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The 72 Dolphins...Perfect, but hardly the best
July 16, 2008 - Chris Masse
Every year some of the classless 1972 Dolphins act like juveniles when the last undefeated team falls. They pop champagne and toast each other as their status as the only undefeated team in NFL history remains secure.
We all saw the depths that these players, like lead whiner Mercury Morris, will sink to in order to protect their turf as they constantly cried and made excuses when the Patriots threatened to go 19-0 and push them aside, since 19-0 is greater than 17-0, which is what those Dolphins went. For the record, the Patriots were 18-0 at one point, something the Dolphins never reached.
Those Dolphins like to say that since they went 17-0 that automatically means they are the greatest team in NFL history. They also like to act like those that don’t go undefeated are inferior. That is the hardly the case. Make no mistake, the Dolphins were great–but they also were the beneficiaries of one of the softest schedules a team could ever hope to have. Give some of the great teams in NFL history a similar schedule and the Dolphins likely would have plenty of company in the undefeated ranks.
First, the Dolphins played ZERO playoff teams during the regular season. In fact, their schedule was such a joke that they played only two teams with winning records, the Chiefs and Giants, and those teams were both just 8-6. The combined winning percentage of their 14 opponents was .357 and nine of their wins were against teams with five or fewer wins.
Wow, clearly they are the best ever beating juggernauts like that!
Now, let’s look at some of the other all-time great teams that came close to undefeated seasons like the 1976 Raiders, the 1978 Steelers, the 1982 Redskins, the 1984 49ERS, the 1985 Bears and the 1991 Redskins. Each of those teams only lost to teams that made the playoffs and/or won 10 or more games (or in the Redskins case 6 games but we'll get to that). The Dolphins never had to endure such challenges.
The Raiders went 13-1, losing only to the AFC East champion Patriots who went 11-3. The 78 Steelers lost only to the Rams and Oilers who both advanced to the NFC and AFC championships, respectively. The Redskins went 8-1 during a strike-shortened season, losing only to future NFC championship opponent the Cowboys (6-3).
The 49ERS became the first team in NFL history to win 18 games, going 18-1 and losing only to the Steelers who reached the AFC championship. The Niners also had that game won, stopping the Steelers on a late 4th-and-goal before a controversial pass interference penalty allowed the Steelers to force overtime and win it there.
The 1985 Bears duplicated the Niners achievement, going 18-1 and losing only to the Dolphins, 38-24. Miami went 12-4 and reached the AFC championship. The 91 Redskins went 14-2, losing only to the Cowboys (11-5) who reached the playoffs and the Eagles (10-6) in a regular-season finale meaningless game.
All these teams played against multiple playoff opponents during their regular seasons as well. The 84 Niners played five games against playoff teams, the 85 Bears played five playoff teams and the 91 Redskins played six games against playoff teams.
The point is that had these teams had the joke of a schedule the Dolphins did they likely would have went undefeated as well. Conversely, had the Dolphins had to endure the numerous challenges from top-flight teams that these other world champions did they almost certainly would have not gone undefeated.
Just look at 1973 for evidence. That year the Dolphins actually had to face a playoff team, meeting the Raiders, their future AFC championship opponent, in Week 2. The result? The Dolphins lost, 12-7. Looks like going undefeated is a little bit more challenging when your schedule is not littered with cupcakes, huh?
And really how great was this team when they were the underdog entering Super Bowl VII against the Redskins? If a team was as dominant as the Dolphins like to make themselves out to be that year then they would have been an overwhelming favorite to win it all.
What several of the above teams did as well was dominate their postseason competition. The 84 Niners won 21-10, 23-0 and 38-16. The 85 Bears won 21-0, 24-0 and 46-10, while the 91 Redskins won 24-7, 41-10 and 37-24 (it was 37-10 until garbage time). Others like the 89 Niners who went 14-2 and lost to future NFC championship opponent the Rams and the Packers (10-6) outscored three playoff teams 126-26.
Just imagine what those teams would look like if they had the joke of a schedule the Dolphins had and got to play terrible teams on an almost-weekly basis.
The Dolphins, in contrast to those teams, had to rally in two AFC playoff wins to beat the Browns and Steelers, 20-14 and 21-17 before defeating the Redskins, 21-17. Just imagine how tough things would have been on the Dolphins during the regular season had they had to play teams like that four, five or six times a season.
In this era of free agency where teams are just about powerless to keep their cores together for more than four years they chances of another undefeated season are slim. That the Patriots came so close is amazing. The Patriots started 18-0 despite playing six playoff teams, including four division champions, their future AFC championship opponent and the future world champion.
Many of the 72 Dolphins, led by the childish Morris, whined throughout most of the season as the Patriots kept winning. What those Dolphins always failed to leave out is how hard the Patriots task was considering who they had to play and how easy it was for them considering the ridiculously easy schedule they had to play.
So congratulations, 72 Dolphins you likely can keep popping your champagne every year. Nobody will ever have the same kind of easy path that you had. If they had, then those toasts would have ended a long time ago.
But 72 Dolphins, if you want to toast the best team in NFL history then you better stand in line because there’s a lot of teams in front of you.
Cry about that.
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