The Miami Dolphins will begin preseason play on Friday night as they play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The upcoming 2012 season will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Dolphins perfect season. But while 40 years have now gone by, the mystique of the ’72 Dolphins remains strong.
When the 1972 Dolphins are mentioned, every one knows what they did even if they can only name a few players or none of at all. There have been other great professional sports team that had remarkable seasons like the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls that went 72-10 en route to a NBA title or the 1998 New York Yankees that won 114 games before rolling through an 11-2 postseason and sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series. Even Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana men’s basketball team that rolled to a 32-0 season and a national championship remains the last feat of its kind. But none of those teams are as heralded today as the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
The mystique of the 1972 Miami Dolphins could be largely due to the fact that the Dolphins play in America’s most popular league, the NFL. Remarkably, no other team has yet to duplicate the feat even if some have come close. The 2007 New England Patriots completed the regular season undefeated and reached the Super Bowl unblemished, but fell to the New York Giants 17-14 in the big game. Many other teams have tried, many have come close, but still the 1972 Dolphins remain alone.
Every couple of years it seems that a team makes a push at an undefeated season, but no one seems to be able to seal the deal. With the exception of the 1985 Chicago Bears, every team that makes that push toward an undefeated season seems to have a high-powered offense led by a potent passing attack.
The 1998 Denver Broncos were led by the big runs from scrimmage from Terrell Davis, but still managed to put up points in a hurry as they began 1998 13-0. The ’98 Minnesota Vikings had rookie wide receiver Randy Moss and Cris Carter lead Minnesota to the most points ever by a team in a single season. Minnesota that year, began the season 7-0 before finishing the regular season 15-1.
The 2007 New England Patriots shattered the NFL’s scoring record going 18-0 on their way to the Super Bowl before falling short to the Giants. In 2009, both the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts took undefeated records into December behind the potent passing games led by Drew Brees in New Orleans and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. But neither team could seal the deal as the Saints fell to Dallas after a 13-0 start and the Colts were defeated by the New York Jets after winning their first 14 games.
Last season, the Green Bay Packers got off to a 13-0 start behind Aaron Rodgers and the highest scoring offense in the league. Green Bay would finish the season 15-1, but would fall to the Giants in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins however, would be branded by today’s fan as boring. The Dolphins did lead the league in points that season, but they averaged less than 150 passing yards-per-game. The Dolphins’ offensive style no longer exists in today’s NFL. The Dolphins ran a wishbone type offense with the three-headed monster of backs in Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick. Csonka and Morris both rushed for 1,000 yards that season becoming the first tandem of teammates to do so in the same season.
The defense, now loaded with Hall of Famers, was at the time largely unknown earning them the name, “The No-Name Defense”. And while the Dolphins completed a perfect season, they were not always dominant. They won three regular season games by four points or less and had to rally late to defeat Cleveland before holding off Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Nine of their 14 regular season wins and both playoff victories came with aging backup quarterback Earl Morrall at the helm. Miami’s 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII remains the lowest point total for any Super Bowl winning team. In the victory, Miami tallied just 253 total yards.
Despite 40 years and an ever-changing NFL, the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to complete a perfect season. Every year, when the last undefeated team falls, members of the ’72 team admit to popping champagne in celebration. 40 years with a pop is pretty impressive, but at the time, few thought that they wouldn’t see the feat duplicated. While names like Mercury Morris, Bob Griese, Larry Little and Nick Buoniconti are hardly household names to younger NFL fans, they still know what the 1972 Miami Dolphins accomplished and perhaps have even heard of, “The No-Name Defense”.
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