Monday, January 14, 2013

The Perfectionists

Forty years ago today, the Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, capping a perfect season.

Only one other team since that time, the 2007 New England Patriots, has gone into a Super Bowl with a perfect record, but the Patriots lost that game to the New York Giants. True, the Pats had to win two more regular–season games than the Dolphins did — and, with their two playoff victories, the Patriots were 18–0 going into their Super Bowl.

That means that, when they were 18–0, the Patriots actually had compiled a better record than the '72 Dolphins did, but they failed to win the Super Bowl, and that is how teams are judged.

Not by perfect seasons.

Championships. That's what counts. In the 39 years since the '72 Dolphins' 17–0 season, 39 NFL champions have been crowned. Only one team has gone into the Super Bowl with a perfect record, and it did not emerge with its perfect record still intact.

But a single moment of imperfection on that day, as I have written here before, threatened the Dolphins' achievement.

The Dolphins led, 14–0, in the fourth quarter when kicker Garo Yepremian lined up to attempt a 42–yard field goal that, for all intents and purposes, could have put the game on ice. Instead, it only put the outcome in doubt.

Yepremian's attempt was blocked, and he chased the ball as it bounced toward the sideline. But instead of falling on it, he picked it up and tried to throw the ball, but it slipped from his grasp and Redskins defender Mike Bass grabbed it in mid–air and ran 49 yards for a touchdown.

More than two minutes were left in the game, but the Dolphins held on to win the game and give Don Shula his first Super Bowl championship.

To this day, Super Bowl VII is the lowest–scoring Super Bowl — and would have been even lower if Yepremian had fallen on the ball or, better still, made the field goal.

Thus, it was appropriate, I suppose, that a defensive player — Miami's Jake Scott — was named the game's most valuable player. Scott picked off two Billy Kilmer passes in the contest and racked up 63 return yards.

Super Bowl MVPs typically are quarterbacks — or, at least, an offensive player. Only eight defensive players have been named Super Bowl MVP, and two of them (Dallas' Randy White and Harvey Martin) shared the honor in 1978.

In fact, had it not been for Chuck Howley winning the MVP in a losing cause two years earlier (still the only member of a losing team to be named the game's most valuable player), Scott's triumph would have been as ground–breaking — on an individual level — as the Dolphins' team achievement of going through a season without a single blemish.

On this day 40 years ago, it was often suggested that Larry Csonka, the Dolphins' hard–nosed fullback, deserved to be considered. He carried the ball 15 times for 117 yards.

But Csonka's time would come the next year when the Dolphins won their second consecutive Super Bowl.

That was quite an achievement, especially since the Dolphins lost only twice in their 1973 encore. When you consider that everyone on Miami's schedule wanted to beat the team that had been undefeated the previous year, the pressure must have been unrelenting.

Miami's '72 accomplishment was even more impressive in that the Dolphins' starting quarterback, Bob Griese, went down with a broken leg midway through the season and did not return until the playoffs. Veteran backup Earl Morrall led the offense until the second half of the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh.

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