A New Year's resolution for the 1972 Miami Dolphins: They should act like even bigger jerks.
The '72 Dolphins are the only NFL team ever to go undefeated and win the championship. For years, they've famously popped champagne bottles to toast themselves when the last undefeated team loses for the first time. There was always an air of "nyah-nyah, you can't catch us" about that, but why not. There's nothing wrong with celebrating your own very real place in history.
But as the New England Patriots approached the perfect regular-season record they achieved with their come-from-behind win over the New York Giants Saturday night, the Dolphins have sounded increasingly like a bunch of cranky old boobs shouting, "Get off my lawn!" Or like a bunch of 2-year-old only children who've just found out they have a baby sibling.
"If it happens, we will be 1A. They will be 1B," Hall of Fame guard Larry Little told the Miami Herald in mid-December at a 35-year reunion of the undefeated team. Guard Bob Kuechenberg quoted the 1,000-yard rusher who has been the most ungracious of the '72 bunch: "As Mercury Morris said, if they go 19-0, they're going to have to park behind us. Our vehicle is already there."
After the Patriots racked up their 16th win Saturday, the Dolphins mostly said nice, congratulatory things, though most were careful to point out that the Patriots hadn't won the championship yet, and that even if they do, they will only have matched, not surpassed, those unforgettable '72 Fins.
Morris' comment was typical: "When all the dust clears, the best they can do is to stand beside us, and in the end, that's not a bad thing. I will welcome them to the neighborhood with my Mister Rogers sweater on, but first they have to get to the neighborhood."
Jeez, fellas. Here's the thing to say if you don't want to sound like a bunch of pricks: "We're popping those champagne corks like we do every year, but this year we're toasting the Patriots on their undefeated regular season. Welcome to the club and good luck in the playoffs!"
Would that have been so hard?
There are exceptions, like tight end Jim Mandich, who called the Patriots a "class act" and "remarkable" and pointed out that they play in "this salary-cap era, free-agency era." Quarterback Bob Griese has long said nice things about Tom Brady, a college teammate of Griese's son Brian. But as a group, these '72 Dolphins seriously need to get over themselves.
The Patriots haven't won the Super Bowl, but as far as the regular season goes, they haven't matched the '72 Dolphins, they've blown them out of the water.
The '72 Dolphins played a ridiculously easy schedule. They played two games against teams that had winning records, and both of those teams, the Giants and the Kansas City Chiefs, went 8-6. There were six teams in the league, excluding the Dolphins, that had a better record than anybody Miami played. Eight of the 26 teams in the NFL went to the playoffs in those days. The Dolphins didn't play any of the other seven.
Nowadays 12 of 32 teams go to the playoffs, and this year's Patriots played six of the 11 others, plus a game against the Cleveland Browns, who went 10-6 and missed the postseason on a tiebreaker. The Pats played two of the top three teams in the league by won-loss record -- excluding themselves. They played three of the top five and five of the top 10.
Miami's opponents in '72 had a combined winning percentage of .367. New England's opponents this year played .469 ball. And for all of that, the Patriots outscored their opponents at roughly the same clip as the Dolphins outscored theirs. In other words, they beat a schedule packed with elite teams as badly as the Dolphins beat up on a bunch of tomato cans.
And they beat two more of them. Winning 16 in a row is a lot harder than winning 14 in a row even if the opponents aren't better. We could walk together through a bunch of math here to demonstrate that, but I think it's pretty intuitive: Sixteen in a row is a greater feat than 14 in a row.
And, as Jim Mandich of the '72 team pointed out, the Patriots pulled off their undefeated season in the parity era, when the salary cap and free agency have made it more difficult to build and maintain a dominant team.
What the '72 Dolphins did was fantastic, even with that weak schedule. Lots of other good teams have had weak schedules in the past 35 years and none of them have run the table. And the Dolphins did keep winning when they lined up against good teams in the postseason. They beat Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, and the latter two were very good.
But if the Patriots win their three playoff games -- a huge if, even for a team as great as New England -- they won't be parking behind anybody. The old men had better get used to it. They're three games away from becoming 1B.
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NHL Ice Bowl: Let's do that again [PERMALINK]
NBC opened its broadcast of the New Year's Day outdoor hockey game with shots of snow coming down on Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Here's what I thought: "Yeah! Cool!"
The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout in front of more than 71,000 fans in the second outdoor game in NHL history, four years after the first, in Edmonton. As hockey, it wasn't much. The snow, which fell most heavily early and late in the game, made the ice uneven and slow, affecting both the puck and the players' skating. There were frequent stoppages for repairs and resurfacing.
As a spectacle, though, it was tremendous. It's not often anymore that the NHL can make this observer even tune in, never mind thinking, "Yeah! Cool!" You get 71,000 to stand in the snow for most of a day and go crazy over a midseason game between two borderline playoff teams and I dare say you're on to something.
It seems like a no-brainer for the NHL to make an outdoor game in cold weather an annual event, and why not on New Year's Day, which used to be dominated by college football bowls but now just has some exhibition games scattered around?
Here's a vote for a smarter course of action this time. The logical next move would be to hold the outdoor game in a big market. I'd do it in Detroit next, but New York/New Jersey, Toronto, Montreal and Dallas would be good candidates too.
What do you want to bet the NHL will come up with a reason not to do it?
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