Remembering Legendary Running Back Jim Kiick

Jim Kiick

Getty Jim Kiick runs the ball as a member of the Dolphins team against the Hurricanes in the final game played in the Orange Bowl, in 2008.

Less than two months after the passing of Don Shula, the winningest coach in football history, the Miami Dolphins lay another member of their perfect-season 1972 team to rest in former running back Jim Kiick, who passed away on June 20 at the age of 73.

The notorious running back made up a third of a legendary Dolphins running back trio, which today remains known as one of the greatest backfield combinations of all time, with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. A two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time AFL All-Star, Kiick was a powerhouse. Even three years after the perfect season, Kiick was still a bolt of lightning, leading the AFL in rushing touchdowns.

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The Career of Jim Kiick

A football legacy (his father played for the Pittsburgh Steelers), Kiick grew up a multi-sport athlete, and played college football at Wyoming for three years. He met his future teammate and friend, Csonka, at the 1968 College All-Star game against the Green Bay Packers, and both were selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 1968 draft (Csonka, first overall; Kiick in the fifth round).

Where Morris was known for his speed and Csonka his strength, Kiick married the two skills—a versatile mix of blocker, runner, and receiver—frequently compared to his childhood inspiration, Frank Gifford, playing through injuries and rarely fumbling the ball.

Kiick’s noteworthy feats included the longest game in NFL history at the time, in which he and his pod overcame the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1971 AFC playoff game, when he rushed 15 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. The following year, in the same game, Kiick scored the game-winner against the Cleveland Browns, and the same in the AFC Championship game that followed, against the Steelers.

And then, of course, there were the three consecutive Super Bowls—the first of which the Dolphins failed to prevail in against the Dallas Cowboys, but the next two were pinnacles of Kiick’s playing career. In 1972, the team had their legendary undefeated season, winning the championship against the Washington Redskins, and in 1973, they came close to perfect, still taking home the championship after overcoming the Minnesota Vikings. Kiick was dominant in both of these matchups. The first saw him score the game-deciding touchdown, and the latter, his specialty, “the one-yard gallop,” for the second of Miami’s three touchdowns.

In 1974, Kiick, Csonka, and teammate Paul Warfield collectively transitioned to the World Football League, where they played for the Memphis Southmen—marking what was at the time the most expensive three-player deal in sports history. After the league shut down, Kiick returned to the NFL as a backup for the Denver Broncos, and then the Redskins (he had hoped to join Csonka on the New York Giants, but coach Bill Arnsparger knew the duo from his days in Miami, and feared the influences that the friends would be on one another).

After his retirement from football, Kiick worked as a private investigator, and as a promotor. To this day, Kiick ranks fifth in the Miami record books in rushing yardage, with 3,644 yards, and sixth in rushing touchdowns, with 28.

Butch Cassidy, and the Life He Led

While Kiick will always be lauded for his playing career, just as notorious was his personal life, and his friendship with Larry Csonka. It’s near impossible to discuss the back without his partner in crime. The two were inseparable; consistently roommates and confidants. Csonka was the Sundance to Kiick’s butch, as nicknamed by sportswriter Bill Braucher of the Miami Herald, once the press had got wind of the dynamic duo’s off-field exploits in their world of celebrity.

Csonka and Kiick stayed true to their Dolphins roots, together, even after their time in Miami came to an end. The two co-authored a book, Always on the Run, while they were still playing, documenting their upbringings, careers, and adventures in fame. In the last few years of his life, Kiick suffered from dementia, and was living in an assisted care facility as of 2017. But last December, when the Dolphins celebrated the 1972 team, he was there, his buddies Morris and Csonka helping him onto the field.

Kiick is survived by his daughter, professional tennis player Allie Kiick, and son Austin. Allie shared an emotional post on Thursday about the affects of COVID-19 on her father’s illness. He passed away in his assisted living home in Broward County, South Florida.

Jim Kiick will be remembered as a loving father, a loyal friend, and a dynamic football player who made history with the 1972 Miami Dolphins team.

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