Imagine you’re one of the NFL’s premier wide receivers on one of its most successful franchises. And imagine that, six years into your career, you’re suddenly traded to one of the worst clubs — no, THE worst club — in an upstart league about to be absorbed by the NFL .
Now, imagine you’re Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield, dealt in 1970 from the Cleveland Browns to Miami. The Browns had just reached … and lost … the NFL championship game for the second straight season, while the Dolphins limped to a 3-10-1 finish.
Fair to say you’re surprised?
“Shocked would be a better word,” Warfield said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “But, yes, very surprised.
“I had spent six years in Cleveland, and felt like my career obviously was headed in the right direction, (with me) very much a part of the Cleveland offensive philosophy. And when I was called slightly before the draft and informed that I would be going to the Miami Dolphins … and in that year the merger had not been completed; it would be completed (later) that year, 1970 … (so) it was quite a surprise to me.”
Of course, within three years those same Miami Dolphins would run the table, the first … and only … team in the Super Bowl era to go wire-to-wire undefeated. The 1972 Dolphins were 17-0, with Warfield the star receiver.
Of course, Warfield had no way of knowing that events would happen that quickly when he was traded for a first-round draft pick that would later become quarterback Mike Phipps.
“It was a great shock to be going to the Dolphins,” he said. “They were one of the worst teams in a new league. The AFL was an upstart league at that point when the conversion was going to take place. And, of course, unbeknownst to me, the last year I would play in Cleveland would be the ’69 season.”
Prior to that season, Warfield said, he read an article by Sports Illustrated’s Tex Maule on what the NFL would look like once the merger took place.
“I knew all the teams in the National Football League,” Warfield said, “and I said, ‘Oh, let me take a look at some of these teams over in the old AFL, or new AFL, as it were.’ And so, as I’m thumbing through the pages, I come across the Miami Dolphins, and the headline reads, ‘The Worst Team in Pro Football.’ So I said, ‘I don’t want to read about them …’
“Now let me go fast forward: I get a telephone call (in 1970), and the first thing that pops to mind is that article that I read months earlier that I’m going from one of the best teams in pro football to the absolute worst team in pro football. So I was quite astonished by that.
“But 10 days later I began to feel a little bit better after the trade when I learned Don Shula was leaving Baltimore to go to Miami. I had great respect for his contribution to the National Football League. While he hadn’t won a Super Bowl to that point — while Green Bay was really ruling the roost the Baltimore Colts were finishing just right behind Green Bay — I knew Shula was a great, great coach, and I felt a little at ease.
“Things came together amazingly quickly down there, even in the first year. From that point on, it got better and better … There were some ups and downs in that first year, but it all pulled together. And almost overnight we became championship team.”