Moment of Glory: Dolphins LB A.J. Duhe started decades of Jets misery with 'The A.J. Duhe Game'

Not every NFL player gets to play 20 years like Tom Brady. Most won’t play five seasons. But for a select few, they’ll have one season, game or play that is truly historic. This offseason, we’ll highlight those special NFL performances in our “Moment of Glory” series.

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Paul Rosales)

NFL players, even ones who play eight years or more, are rarely immortalized by one moment. There are fewer still who had one game so special, it becomes synonymous with their name.

Say “The A.J. Duhe Game” to any middle-aged Miami Dolphins fan. Or any New York Jets fan. They’ll know.

On Jan. 23, 1983, Duhe carried the Dolphins to Super Bowl XVIIII. In a rainstorm, Duhe had three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, in a 14-0 AFC championship game win over the Jets. Duhe, who converted from defensive end to linebacker, had three interceptions in 108 career regular-season games.

Some call it the “Mud Bowl” due to the crazy conditions, but bring up that game to a longtime fan and their first thought will be Duhe. Bring up Duhe, and the first thought will be that game.

“I tell Jets fans to get over it,” Duhe said. “All they do is cuss me out.”

Duhe was a very good player. He was NFL defensive rookie of the year in 1977 and one of the stars on Miami’s defense for almost a decade. On one day, he was a legend.

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Paul Rosales)

A.J. Duhe’s big day

The 1982 Dolphins-Jets AFC championship game was No. 100 in the NFL Network’s top-100 games of all time. It made the list despite there being one offensive touchdown, less than 350 total yards, a 14-point margin and one team being shut out. It’s remembered because of Duhe and the mud, and Duhe still has some of the mud.

Before getting to that, it’s worth remembering how the Orange Bowl became a lake. Duhe said it rained all week. The field had a drainage system underneath, but there was so much rain the drainage system couldn’t keep up. It also created a controversy. Did Shula purposely not cover the field to slow down the Jets?

“People want to blame Coach [Don] Shula for not putting down tarps, but the city of Miami owned the stadium,” Duhe said.

By Sunday, the field looked like a slip and slide.

“It was gross,” Duhe said.

Duhe made a decision after warm-ups that changed history. He put on the longest cleats he could find.

“Cleats nobody in their right mind would wear,” Duhe said. “It ended up being a godsend.”

Jets quarterback Richard Todd will never live it down. He threw five interceptions. The Jets had just 139 yards. One of Duhe’s interceptions set up Miami’s first touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he put the game away by leaping at the line, batting the pass to himself and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown. It’s one of the greatest plays in Dolphins history.

Oh, the mud. There is still a little bit on the cleats. Duhe never washed them and stored them away in a closet. It’s not like it made much sense to clean them up.

“The shoes were so disgusting that I thought, I’ll never wear them again,” Duhe said.

A.J. Duhe in his trophy room with the shoes from his famous game against the Jets. (Photo courtesy of Duhe)

Duhe had a good career

Duhe’s day is arguably the best playoff performance by a defensive player in NFL history. When the NFL Network presented its top-10 playoff performances ever, not counting Super Bowls, Duhe’s big day was No. 5. Not only was Duhe the highest-ranked defensive player on the list, he was the only defensive player in the top 10.

There are only eight players in NFL history to have at least three interceptions in a playoff game (Vernon Perry of the Houston Oilers is the only one with four). Duhe is the only one to do it in a conference championship game, and it’s not like interceptions were his strength.

Believe it or not, he says he never really realized he was having a big game as it was happening. Duhe wasn’t exactly thinking that he was in the middle of “The A.J. Duhe Game.”

“Maybe I’m a weird duck, but players don’t keep a stat sheet,” Duhe said. “I swear to you — my memory still works pretty good — in the moment, as it happened live, it wasn’t crossing my mind.”

Duhe had more than one great game in the NFL. He helped the Dolphins rebuild once stars from the 1972 and 1973 championship teams started to retire, and he’s proud of that. He finally made a Pro Bowl in 1984, his last season.

“That sucked, because I had better years before that,” Duhe said.

Before the 1985 season, Duhe was recovering from surgeries on his knee and both shoulders. The Dolphins had drafted younger linebackers. Shula brought Duhe in to tell him they were cutting him, even though he had a guaranteed contract. And in that era, it wasn’t easy to find a facility to work out at the level he needed to get ready for another shot in the NFL.

“When they put you out to pasture, I thought I could play again,” Duhe said. “I just couldn’t manufacture that environment to rehab and work out.”

Duhe faded away from the NFL. He landed a guest spot on “Miami Vice” and still gets small royalty checks through the Screen Actors Guild when his episode airs in reruns (“I joke with my wife, ‘I hope it’s over $2 today,’ ” Duhe said). He said he had bad blood for the Dolphins for a little while, but that faded quickly and he’s a big fan of the team now.

And the Jets still haven’t been back to a Super Bowl since that AFC title game loss.

Duhe didn’t grasp what was happening during that famous game, and it didn’t really sink in for a while. These days, sometimes he’ll see a clip of himself in the muddy uniform and cleats and be proud.

“Being an old man, it has a little more meaning,” Duhe said. “You think, ‘Not many people can pull that off.’ ”

A. J. Duhe tries to rush the quarterback during the 1982 AFC championship game against the New York Jets. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

Previous “Moment of Glory” stories

Vernon Perry’s four picks off Dan Fouts sets playoff record | Bert Jones wins MVP, earns Belichick’s respect | Dub Jones, one of three players in 6-TD club | Charles Fisher: 14 NFL plays to sports agent | The reason Reggie Langhorne vanished from NFL

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