A Patriots Fan's View of the Perfect Season
The 1972 Miami Dolphins have gotten a lot of attention lately. In fact, with each passing week, the spotlight on them grows ever brighter, even as this year's contender for the title of "undefeated" moves closer to their goal one football field at a time. And as the media focus intensifies, so does the reaction of fans across the nation, whether of adoration, or vitriol. As a long time observer, I remember when the Dolphins went through that magnificent season, I remember the growing anticipation as week by week they marched steadily toward their goal, and I remember the polarizing effect their growing success had on fans at the time. In fact, it was a little like the split fan reaction to the Patriots this year.
I lived in Bears territory that year. Even so, the Dolphins garnered a great deal of interest among local football fans in that area. Everyone had an opinion, one way or the other it seemed. It was hard to find anyone who claimed not to care whether the Dolphins would make it or not. But I remember that as they drew near the end of a perfect season, sentiment seemed to begin to tilt a little more toward cheering them on. Folks had the sense that something special was unfolding before them... something they had never before seen, and might never see again. Along the way, the Dolphins most lopsided victory of the season, ironically enough, was a 52-0 thumping of the hapless Patriots in Miami. By the time they had finished the fourteen game regular season, they had withstood the loss in week five of their starting quarterback, Bob Griese to a leg and ankle injury, (he returned late in the playoffs, and started the Super Bowl,) they had prevailed in a couple of nail-biters, and entered the playoffs with a perfect 14-0 record.
The Greatest Team Ever?
Perhaps they were. Who can say? They certainly were the greatest team in 1972, and they accomplished something no other team has ever done. They not only went 14-0 in regular season play, but went on to win their two playoff games, and Super Bowl VII, finishing the season with a perfect 17-0 record. (They also won Super Bowl VIII.) While many folks like to argue about the shorter season they played than contemporary teams, or the fact that most of their opponents finished the season with losing records, the reality is that the Dolphins could not choose their own schedule. They could not go shopping for different opponents or add games to their season. But their season, such as it was, is unique in the history of the NFL. (The 1948 Cleveland Browns had an undefeated season in the AFC.) Through a mixture of skill, determination, and fortune, someone wins the Super Bowl every year. But only the 1972 Dolphins did it with a perfect season.
What Kind of Legacy?
When looking back at the heroic achievement of that team, some wonder if it is really an accomplishment worth celebrating. Why pull something like that out of mothballs every year and dust it off for some media coverage? Let's face it. It was thirty-five years ago, and lots of today's fans weren't even around to see it. The very fact that this happened a generation ago, and has not happened since is a great reason to celebrate its significance. If it happened every year, who would care? It is interesting that so many people want to minimize its significance, yet still want to argue that this team or that team could have beaten the Dolphins if they had played them. Many point to the 1985 Chicago Bears, for example, as a team that would have defeated the 1972 Dolphins. Ironically, the 1985 Bears could not even beat the 1985 Dolphins, let alone the 1972 Dolphins. It is just a silly argument. There is no way to accurately measure the skill of two teams from different decades. Let's face it. Analysts frequently come up with the wrong winner in contemporary games. How could they possibly predict the outcome of teams from different eras with any accuracy? They only way to settle which team is best is to settle it on the field, and when a great team moves on into the past, such opportunities go with them.
When it comes to celebrating the legacy of the '72 Dolphins, their own celebration is quick to draw criticism. There seems to be a lot of truth to some of the '72 Dolphins teammates having a toast each year when the last undefeated team finally falls on the field of play. I suspect that there is much misunderstanding in such criticism. It seems to center on the belief that the Dolphins stars are celebrating the defeat of another contender. I like to think they are actually celebrating their own victory, rather than gloating at some other team's loss. And whether anyone likes it or not, they earned the right to celebrate. They earned it on the field, the way it should be done.
What If Some Other Team Does It Too?
The way things have shaped up so far this year, there is still the possibility that the 2007 Patriots could join the Dolphins at the party. If they do, what about the Dolphins' legacy then? I don't foresee any diminishing of the legacy of the 1972 Dolphins, even if another team such as the Patriots manages to repeat the feat. When I was growing up, Babe Ruth was still the home run king, and some thought that he always would be. I remember having a discussion with my dad about Willie Mays, who had passed 600 career home runs, and asked him whether he thought Mays would overcome Ruth's record. My dad said that he thought Mays was getting too old, and would probably fall short, but he thought that Hank Aaron, (who was still quite a ways off at the time,) would be the one that might do it. Eventually, of course, Aaron did break the record. Yet Babe Ruth still remains enshrined as one of the greatest baseball players ever. I cannot see any reason that the Dolphins would in any way be diminished if another team joins them with a perfect season record. No doubt it would spur tremendous (and fruitless) debate over which team would win if they could have met on the field of play at their peak. But it would serve more to ignite renewed interest in the Dolphins' accomplishment, than it would to toss them on the back burner to simmer in the dark halls of history.
As a long time fan of football, I love the legacy that the 1972 Dolphins leave behind. It is a great part of the history of the Dolphins, and it is a great part of the history of the NFL. And it always will be. My hat's off to the 1972 Dolphins. They earned respect, and in my heart, they will always have it.