MIAMI, JAN. 4 -- The Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs have been away from the NFL playoffs a long time. So long, in fact, that the last recollection of the two teams being together is the faint memory of a Christmas game in 1971, the longest NFL game ever played.
Garo Yepremian, the hero of that game with his field goal at 7:40 of the second overtime, has been out of the league for 12 years now, and the kicking stars today are named Pete Stoyanovich and Nick Lowery. Where Ed Podolak once ran, Christian Okoye and Barry Word now stand. Bob Griese is gone and Dan Marino is in his place.
Now, finally, the teams meet again in the postseason, in the AFC wild-card game Saturday at 4 p.m. at Joe Robbie Stadium. It will be the first playoff appearance for the 12-4 Dolphins since 1985 and the first for the 11-5 Chiefs since '86.
"It's hard to put into words what being back in the playoffs means," Marino said this week. "Anybody who's competitive all year long wants the opportunity to have a chance to get in the Super Bowl. I'm no different than anybody else."
The Dolphins have been in the playoffs in 13 of Coach Don Shula's 21 seasons. The Chiefs -- former Super Bowl champions, just like the Dolphins -- have bulldozed their way to six victories in their last seven games and have become the upstarts of the AFC under Coach Marty Schottenheimer, 19-12-1 in his second season with the Chiefs.
There are many interesting matchups: Marino and wide receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton against Pro Bowl cornerbacks Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross; Word (1,015 yards) and Okoye (805 yards) vs. a Miami defense that was ranked No. 1 last month before losses to the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills dropped it to seventh in the league.
But the most attention this week focused on the mouth of Miami cornerback Tim McKyer.
The former San Francisco 49er said the Chiefs defensive backs were "suspect." McKyer based his comments on Houston quarterback Warren Moon's 527 passing yards against them Dec. 16.
The Chiefs shot back swiftly.
"Houston is a team you don't have time to prepare for because of the fact you don't see the run-and-shoot," Ross said. "Only two teams run it. If the Dolphins are basing their success on Houston's success, they're doing the wrong thing."
Ross had a few choice words for McKyer.
"I think Tim McKyer shouldn't worry about our defense. He doesn't play against it. I think he should be a little more concerned about Christian Okoye, Barry Word, Stephone Paige and the other guys."
"I wouldn't judge my season by one game any more than I would judge my career by one year," Ross continued. "It doesn't matter what newspaper quotes you put on the wall. The game is going to be played on the field. I really don't care what McKyer has to say because he doesn't play receiver. If that were coming from a wide receiver, I would have a totally different feel for it."
Ross, by the way, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Lewis has been to the Pro Bowl four times. Safety Deron Cherry made the Pro Bowl two seasons ago.
The Chiefs have given up more than 300 passing yards only three times this season. (Marino threw for 300 yards or more just once as Miami tried to emphasize the running game.) Kansas City also has the best pass rush in the league with 60 sacks; outside linebacker Derrick Thomas led the NFL with 20.
When asked about McKyer the other day, Marino said his teammate "speaks too much, that's the problem. . . . He doesn't even play on offense."
Not to be outdone, Thomas said he doesn't anticipate much of a problem getting past the Dolphins.
"We'll pack our bags and go to Miami and we'll see the Raiders in two weeks," he said.
Thomas's boasts are not idle chatter. There are those in the league who believe the Dolphins are a "soft" 12-4 team, one whose defense is faltering, whose running game becomes nonexistent during losses (just 30 yards per game, compared to 118 per game rushing during victories) and whose best games are well behind them.
"We're not as bad as people make us out to be," said Miami outside linebacker David Griggs. "If you go around the league, everyone wants to say the Miami Dolphins are soft. Other teams and reporters in other cities want to say that, but that's not the case.
"We've had a couple games where we did look bad, the Redskin game and the Buffalo game."
Clearly, a Miami rushing defense ranked 16th in the league will have to shut down Kansas City's running game to force 36-year-old Steve DeBerg to pass.
"If we don't stop the run, it's going to be curtains closed," McKyer said. "They'll control the clock, they'll control the time of possession, they'll set up their play-action. We've got to stop the run."
To acclimate to the 80-degree temperatures here, the Chiefs spent the week working out on a football field laid out across the outfield of one of the six baseball diamonds at Dodgertown in Vero Beach. They did the same thing last year before their 27-24 victory over the Dolphins in the last game of the regular season.
That was the same score of the double overtime game in 1971, except Miami won that one.