two lifetime passes in a contest to pick a team nickname. Her suggestion, Dolphins, is chosen from more than 20,000 entries. In the first round of the draft, the Dolphins select Illinois fullback Jim Grabowski and Kentucky quarterback Rick Norton.
In the expansion draft, Miami picks 31 players. The player selected 14th, tackle Norm Evans of the Houston Oilers, is destined to be a 10-year regular with the Dolphins. George Wilson is hired as head coach, January 29. Wilson has coached the Detroit Lions for eight seasons. The Dolphins open their first training camp with 83 players in St. Petersburg, Florida, July 5. Grumbling begins immediately as the players complain about the gravel practice field and the dormitory next to Sea World. “We couldn’t sleep,” Evans said. “The seals kept barking all night.” The Dolphins’ first preseason game is a 38-10 loss to San Diego, August 5, and Wilson accuses Chargers coach Sid Gillman of running up the score. Training camp is moved to St. Andrews School in Boca Raton, Florida, August 7. The Dolphins open the regular season at the Orange Bowl against Oakland, September 2. Joe Auer thrills the 26,776 fans by returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders rally to win, 23-14. When injuries sideline Rick Norton and Dick Wood, Wilson installs his son, George, Jr., at quarterback. Wilson leads the Dolphins to their first AFL victory, passing 67 yards to Billy Joe for a touchdown in a 24-7 win over Denver, October 16. The following week, Wilson injures his shoulder in a 20-13 win at Houston, and his father signs John Stofa from a semipro league in Lakeland, Florida, to finish the season at quarterback. Stofa throws four touchdown passes, one to Auer with 38 seconds left, to give the Miami team its third victory, a 29-28 surprise of Houston, December 18.
It was a year of reorganization—on the field and in the front office. W.H. Keland of Racine, Wisconsin, purchases the interests of Martin Decker, George Hamid, Sr., and George Hamid, Jr., March 23. Robbie and Keland buy out Danny Thomas, June 1. In the first round of the first AFL-NFL draft, Miami drafts Purdue quarterback Bob Griese. Joe Thomas completes a seven-man trade, acquiring halfback Abner Haynes from Denver. In the regular-season opener against Denver, John Stofa breaks his ankle, leaving Griese to run the offense. Haynes rushes for 151 yards in the 35-21 Miami victory. Hard times follow as the Dolphins lose their next eight, scoring just seven touchdowns. They end the losing streak by beating Buffalo, 17-14, on a fourth-down, 31-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Howard Twilley, November 26. The Dolphins defeat San Diego, 41-10, to close out their schedule. Cornerback Dick Westmoreland intercepts his AFL-leading tenth pass of the season against the Patriots. Griese finishes the season fifth among AFL passers.
The draft brings a fresh supply of talent to Miami. Joe Thomas selects running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, tackle Doug Crusan, and safety Dick Anderson. All are starters in 1968. The Dolphins win their first interleague victory, beating the Eagles, 23-7, in a preseason game, August 17. Two weeks later, Griese’s favorite receiver, Jack Clancy, suffers a broken leg in a 22-13 loss to Baltimore. In the regular season, Miami recovers from a 0-3 start to win five games. Griese sets club passing records of 2,473 yards, 186 completions, and 21 touchdowns.
Joe Thomas continues to upgrade Miami’s personnel, drafting defensive linemen Bill Stanfill and Bob Heinz, running back Eugene “Mercury” Morris, and cornerback Lloyd Mumphord, and trading for linebacker Nick Buoniconti and guard Larry Little. In all, 20 players miss seven games or more due to injury. Joe Robbie becomes the Dolphins’ majority owner when he purchases the interests of W. H. Keland with five other Miami businessmen. Bob Griese injures his right knee in a Boston downpour and misses the final five games. Wracked by injuries, the Dolphins slip back into last place (3-10-1) and George Wilson is relieved of his coaching duties.