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Put a cork in it

Time for '72 Dolphins to drop champagne, accept Pats

Posted: Wednesday November 7, 2007 1:37PM; Updated: Wednesday November 7, 2007 4:52PM
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Don Shula is carried off after the Dolphins beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete their perfect season.
Don Shula is carried off after the Dolphins beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete their perfect season.
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Here they come again, the NFL's grumpy old men, tarnishing their legend a little more each time they grumble about another team's attempt to fashion a similar piece of history. The 1972 Miami Dolphins will forever be remembered as the first NFL team to achieve an undefeated season, but for some Dolphins it has always seemed that being the first is not enough. They desperately want to remain the "only."

Every few years, when a team survives the first half of the year unbeaten and the possibility of a perfect season becomes more real, those old Dolphins do everything but stick pins in voodoo dolls, hoping that the undefeated team falls. The New England Patriots, 9-0 and looking invulnerable, are the latest challenger to the Dolphins' status as the only perfect team in league history, and here, like clockwork, comes former Dolphin coach Don Shula, sending bad karma New England's way.

Even if the Patriots do finish undefeated, according to Shula, their achievement should be marked with an asterisk in the record books because of the Week 1 spying incident against the Jets, for which the team and Pats coach Bill Belichick paid heavy penalties. "The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished," Shula told the New York Daily News earlier this week. "Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,00 and they lost a first-round draft choice. That tells you the seriousness or significance of what they found. I guess you got the same thing as putting an asterisk by Barry Bonds' home run record."

At least this is a new approach for the members of '72 team. Usually they simply hope and pray that their challenger loses, then engage in graceless celebration when it inevitably happens. When San Diego beat the 11-0 Colts in 2005, Dick Anderson, a safety from the '72 Dolphins, sent the Chargers a case of Dom Perignon as a thank you. Anderson and his neighbor Nick Buoniconti, a former Miami linebacker, get together and open a bottle of champagne each year when the last undefeated team loses. When it comes to protecting their legacy, the old Fish are not a classy bunch.

For tips on how a record-holder is supposed to act, they would be wise to take a look at how Henry Aaron congratulated Bonds for breaking his home run record, or the good cheer with which another ex-Dolphin, Dan Marino, watched Brett Favre break his record for career touchdown passes earlier this season.

What the '72 team fails to realize is that a second undefeated season wouldn't diminish the first. When a record is challenged, it usually reinforces the magnitude of the original accomplishment. But it's getting harder to appreciate how beautiful the Dolphins were to watch in 1972 without thinking about how ugly some of them are to listen to in 2007.

In the case of the Patriots, Shula's contention is a stretch. New England was found to have broken the rules in the first half of the first game against the Jets, a team the Patriots could have crushed without any illegal help. Even the Jets themselves would probably admit that the filming of their signs didn't change the outcome of the game.

Since then, there has been no indication that the Pats have done anything shady. There would be a better argument for putting an asterisk next to their accomplishments from past seasons, when they might well have been illegally filiming, than for questioning the other eight wins of this season.

But even if Shula had a point about Belichick's rule-breaking, he would have been wiser, and classier, to let some other less biased observer make that point. By speaking out himself, he comes off as desperate to keep the Pats from stepping up onto the same pedestal as his team.

Some of the Dolphins insist that they aren't as protective of their perfect team status as it sounds. They are not, according to former tight end Jim Mandich, "pathetic losers down here clinking champagne glasses and desperately clinging to a record set 35 years ago."

Funny, that's exactly what they seem to be doing. The old Dolphins seem to be quite fond of the bubbly, but for their own sake, they should stick a cork in it.

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