Former Dolphins linebacker Mike Kolen dies. He started for the undefeated 1972 team

Linebacker Mike Kolen, who started 16 games during the Dolphins’ 17-0 season in 1972 and played all seven years of his career in Miami, died on Wednesday, Auburn University announced.

He was 76.

Drafted by the Dolphins in the 12th round in 1970, Kolen appeared in 84 games and started 78 for the Dolphins and had five interceptions and two sacks. (The NFL does not keep reliable tackle statistics from that era.)

Nicknamed “Captain Crunch” because of how hard he hit opposing players, Kolen started at least 10 games every season between 1970 and 1974 and finished his career by starting five games for the Dolphins in 1977.

Among the biggest plays of his career:

He intercepted Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas’ pass in the 1971 AFC title game, and intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass in the final minute of the 1972 AFC Championship game to seal a 21-17 Dolphins win. Miami then beat Washington 14-7 in the Super Bowl to finish 17-0.

Kolen was involved in one of the most famous plays in NFL history. In a December 1974 playoff game between the Dolphins and Raiders, Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler -- with his team down 26-21 and 35 seconds left -- dropped back to pass and was flushed out of the pocket and nearly sacked by Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder.

As he went down, Stabler tossed a floating pass toward running back Clarence Davis, who was surrounded by three Dolphins in the end zone, including Kolen.

Kolen got his hands on the ball and nearly knocked it away, but Davis somehow snagged the ball for the game-winning touchdown.

At Auburn, Kolen earned All-SEC honors during his junior and senior years. In 1969, he was the first recipient of the National Christian Athlete of the Year Award. For years, Auburn has given out the Mike Kolen Award to the school’s leading tackler.

“I never tried to hurt anybody, but football is a physical game,” he said in an interview with 247 Sports in 2014. “I enjoyed that part of it. I’m not really enjoying it so much now, because it’s all coming home for me. In the last year and a half I’ve had a couple of joint replacements.”

After football, Kalen dabbled in real estate and other businesses.

He spent his retirement living in Vestivia Hills, Alabama, according to a 2022 Miami Herald report updating every member of the Dolphins’ 1972 team.

Kolen is survived by his wife Nancy and their two children, Kelly and John.

Twenty one players from the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 team are now deceased. Tim Foley and Hubert Ginn passed away last September.