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More than two decades before Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' "Last Dance," the Miami Dolphins were gearing up for one more championship run before facing an inevitable breakup. Before the 1974 season, the two-time defending champions were informed that three of their best players -- fullback Larry Csonka, running back Jim Kiick and receiver Paul Warfield -- would play for the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League starting in 1975. Before departing, the trio would try to help the Dolphins become the first franchise to win three Super Bowls in succession. 

Csonka, the MVP of the previous year's Super Bowl, turned in another Pro Bowl campaign in 1974. Warfield was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl after averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. Miami's third-ranked offense was complemented by its famed "No Name Defense," which boasted five Pro Bowlers that season along with Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti. While not quite as dominant as they had been in recent seasons, Don Shula's team still managed to go 11-3 during the '74 regular season, giving them a three-year regular season record of 37-5. 

The Dolphins' quest for a third consecutive championship started with a game Sports Illustrated billed as "Super Bowl VIII 1/2." Miami's opponent, the Oakland Raiders, had enjoyed similar regular season success during the first half of the '70s but had failed to duplicate that success in the postseason. John Madden's team lost to the eventual champion Colts in the 1970 AFC Championship Game. They were on the losing end of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" in 1972 that lifted the Steelers to the franchise's first playoff win. The '73 Raiders saw their Super Bowl dreams end in Miami, 27-10. Oakland then watched from home as the Dolphins dominated the Vikings in Super Bowl VIII, 24-7. 

Larry Csonka rushed for 114 yards In his final game before leaving Miami to play in the World Football League.  Getty Images

By virtue of their 12-2 record, the Raiders hosted the Dolphins in the divisional round of the 1974 playoffs. The Raiders were led that season by future Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler, who took home the league's MVP award. He was flanked by two Pro Bowl receivers in Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch. The left-handed Stabler was protected by an offensive line that featured three future Hall of Famers in Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Jim "Double O" Otto. Oakland's secondary was an embarrassment of riches that included Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown, Skip "Dr. Death" Thomas and Jack "The Assassin" Tatum. Like the Dolphins, the Raiders felt that '74 would be their year. 

The game more than lived up to its pregame hype. Nat Moore, the Dolphins' third-round pick in the '74 draft, returned the game's opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Things quickly slowed down, however, as the two teams exchanged one score each during the second quarter. Miami, after having several opportunities to break the game open early, took a 10-7 lead into intermission. Oakland's only score in the first half came on Stabler's 31-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith. The score was set up by a 19-yard run by Clarence Davis, a player who would later serve to be a crucial part of the game's outcome. 

The action increased in the third quarter. After a Miami field goal, which came after Bob Griese failed to connect with a wide open Moore for what would have been a sure touchdown, Oakland scored its first touchdown when Stabler hit Biletnikoff on a one-handed, 13-yard touchdown catch. Stabler and the Raiders' passing game took advantage of a Dolphins secondary that was playing without Pro Bowl safety Jake Scott, who was sidelined with an injury. 

Fred Biletnikoff led both teams with 122 yards on eight catches that included his one-handed touchdown reception.  Getty Images

Miami countered with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Warfield. With the Raiders bringing an all-out blitz, Griese withstood the pressure before lofting his pass to Warfield, who was standing all alone in the Raiders' end zone after Oakland's nearest defender slipped. Ahead 16-14, the Dolphins looked to take control of the game at the start of the fourth quarter, as Csonka ripped off a 15-yard run before Warfield pulled down a 20-yard completion on the far sideline. But on a key 3rd-and-3 play, the usually dependable Warfield dropped what would have been a first-down completion. Instead of a touchdown, the Dolphins settled for Garo Yepremian's 46-yard-field goal and a 19-14 lead with 11:50 remaining. 

The Raiders quickly responded when Branch caught a deep pass against Dolphins cornerback Henry Stuckey, who was playing in place of injured starter Curtis Johnson. But when Branch hit the ground after catching the pass, he realized Stuckey never touched him. Branch (a finalist for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2022) wisely got up and ran the remaining 27 yards for the go-ahead score with 4:28 left. 

Oakland fans were still celebrating Branch's score when Moore hauled in a 23-yard pass from Griese to get the Dolphins' ensuing drive rolling. After two inside carries by Csonka softened the Raiders defense, rookie running back Benny Malone found room on the outside behind tight end Marv Fleming and Hall of Fame lineman Larry Little for a 23-yard score. The Dolphins took the lead, but the four-play drive left enough time for Stabler and the Raiders offense to respond. 

The Raiders took over deep in their own territory with 2:01 left. Stabler went to Biletnikoff for completions of 18 and 20 yards. With one minute remaining, completions to Branch and Frank Pitts (who juggled Stabler's pass before finally hauling it in) got the Raiders to the Dolphins' 8-yard-line. With 35 seconds left, Stabler barely evaded the grasp of defensive lineman Vern Den Herder before fluttering a pass towards the end zone. While the pass went between three Dolphins defenders, it somehow avoided their grasp and instead found the hands of Davis, who maintained possession despite vein attempts from Miami's defenders to jar the ball loose. Davis' score gave the Raiders a 28-26 lead with 26 seconds left. 

With the Oakland Coliseum crowd in a frenzy, the Raiders clinched the game when Griese's desperation pass was intercepted by linebacker Phil Villapiano. Villapiano handed the intercepted game ball to Madden, who was then hoisted up by his players as the clock struck midnight on the Dolphins' dreams of a third straight Super Bowl. 

Oakland's win over the Dolphins in the "Sea of Hands" game continues to stand the test of time. For the NFL's 100th anniversary in 2019, it was tabbed as the 23rd greatest game in league history. Oakland would lose to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, but in 1976 the franchise would win its first of three Super Bowls over an eight-year span. And while Miami would play in two Super Bowls during the 1980s, the franchise's quest for a third Vince Lombardi Trophy continues to this day.