MNF's Greatest Games: Miami-Houston 1978
By Mike Diegnan
ABC Sports Online

On Nov. 11, the Raiders and Broncos played in the 500th regular season telecast of Monday Night Football. To celebrate, we asked fans to vote for their favorite MNF game. They selected the Jets' comeback over the Dolphins in 2000. The Dolphins were involved in another classic on Nov. 20, 1978 when they visited the Houston Oilers.

The NFL had never seen anything like it.

"It was a real shocker to walk in there and see all those 50-some thousand people. The crowd was real wild," recalls former Oilers coach Bum Phillips. "It was the first time that ever happened. No one had ever taken the pro game to the college level, where they had pompoms and stuff like that."

It was a classic late '70s disco scene, light blue pompoms on Monday Night Football. But the Astrodome crowd got a great show as the 8-3 Dolphins and the 7-4 Oilers treated them to a masterpiece by Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese and rookie sensation Earl Campbell.

Griese struck first, hitting Nat Moore with a 10-yard touchdown pass less than five minutes into the game. Campbell answered with one of his patented one-yard power runs, crashing over Dolphin safety Charlie Babb, to tie the game. In the second quarter, the teams traded a pair of touchdowns.

Earl Campbell
Earl Campbell was named the league's Rookie of the Year and MVP following his 1978 campaign.
Campbell broke loose in the second half. His six-yard scoring run early in the third gave the Oilers another touchdown lead. But the Dolphins again responded, this time Leroy Harris going one yard to make it 21-21 as they headed to the final 15 minutes.

The Dolphins regained the lead early in the fourth quarter when A.J. Duhe sacked Dan Pastorini for a safety. But Miami could not build on its lead. With less than five minutes to go, Campbell ran 12 yards to put Houston up 28-23.

"He was always a great fourth-quarter player," says Phillips, who has retired on his ranch in the historic town of Goliad, Texas. "He was the best fourth-quarter player I have ever seen. He always had something left in the fourth quarter."

But there was enough time for Griese to again lead Miami down the field. Griese, who finished the night 23-for-33 for 349 yards, had the Dolphins driving. But it came to a halt when Steve Kiner intercepted Griese at the Oilers' 19 with a little more than a minute to go.

Phillips planned to run out the clock, only needing a first down to clinch the win. But Campbell was getting tired. The Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Texas had carried the ball 27 times, including on nine of the previous 13 plays.

Yet Phillips called the rookie's number again, a simple pitch play. Seeing a hole, Campbell cut outside. Once in the secondary, the only Dolphin with a chance to catch him was cornerback Curtis Johnson, but Campbell pulled away from him to finish off his 81-yard touchdown run.

"It was a wide running play. The pitchout. He started and turned up the field. About five people had an angle on him, and two of them were cornerbacks, and they couldn't catch him," Phillips says. "Earl never could get caught once he got out into the open."

The Dolphins never had a chance, losing the footrace to Campbell with Earl capping off his night with 199 yards and four touchdowns.

Griese tossed his second touchdown pass of the game to Jimmy Cefalo on the final play, but it was not enough as Houston prevailed 35-30.

The teams would meet again just five weeks later in the first round of the playoffs, this time in Miami. The Dolphins did a much better job of containing Campbell this time, holding him to just 84 yards, but Pastorini threw for 306 yards as the Oilers won again, this time 17-9.

But that game would never match the scene at the Astrodome that night when a rookie danced his way into the hearts of millions.

Mike Diegnan is the Editor of ABC Sports Online. He can be reached at michael.diegnan@abc.com.

 
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