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Manly House of Football: Perfection goes both ways

  • By Nick Bakay NFL.com
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Here we sit, smack dab in the middle of the season, and somehow both the Rams and Dolphins have managed to remain winless -- not a minor accomplishment in the NFL. The relentless drone of "parity," and pro ball being "a game of inches" suggests that it really takes some work to go 0-8. History also supports the fact that we may be watching something quite remarkable.

We love to see perfection, both good and bad. Case in point: Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't help but be fascinated by the prospect of the Patriots going undefeated and finally eclipsing the only NFL team to complete a perfect season -- the 1972 Miami Dolphins. And yes, I mean eclipse, because the 'Fins were perfect back in the day when the regular season was a mere 14 games long. A regular-season mark of 16-0 for the Patriots would be infinitely more difficult. One of my pet peeves is the league/media's flagrant abuse of the historical fact that, unlike baseball, the number of games played has varied wildly over the years, yet player and team stats are never presented in a way that reflects this.

The extra two games build even more respect for the Pats should they run the table -- an event that seems more likely every week as they eviscerate their opponents at the kind of growing rate we normally associate with the sociopathic serial killers of TV and film.

Rick Stewart / Getty Images
You're telling me you couldn't see ths guy as a serial killer on Criminal Minds?

How many times have we heard this line while eating our popcorn: "He's killing more frequently, and more brutally!" Now tell me it doesn't apply to your '07 Pats, my friends. Last Sunday's dismantling of the Redskins was downright Hannibal Lecter-ish. I fully expect Belichick to do a cameo on Criminal Minds. Until then, the modern-day schedule works in favor of the Pats' credibility -- 16 wins are harder than 14.

On the flip-side, despite what the name O.J. Simpson now conjures if we play word association, there was a time when he was the best running back in the game. He was the first pro to ever run for more than 2,000 yards in a season -- and he did it in a 14-game season. Four men have passed the 2,000-yard milestone since O.J. -- Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, and Terrell Davis -- but please note what is NEVER mentioned: not one of 'em did it in 14 games. None were even close! They all had two extra games, and some even had a bye week in which to rest their weary bones. Under those terms, Simpson might have gained 2,500 yards.

The 16-game schedule offers our winless teams a different shot at immortality. While New England is garnering deserved awe for their run at perfection, the Rams and Dolphins are being unfairly slighted. Let the record show: Only one team in the history of the NFL's modern era has gone winless for an entire season - your 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

One team. That's how hard it is!

So take a deep breath and admit the Rams and 'Fins are also on the doorstep of greatness. An ugly greatness, but it's still amazing and we should be impressed. Mind you, the winless Bucs were a hapless expansion team and, perhaps even more important, they lost 'em all -- you guessed it -- in a 14-game season. Should the Rams or 'Fins lose all 16, they will have done the unthinkable, eclipsing the worst of the worst.

Oh-and-eight never felt so exciting, did it? It's not like both teams haven't had some shots at a win. The Rams losses include San Francisco (2-5) and Arizona (3-4), both at home. I could toss a home loss to Cleveland on that list, too, but I'm happy to report the Browns are finally looking like a good football team.

It stings a little worse for Miami. They had a better shot thanks to being scheduled against some truly bad teams, but still found a way to lose to the Jets (1-7) on the road, the Raiders (2-5) at home, the Texans (3-5) on the road.

It also stings a little more for Miami when you factor in that this same organization remains the only team to run the table back in 1972. How the mighty have fallen. Oh, sure it's easy to toss this year's edition on the ash heap and write them off as underachievers, but is it that simple? Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we fail to consider that there may be elements of greatness in a winless campaign? That, my friends, is why we break things down scientifically.

The 2007 Dolphins versus their perfect ancestors, the 1972 Dolphins... Let's see how they stack up at the Tale of the Tape…

What the name "Shula" means to them:

'72 Dolphins: An unforgiving task master
'07 Dolphins: An over-priced steak house
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

What the name "Saban" means to them:

'72 Dolphins: The head coach of the Buffalo Bills
'07 Dolphins: The rat who cooked up this mess, took one whiff and jumped ship
ADVANTAGE: Push

Does the QB's name inspire confidence?

'72 Dolphins: Griese
'07 Dolphins: Lemon
ADVANTAGE: Push, no winners here

"No name"

'72 Dolphins: A clever nickname for a great stop unit bereft of superstars
'07 Dolphins: How you want your tickets marked at Will Call.
ADVANTAGE: '72 Dolphins

On any given Sunday...

'72 Dolphins: We will win.
'07 Dolphins: We play like a decent Div. III school... but an honest Div. III school! Seriously, those '72 Fins won a bunch of games in collusion with the refs who were afraid to anger Don Shula while he was the head of the NFL's Competition Committee. I was there, I saw it too many times. This is also just a long-winded way to say...
ADVANTAGE: '07 'FINS!

Associated Press
Don Shula was perfect with the '72 Dolphins, but how might he do with the '07 version?

Hardships:

'72 Dolphins: Had to win a bunch of games with Earl Morrall at QB
'07 Dolphins: Had to fly all the way to London just so they could lose again
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

Opportunities to get creative:

'72 Dolphins: RBs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris armed the offense with three completely different skill-sets that keep opponents guessing.
'07 Dolphins: Fans who are sick of putting paper bags over their heads can try to come up with a new way to acknowledge their humiliation. Might I suggest our old friend public drunkenness?
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins. I've never drawn up an NFL game plan, but I sure have been "faced" in Miami, and it is great!

Draft day means:

'72 Dolphins: The 26th pick, a.k.a. the last pick of round 1
'07 Dolphins: No. 1, baby!
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins... That is, unless the Rams go 0-16, too... boy, that would blow. You lose every game, and draft second? Tee-hee.

Expectations:

'72 Dolphins: Your fans will inevitably be disappointed when you don't do it again
'07 Dolphins: Your true fans are thrilled they just got a shot at way better season tickets
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

Monday Night Football:

'72 Dolphins: Had to play despite knowing that Howard Cosell was trying to accurately pronounce their names with 12 martinis in him.
'07 Dolphins: Hey, you can't be humiliated in front of the nation if you're not on the schedule!
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

Aftermath:

'72 Dolphins: Your roster ultimately gets raided when Csonka, Kiick,and Paul Warfield sign with the Memphis Southmen of the fledgling WFL!
'07 Dolphins: Your roster is avoided like the plague!
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

Okay, show of hands -- how many of you remember the original WFL -- not to be confused with NFL Europe? Huh? The Detroit Wheels? Philadelphia Bell? Chicago Fire? Or how about one of the strangest team names in professional sports history: The Birmingham Vulcans!

Wait 'til next year when:

'72 Dolphins: Once again, all those creepy team members get together and pop champagne whenever a team gets close to their record only to fail.
'07 Dolphins: You get to see if yet another college coach can survive in the NFL!
ADVANTAGE: Push

South Beach is synonymous with:

'72 Dolphins: Varicose veins
'07 Dolphins: Thongs
ADVANTAGE: '07 Dolphins

Nowhere to go but...

'72 Dolphins: Down
'07 Dolphins: Up... providing you fire the entire staff for the fourth time in five years.
ADVANTAGE: '07

So there you have it -- it's all so simple when you break things down scientifically. In a stunner for the ages, the advantage goes to... the '07 DOLPHINS!

I better go check my math, but in the meantime I guess you could call this a triumph of hope over satisfaction. Anticipation over fruition... or just plain crazy.

As for the Rams, please don't let my search for symmetry leave you feeling slighted. I think you guys have just as good a shot at greatness this year. If it's any consolation, I just saw a gender-confused kid on YouTube weeping, "Leave Britney and the Rams alone!"

Until next time, I'm Nick Bakay reminding you the numbers never lie... and by next time I mean later this week, right here at the dot-com!

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