50 years later, ’72 Dolphins remain unmatched in perfection

Oct 17, 2022, 3:00 PM | Updated: Oct 18, 2022, 3:06 am

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the...

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, center, is carried off the field after his team won the NFL football Super Bowl game over the Washington Redskins in Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1973. It's quite likely no other Miami team will ever live up to that perfect '72 Dolphins team. That team has almost taken a larger-than-life meaning in the hearts and minds of sports fans. What that team did 50 years ago was difficult enough, but in today's NFL it's a nearly unattainable feat. (AP Photo/File)

(AP Photo/File)

MIAMI (AP) — Fifty years ago, members of the 1972 Dolphins team lifted fiery coach Don Shula onto their shoulders for a victory lap out of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, celebrating not just a Super Bowl victory over Washington, but an emphatic exclamation point on the NFL’s only perfect season.

Not that the Dolphins ever spoke of perfection. Mere mention of the word felt taboo.

“I can’t imagine somebody whispering to somebody and Coach Shula happening to overhear the fact that, ‘Hey, guess what! We’re 11-0,'” said starting offensive tackle Doug Crusan. “Oh my goodness, couldn’t do that.”

They did the unspeakable anyway, going 17-0 for a mark that could stand another 50 years or more given the parity and length of the modern NFL season. The 2007 New England Patriots came close, going 18-0 before a Super Bowl loss. This year, the 6-0 Philadelphia Eagles are the last remaining threat — with a long way to go.

Those ’72 Dolphins shined in an era before trades and ongoing player movement between teams leveled the playing field. Roster restrictions could have just as easily worked against them, though.

One bad injury might have derailed that magical season, and one nearly did. Miami starting quarterback Bob Griese broke his right leg and dislocated his ankle in Week 5. Fortunately for the Dolphins, they had a powerful running game behind Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiik.

They were also motivated — not by perfection, but atonement. They’d lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl the season before and sought redemption, proof that the previous season, despite many opinions, wasn’t a fluke.

They didn’t know at the time they were becoming one of the NFL’s highest symbols of accomplishment.

“The confidence built as each week went by,” Crusan said. “We got stronger and stronger. And of course, you go into the playoffs and you never know what’s going to happen with those three games. We just got better and better and better as the season went on.”

To achieve perfection, they strove to be as close to polished as possible. And Shula, known for his inflammatory temper, pushed them there, reminding them often of that Super Bowl loss.

“Losing was a great motivator for Don Shula. He hated it, and he wanted his players to hate it,” said Joe Horrigan, a pro football historian and former executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “He said, ‘You remember that bad taste in your mouth? Keep it.’ That was his philosophy.”

Training was intense. They’d sometimes practice three or four times a day.

“I was worn out mentally as well as physically,” said defensive back Charlie Babb, a rookie that year. “Just the long season and the type of practices and the type of pressure that Shula and the coaching staff put on you to be perfect.”

As perfect as they tried to be, they also needed to be lucky. They didn’t blow teams out, and there were a couple close calls. One of their biggest tests came in the playoffs against the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve.

The Browns held a 14-13 lead with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Miami hadn’t trailed that late in a game since Week 3.

Behind backup quarterback Earl Morrall, in for the injured Griese, the Dolphins used a 35-yard catch by Paul Warfield to set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Kiik to move to 15-0.

“The ball has to bounce your way in just about every game,” said Larry Seiple, a punter. “There were games that we had chances to lose, as well as win.”

Seiple said he doesn’t believe that another perfect season will happen, at least not in his lifetime.

Free agency and trades have expedited the ability to move players around, creating more parity. And with 17-game regular seasons, Horrigan believes going undefeated isn’t as big a priority as getting to the postseason.

“You hear the cliché ‘One game at a time,'” Horrigan said. “No one’s thinking, ‘Let’s win 10 in a row.’ I don’t think anybody would be shooting for it.”

Horrigan added that it’s especially hard to go undefeated with the advances in technology, especially replay.

“I told Don Shula this once, I said ‘You know, if there were instant replay, you might not have been undefeated,'” he said. “There were mistakes made just as there are now, but it would go unnoticed. As close as some of those games were, one play could have made a big difference.”

The 2007 Patriots, with quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, got to the brink of matching Miami. The New York Giants ruined that in the Super Bowl — and with it, spoiled the best chance in several generations to witness perfection.

“If any team was going to do it, I thought that team with that quarterback would be the one,” longtime NFL defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.

The 1985 Chicago Bears went 18-1 on their way to winning the Super Bowl. The one loss? To Miami, 38-24 victors over the Bears in a Monday night classic where the Dolphins simply would not allow another team to be perfect on its watch.

Akron in 1920, and Canton in 1922 and 1923, both were undefeated champions — but all those clubs also tied at least one game. They weren’t perfect.

This season, the Eagles are the NFL’s last undefeated team behind quarterback Jalen Hurts. They have wins over the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys under their belt.

With a remaining schedule that includes just four teams with winning records, many believe that the Eagles have an open path to the Super Bowl. FanDuel Sports Book currently lists their season win over-under bet at 13.5.

But only the Miami Dolphins can say perfect.

“It’s not easy,” Seiple said. “Most teams, you start out with that idea, and as the season goes on you start to lose some players because of injuries, it kind of slips through your fingers.”


More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

50 years later, ’72 Dolphins remain unmatched in perfection