Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Case for the '72 Dolphins

Last night (Saturday before the Super Bowl) I was watching a lot of ESPN Classic's "football marathon" programming, and I viewed with great interest their feature on what they feel were the 20 greatest teams of the Super Bowl Era.

While the 1972 Dolphins were the only team to go undefeated during the Super Bowl Era, they sometimes get overlooked when ranking the greatest teams of all time, perhaps because they accomplished this incredible feat 35 years ago, when most modern sports fans were either not born yet or barely out of diapers. In fact, the CHFF site has correctly pointed out that the Dolphins' schedule that season wasn't exactly a Murderer's Row lineup, as they only faced a handful of teams with above .500 records during the regular season.

But while watching the feature on that team--which ESPN ranked at #1--it really struck me as to how difficult a feat it was to pull of that 17-0 season.

Think about it: the greatest team in 49ers' Super Bowl history probably was the 1984 team which went 15-1, and they lost a regular season game, at home, to the 9-7 Steelers that season (9-7 is the 16-game season equivalent of 8-6 in 1972, with 8-6 being the best record any of Miami's regular season opponents had that year); the greatest team during the Patriots' Super Bowl runs of the early 2000's was the 2004 juggernaut, but that team lost to a 4-12 Miami team late in the season; the 1986 Giants lost to two mediocre, non-playoff teams (Dallas and Seattle) on their way to a 17-2 romp to a title.

In other words, going undefeated is pretty damn hard to do, which is probably why no other team has done it since the 1972 Dolphins.

Consider how difficult it is to win a Super Bowl in any normal year. You have to be a very talented team; you have to stay fairly healthy; and you have to catch a few breaks along the way, either from the zebras or by getting an easier playoff draw than originally anticipated, or by simply getting some lucky bounces.

Now multiply how hard it is to win a Super Bowl by about 100 times, and you begin to understand just how hard it is to win a Super Bowl by winning ALL of your games, both regular season and post-season.

While the 1972 Dolphins' regular season schedule may not have been that tough, they still had to go on the road to cold Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game, because at the time the league used to rotate home field for the conference championships. Despite this potential pitfall, the Dolphins prevailed in a tight game on a cold day in front of a hostile crowd.

Then prior to the Super Bowl, the Vegas bookmakers STILL made 16-0 Miami an underdog against a Washington team that had destroyed the defending Super Bowl champs from Dallas in the NFC title game two weeks earlier.

Miami went out and dominated a very good Redskins team, and would have pitched the only shutout in Super Bowl history were it not for Garo Yepremian's famous blooper reel gaffe after having a field goal blocked late in the game.

Those '72 Dolphins certainly proved their worth in those final two post-season games, and at the end of the day, they're still the only team in the Super Bowl Era to win all of their games.

So while it is a tad annoying every year to see the members of that team raise a champagne toast when the last unbeaten NFL squad finally loses one, it's also very understandable.

The 1972 Dolphins are the only team that can say that they were perfect.....that's enough evidence for me to agree with ESPN's assessment that it was the greatest team of the Super Bowl Era.


Anonymous said...

NFL Films does the rankings, not ESPN.

Monkeesfan said...

To go unbeaten in any season is something that's almost impossible to do - and seeing the 1998 Broncos and 2005 Colts come up short proves it all the more.