Vern Den Herder was a 6'6" defensive lineman with the NAIA Central College (Iowa) Dutch. During his college career, he made the All-Iowa Conference team three times, from 1968 through 1970. He was an AP All-American during his senior season, 1970. Miami picked him up in the ninth round of the 1971 NFL Entry Draft with the 230th overall pick. He wore the number 86.
In Den Herder's rookie season, he appeared in all 17 regular and postseason games for the Dolphins, appearing mostly on special teams. He made approximately 14 tackles, including a season high five in a 41-3 drubbing of the New England Patriots in week five. Miami won the AFC East with a 10-3-1 record. They later won the AFC Championship, first by outlasting the Kansas City Chiefs in two overtimes, 27-24 on Christmas, later by shutting out the Baltimore Colts, 21-0.
In 1972, Den Herder changed his jersey number to 83 and joined the starting lineup at left defensive end. He started every game, leading the team with 10.5 sacks with approximately 70 tackles. He also recorded his only career interception, returning it for 24 yards in a week 12 victory over the New England Patriots, 37-21. Miami finished the only perfect season in NFL history, at 17-0. The "No-Name" defense (with all 11 starters on this top 100 list), led the NFL by allowing 171 total points scored, along with an NFL topping 3,297 yards allowed. This was due to extraordinary balance on the defensive side of the ball, as Miami led the AFC in rushing defense, allowing 1,548 yards while also intercepting an NFL second best 26 passes on the season. Miami's defense restricted opposing quarterbacks to an NFL second lowest 47.4 passer rating. Den Herder was selected to the AP All-AFC first-team.
Miami's defense was arguably even better in 1973, again leading the NFL with only 150 points and 3.7 yards per offensive play allowed. Miami's passing defense was legendary, leading the NFL by allowing only 1,290 passing yards, an opposing passer rating of 39.9, and only five passing touchdowns. They collected an AFC best 45 sacks throughout the season. Den Herder maed in the neighborhood of 12 sacks and around 90 tackles. This includes a 10 tackle, five sack performance in a week six victory over the Buffalo Bills, 27-6. Miami finished the season at 12-2, breezing to their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. Den Herder collected a sack in Super Bowl VIII, and was invited to the Pro Bowl after the season.
1974 would see Den Herder start every Dolphins game. He made around 80 tackles and six sacks. this includes an eight tackle, four sack appearance in a week two victory over Buffalo, 24-16. Miami won the AFC East with an 11-3 record. Den Herder added one sack in Miami's 28-26 playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders. Defensively, Miami placed second in the AFC by allowing 216 points scored, leading the AFC with seven rushing touchdowns allowed.
Den Herder led the Dolphins with a career high 11 sacks in 1975. He also made 76 tackles and blocked two field goals as Miami posted a 10-4 record, missing the playoffs. Miami's defense was second in the AFC with 222 points scored against, also leading the NFL by allowing only nine passing touchdowns.
Miami returned to earth with their first losing record since the AFL/NFL merger in 1976, with a 6-8 record. Den Herder started every game at left defensive end for the fifth consecutive season. Den Herder made 91 tackles, along with four sacks, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal. Miami's defense allowed an NFL high 5.7 yards per offensive play, as the day of the "No-Names" had finally come to an end.
In 1977, Den Herder missed three games to injury at the end of the season, the first time in his career he was forced to sit out. He started the remaining 11 games, as the Dolphins finished out at 10-4, missing the playoffs. The defense allowed 197 points, second lowest total in the AFC. The passing defense led the AFC with 10 touchdowns scored in the air. Den Herder collected around 55 tackles and three sacks.
1978 would see the NFL expand their schedule to 16 regular season games. Miami returned to the playoffs as a wildcard with an 11-5 record. Den Herder led the Dolphins with nine sacks, once again starting every game. He made around 85 tackles and recovered one fumble. Miami's defense had mastered the art of bending but not breaking ranking in the bottom quarter of the NFL with 5,169 yards allowed and in the top quarter with only 254 points scored against.
Den Herder again led the Dolphins with nine sacks in 1979. Miami won the AFC East with a 10-6 record as Den Herder made around 80 tackles and recovered three fumbles. He made four tackles and four sacks with a fumble recovery in a week 11 victory over the Baltimore Colts, 19-0. Miami's defense ranked fourth in the NFL with 257 points and 4,439 yards allowed. The rushing defense ranked second by allowing only 1,702 yards on the ground.
In 1980, Miami finished with an 8-8 record. Den Herder started every game for the third straight season. He made around 80 tackles, with one fumble recovery and one sack. Miami's defense intercepted an NFL fourth best 28 passes on the season.
Miami went 11-4-1 in 1981, winning the AFC East title by one game over the New York Jets. Den Herder started 14 of the 16 games in which he appeared, moving to the right defensive end position for the first time in his career. He made around 60 tackles and one sack, as Miami's defense led the AFC by allowing 275 points scored against.
1982 would see Den Herder start one of his final seven games with the club. He made five tackles and recovered a fumble. Miami posted a 7-2 record in the strike shortened season, challenging the Washington Redskins for the NFL title in Super Bowl XVII, but ultimately falling short, 27-17.
Den Herder epitomized the term, "No-Name," as I'm willing to bet only half of the Dolfans reading this have heard of him. He retired with 64.5 unofficial sacks, ranking fourth on Miami's all time leaderboard. He started 144 out of 166 games in which he appeared at left and right defensive end, and is the only member of Miami's defense to bridge the gap between the twin powerhouses of the 70's and the 80's.