Mike Kolen, linebacker for Miami Dolphins during ‘perfect season,’ dead at 76

Mike Kolen

Mike Kolen, a linebacker who played in three Super Bowls for the Miami Dolphins, including their undefeated season in 1972, died Wednesday. He was 76.

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The news of his death was announced by his college alma mater, Auburn University. Kolen told the Miami Herald in 2017, that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which he believed was brought on by football.

Known as “Captain Crunch” for his hard-hitting tackles, Kolen was a 12th-round pick out of Auburn in the 1970 draft, according to

He played 84 games in the NFL, all with Miami, from 1970 to 1977. He had five interceptions during the regular season and added two more during the playoffs.

His interception of Terry Bradshaw in the final minute sealed the Dolphins’ 21-17 victory in the 1972 AFC Championship Game, and the previous year he picked off Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts in the AFC title game.

Kolen was part of one of the most famous plays in the NFL -- the “Sea of Hands” catch by Oakland’s Clarence Davis.

Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler was flushed out of the pocket and was nearly tackled, but as he fell forward the left-hander floated a pass toward the end zone.

Kolen, fellow linebacker Larry Ball and defensive back Charlie Babb surrounded Davis. But the Raiders receiver grabbed the football away from Kolen in the end zone, helping Oakland eliminate the two-time defending Super Bowl champions 28-26.

“I thought I had a clear interception,” Kolen told ESPN years later. “I mean, it was just wide open.

“He was coming toward the ball and had the leverage and, obviously, a better grip than I had.”

At Auburn, Kolen earned All-SEC honors during his junior and senior years, the Herald reported. He led the Tigers in tackles in 16 of the 25 games he played.

“Mike Kolen is one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” former Auburn athletics director and sports information director David Housel said in a statement. “Being a football player was secondary to Mike Kolen. He’s one of the greatest football players Auburn ever had, but he was much more. A rock, a beacon.

”When I think of Mike Kolen, I think of toughness, competitiveness, and a quality of goodness. He was a great football player but he was a better man.”

Kolen was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.

He became a real estate agent and had an investment business in Birmingham, Alabama, after he retired, the Sun-Sentinel reported. He presented the Mike Kolen Award annually to the leading tackler at his alma mater, according to the newspaper.