Can you hear them coming? The rattling walkers? The creaking knees? The menacing thump of orthopedic shoes?
Happens almost every year. An NFL team starts thinking about going undefeated, and the gasping, graying authors of the 1972 Miami Dolphins' 17-0 record start getting their Depends all in a bunch. On Sunday the Denver Broncos won to go 11-0. Expect the '72ers to clap off Matlock, pack the Metamucil and tow their Airstream trailers toward Miami, the left-turn signal blinking all the way.
It happened in 1985 when the Chicago Bears, then 12-0, pulled into Miami for a Monday-night game. The '72ers showed up on the sideline, glaring at the pretenders whenever possible and all but sticking pins in stuffed bears. It worked. Miami stunned Chicago 38-24, and nobody has gone 12-0 since.
As soon as the last undefeated team loses, the '72ers, wherever they are, hold their glasses high and toast themselves. Safety Dick Anderson, linebacker Nick Buoniconti and quarterback Bob Griese meet in their neighborhood in Coral Gables, pop open a bottle of bubbly and pronounce, "We did it again!" Hell, guard Bob Kuechenberg sends a case of champagne to the team that blemishes the last unblemished.
But this year's Broncos are testing the old coots' pacemakers. They look as unstoppable as wrinkles. On Monday night, Dec. 21, Denver plays at Miami, and if the Broncos are 14-0, the '72ers will make another sideline stand, baring their dentures, ready to trip fullbacks with a well-placed cane or wipe out cornerbacks with a flying prune. "I plan on bringing one of those red laser pointers," says '72 running back Mercury Morris.
Apparently these old guys were napping when sportsmanship made its comeback this year. They must not have seen the way the Maris family welcomed Mark McGwire to Roger's record. Nobody's put this kind of Poli-Grip on faded glories since the Rolling Stones.
What's stupid is the '72ers don't need to. "I tell my dad, 'We can't beat your record of going without a loss, we can only match it. So share the wealth a little, O.K.?' " says Brian Griese, the Broncos' No. 3 quarterback and Bob's son. "But I guess they've just held it so looooong?
"Oh, I'm sure it will happen," says Anderson. "I just hope it's not while I'm alive."
O.K., that's it. They want to make this team versus team? So let's give the '72ers a pill that will make them a quarter century younger. Denver will still turn them into fish tacos. "We'd beat the brakes off 'em," says Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. "If it was for all the marbles? If you said, 'Winner of this game is considered the greatest of all time'? They wouldn't stand a chance."
No duh. For one thing, Miami's starters would give up 500 pounds to Denver's, or the equivalent of Henry Hyde. It would look like the jayvee taking on the varsity. The Dolphins' offensive line would be 30 pounds lighter per man than Denver's defensive front four. And remember, Miami played only two teams with a record better than .500 in the regular season. Denver has already played four. Garo Yepremian missed 13 field goals that year. Jason Elam hasn't missed from 63 yards in. Or passed like a florist.