The Miami Dolphins retired jersey number 13 in 2000 – a fitting tribute to the most prolific passer in franchise history.
But the Dolphins could have taken number 13 out of circulation long before Dan Marino ever got the chance to wear it. And that would have been just as fitting a tribute to one of the best defenders ever to play for the Dolphins, safety Jake Scott.
Scott only played six seasons in Miami – but he packed so much production into those 84 games. He went to five Pro Bowls and was a Super Bowl MVP. He intercepted 35 passes for the Dolphins, which 42 years later still stands as the franchise record. He returned 127 career punts for 1,330 yards, which also remain franchise records.
The Dolphins won four AFC East titles, three AFC championships and two Super Bowls during Scott’s six seasons. Counting playoffs, Miami won 79.5 percent of its games with Scott on the field (75-19-1). He was a Pro Bowl performer in the NFL’s only perfect season, that 17-0 march to a Lombardi Trophy in 1972. Scott intercepted two passes in that 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins to capture Super Bowl MVP honors.
But Scott fell out of favor with Dolphins coach Don Shula after the 1975 season. Call it philosophical differences. Call it personality conflict. Call it whatever you want -- but it prompted Shula to shop one of the NFL's best defensive players in the 1976 preseason. George Allen loved older players, so Shula found an eager taker for his Pro Bowl safety in the Washington Redskins.
Scott teamed with Dick Anderson to give the Dolphins the best safety tandem in the NFL at the start of the 1970 decade. In Washington, he teamed with future Hall of Famer Ken Houston to give the Redskins the league’s best safety tandem in the back half of the decade. And the winning continued. The Redskins won 61.3 percent of their games in Scott’s three years there and although his run of Pro Bowls ended, his knack for takeaways did not.
Scott intercepted 14 more passes as a Redskin, including seven in his final season in 1978. He also had a seven-interception season with the Dolphins in 1971 and an eight-interception season in 1974. So Scott intercepted 49 passes in nine NFL seasons and also recovered 13 fumbles. That’s 62 takeaways in 126 career games – almost one every two games. He also intercepted five passes in playoff games and recovered three more fumbles.
At 33 years of age, with plenty of gas still left in the tank, Scott walked away from the NFL. Despite a sterling decade on the field, Scott’s career has never been reviewed by the Hall of Fame selection committee. He’s never been a finalist. He's never even been a semifinalist.
Scott doesn’t attend the reunions of the 1972 perfect Dolphins. And when the NFL brought the Super Bowl MVPs back for the 50th anniversary of the game, Scott was one of three no-shows. He left football behind. And football left him behind.
But Scott should not have been forgotten. In addition to his productivity, Scott displayed legendary toughness. He played the final 11 games of his rookie year in 1970 with a separated shoulder. The following season, Scott broke his hand in 1971 double-overtime playoff game against Kansas City, then broke his wrist in the Super Bowl. A week later, he played in the Pro Bowl with casts on both hands.
Scott is tied with his former safety running mate Houston on the NFL’s all-time interception list with 49. But Houston played five more seasons. Scott also has one more career interception than Hall of Fame safety Willie Wood. And Wood played three more seasons.
The Miami defense that provided the thrust for that perfect season in 1972 was nicknamed the “No Names.” There is only one Hall of Famer off that unit – middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti. But don’t mistake no names for no talent. A former SEC Player of the Year at Georgia, Jake Scott had both a name and talent – talent that deserves a discussion from the Hall of Fame selection committee.