Jim Kiick, Dolphins’ perfect season running back, dies at 73

NEW YORK — Jim Kiick, one of a trio of running backs who formed the guts of the Miami Dolphins’ team that made three consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1970s, died on Saturday in Wilton Manors, Fla. He was 73.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Allie Kiick. He had Alzheimer’s disease and had been in an assisted living center. Because of the coronavirus, his daughter had been unable to enter his room.

“It’s pretty hard when you’re sitting on the outside of the glass and can’t do anything to cheer him up,” she wrote on Twitter two days before he died. “He’s lost the spark in his eyes, as anyone would in this situation.”

Running behind a fearsome offensive line, Mr. Kiick, fullback Larry Csonka and halfback Mercury Morris propelled the Dolphins to three Super Bowls and back-to-back titles in the 1972 and 1973 seasons.

Mr. Kiick scored six touchdowns during those playoff runs, including one in the 1973 Super Bowl, a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins, that helped the team complete the NFL’s only perfect season. Mr. Kiick scored another touchdown and Csonka added two more in the next year’s Super Bowl, a 24-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The titles cemented Mr. Kiick’s legacy as a versatile running back and a hard-driving star who, with Csonka, was celebrated as much for his performance on the field as his mischief off the field. The tandem, who were both drafted by the Dolphins in 1968, became fast friends.

As the roommates and drinking buddies helped turn the hapless Dolphins into winners, the two men grew so prominent in Miami that Mr. Kiick was nicknamed Butch Cassidy and Csonka was called the Sundance Kid, a reference to the two bank robbers in the 1969 film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

They appeared together on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1972. The following year, they co-wrote “Always on the Run” with the help of Dave Anderson, a sports columnist.

The party came to an end in 1974. Unhappy with their salaries, Mr. Kiick and Csonka, along with wide receiver Paul Warfield, played out their options.

After the Dolphins were bounced from the playoffs that year, the three men jumped to the Memphis Southmen of the newly formed World Football League in a package worth $3.86 million. After the WFL collapsed in 1975, all three players returned to the NFL. Mr. Kiick finished his career in 1977 after two seasons with the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins.

He is the latest in a growing list of Dolphins from that era who have died with cognitive and neurological problems at a relatively young age.

Earl Morrall, the backup quarterback who led the team for much of the 1972 season, had Parkinson’s disease when he died at age 79. Nick Buoniconti, who anchored the Dolphins’ vaunted “No-Name Defense,” died last year after battling memory issues. Defensive lineman Bill Stanfill, 69, and offensive guard Bob Kuechenberg, 71, were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated hits to the head.

James Forrest Kiick was born on Aug. 9, 1946, in Lincoln Park, N.J., to Alice and George Kiick. His father was a fullback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1940 before fighting in Europe in World War II. He returned to the team in 1945 before becoming a high school coach in New Jersey. His mother was a teacher.

After playing baseball, basketball, and football at Boonton High School in New Jersey, Jim Kiick became a halfback at the University of Wyoming. He was the team’s leading rusher for three consecutive years and won All-Western Athletic Conference honors three times. His senior year, the Cowboys were ranked fifth in the nation.

In 1968, the Dolphins, then in the AFL, chose Csonka in the first round and Mr. Kiick in the fifth round. The two men, who had met at a collegiate all-star game the summer before they joined the Dolphins, had an immediate effect on the team, which had won just seven games in its first two seasons in the league.

In their rookie seasons, they combined to run for more than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. The following year, Mr. Kiick led the league with nine rushing touchdowns, helping him earn a second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.

Everything changed in 1970 when Don Shula took over as head coach. Built around a potent running game and a stifling defense, the team won 10 or more games each of the next five seasons. Presaging their move to the WFL, Csonka and Mr. Kiick briefly held out at the start of the 1971 season before signing multiyear contracts.

The two earned a reputation for toughness. In his seven years with the Dolphins, Mr. Kiick missed only one game. He played with a shattered big toe, a pulled ankle tendon, a punctured elbow, a dislocated hip, and a broken finger.

Mr. Kiick’s role changed in 1972 when Shula rotated him and Morris into the game depending on the situation. Morris and Csonka became the first pair of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards or more in the same season, and Mr. Kiick ran for another 521 yards and five touchdowns.

“We were the perfect combination,” Mr. Kiick said to the Associated Press of his role with Morris. “What he could do, I couldn’t. What I could do, he couldn’t. Together we could do it all.”

Mr. Kiick finished his career with 3,759 yards rushing and 2,302 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns.

After he retired from football, he worked as a private investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office, according to The Orlando Sentinel, and ran a sports promotion business. He had been living in an assisted care center for several years.

Mr. Kiick was married and divorced twice. Besides his daughter, Allie, a professional tennis player, he leaves two sons, Brandon and Austin, and a brother, William.