looked like he'd just swallowed a stale nacho. "Oh, my God, that's
awful," he said, sitting in the alumni suite at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday
afternoon. "It's horrible. I don't know if I can even think about it right
now. You're asking how I would feel if the Patriots go undefeated and the
Dolphins go winless?"
Babb, a defensive
back for Miami in 1972, paused, looked at his feet and swallowed hard. "The
thing is, if the Dolphins go winless, they can still get the No. 1 pick, come
back next season, maybe even win the Super Bowl," he said. "If the
Patriots go undefeated, it will never be the same again."
The '72 Dolphins,
renowned for their celestial season, have entered their season from hell. Not
only is New England 9--0 and threatening their Olympian turf, but Miami is 0--9
and threatening to ruin their legacy. As the Patriots chase the 17--0 Dolphins
of '72, the only NFL team to finish a season undefeated and untied, this year's
Dolphins sink toward the '76 Buccaneers, the NFL's only winless team. It's
tough to tell right now who's a safer bet to make history, but the Dolphins
have the harder schedule. In the next two weeks they play at Philadelphia and
Pittsburgh. And there's another little road test looming: Dec. 23 at New
England. "I think Bill Belichick is going to want to obliterate the
Dolphins," says Jim Mandich, a tight end on the '72 team. "And he's got
the arsenal this season to obliterate anybody."
The veterans of
'72 take exception to the notion that they all pop the bubbly when the last
undefeated team loses each season. But they are proud of their record, and
there would be little joy in a Patriots loss if the Dolphins did not even have
one measly win. "I don't even drink champagne," says Jim Kiick, a '72
running back, "but I might take some Jack Daniels."
Dolphins could have used something stiff on Sunday after watching another
exercise in self-immolation. Miami blew an eight-point lead late and lost to
the Blls 13--10 on a last-minute field goal. Even more excruciating, the
previously winless Rams beat New Orleans, leaving the Dolphins as the NFL's
last 0-fer. No matter that they were coming off a bye, playing at home against
a middling opponent. "We felt like this was our day," Miami nosetackle
Keith Traylor said.
If the Lions or
the Cardinals were 0--9, it would be one thing, but 35 years ago Don Shula and
his gang turned Miami into a marquee NFL franchise, one that monopolizes
attention in South Florida regardless of its record. When players retire, they
rarely leave the area. And on Sundays they watch games from an alumni suite
loaded with hot dogs and stocked with overhead televisions.
The '72 Dolphins
follow the organization as though it were their alma mater. They know exactly
why the team has not been to the playoffs in six years or to the conference
championship in 14 seasons: Too many big-name coaches-- Jimmy Johnson, Dave
Wannstedt, Nick Saban--were given too much power. Not one Miami draft pick from
1998 through 2003 is on the active roster, and since '99 only one Dolphin has
made the Pro Bowl: receiver Chris Chambers, who was traded this season to San
Diego. The team is loaded with the young and the old but has few players who
are anywhere near their prime.
first-round choice, rookie wideout Ted Ginn, momentarily sent a jolt through
the half-empty stadium on Sunday with an 86-yard kickoff return. But in keeping
with the theme of this season, the run was nullified by a holding penalty.
Vonnie Holliday, the Miami defensive tackle, felt a familiar dark cloud
hovering over the Dolphins' sideline. He was reminded of a character in another
recurring comic: "We're like Pigpen."