Sunday Special: 17-0 Remembering a Perfect Season
Undated (AP) _ The Miami Dolphins could lose one record on Sunday. That would be bad enough. But they have another niche in NFL history they really don’t want to give up.
If the San Francisco 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams this week, it will be their 19th consecutive victory over two seasons. That would break the record shared by the Dolphins of 1971-73 and the Chicago Bears of 1933-34 and 1941-42.
More importantly, it would move the 49ers one step closer to a perfect season. And the Dolphins of 1972 are the only NFL team to win all of their regular-season and playoff games.
And tiptoeing along with San Francisco Giants toward perfection are the New York Giants.
The guys who played on that Miami team have taken notice.
″I don’t want anybody to do it,″ said Larry Little, an All-Pro guard for the Miami team that went 17-0. ″I don’t want to share it. That’s just the way I am. It could happen, but I don’t want it to. It means a lot. I want that distinction.
″The only time people talk about it is when teams makes a run at it. We don’t get respect for what we accomplished. You hear all this stuff about the Steelers and 49ers winning those Super Bowls. We were the only ones who went undefeated.″
From start to finish, from Kansas City the opener in mid-September to Washington in the Super Bowl, the ’72 Dolphins won every week for 17 weeks.
Much of the streak was accomplished with 38-year-old Earl Morrall at quarterback. Starter Bob Griese suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle in the fifth game and coach Don Shula turned the team over to Morrall, claimed on waivers before the season.
Would San Francisco and New York be perfect if Joe Montana or Phil Simms were spending the season on crutches and Steve Young or Jeff Hostetler were running the offense?
″You never know,″ Morrall said. ″They brought me in as a backup to Bob, in case something happened. And it did.″
The streak, Morrall said, did not occur to the team from week to week. ″For me and the others, our concentration and thinking was on the upcoming game,″ he said. ″It’s never in your mind that you have a chance to go undefeated. We never talked about it in the locker room.″
Linebacker Nick Buoniconti confirmed that. ″The most memorable thing about the streak was it just sort of snuck up on us,″ he said. ″There wasn’t a lot of talk about it. We got blown out in the Super Bowl the year before and the main thing for us was to get back, to get another chance. The streak just happened.″
In fact, there were some close calls, narrow victories that did not afford the Dolphins the luxury of thinking about earning a place in history. They beat Minnesota by just two points, 16-14. ″We barely beat Buffalo, 24-23, on a controversial play,″ Morrall said.
There was a satisfying 28-24 win over the New York Jets, satisfying especially to Morrall, who was the losing quarterback against the Joe Namath Jets three years before in the Super Bowl. ″In that game, I went back to pass and scrambled left,″ he said. ″I ran 31 yards, the longest run of the year. We had two 1,000-yard runners, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, and I had the longest run. It was the longest in time, too. It must have taken a minute and a half.″
Little and the offensive line understood the extra burden of having Morrall at quarterback. ″We rallied around Earl,″ he said. ″It meant we had to block a little longer. It helped us develop as a line.″
Each week, Little said, the challenges became greater. ″It wasn’t easy,″ he said. ″Everybody wants to be the one to knock you off. We won some very close games, just like the 49ers and Giants have. We lined it up every Sunday and did what we had to do. That’s what the 49ers and Giants are doing now. That’s why it’s frightening.″
″You don’t walk through the NFL,″ Buoniconti said. ″No one does. You’ve got to be a little lucky, a turnover here, a tipped ball there. What separated us from other teams was there wasn’t a lot of backslapping. There was a businesslike atmosphere, not a lot of screaming and cheering. Once we got to 16-0 and into the Super Bowl, if we had lost to Washington, the whole season would have gone down the drain.″
That was the pressure of the streak. Little recalled the Dolphins being underdogs for that last game. ″We hadn’t lost all year and they thought we’d lose that one.″
They didn’t, of course, finishing 17-0, the only perfect season. Buoniconti and the others want it to stay that way.
″It absolutely bothers me that they’re making a run at it,″ he said. ″I enjoy being the only undefeated team. I won’t resent it if one of them do it. It’s such a huge accomplishment. You have to give them credit.″
Morrall says he finds himself checking the 49er and Giant results first each week, to see if their streaks are still intact. ″I like us being the only undefeated team,″ he said. He has other championship rings. The one he wears, however, is from 1972, the perfect season.
There have been other runs at the Dolphins’ unique niche in NFL history. In 1985, en route to a Super Bowl championship, the Chicago Bears won their first 12 games. No. 13 was a Monday night contest in Miami.
A group of ’72 Dolphin alumni showed up for a pre-game pep talk and lined the sidelines to emphasize just how important that game and their record was to them.
Final score: Dolphins 38, Bears 24, the only loss in Chicago’s otherwise perfect season.
Little chuckles at the memory. ″Our little brothers looked out for us, didn’t they?″ he said.
END ADV for Release Sun Nov 25