Don Shula, 1972 Dolphins Aren't Sweating 2008 Titans

Alex MarvezCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2008

Like every year in late October, the NFL's all-time winningest head coach knew his telephone would start ringing.

"It's amazing," Don Shula said Tuesday morning. "Every season when a team goes 6-0 or 7-0, the '72 Dolphins get brought back up."

It's that time of year again.

Tennessee's 31-21 thrashing of Indianapolis on Monday night improved the NFL's only undefeated team to 7-0. Such success also generates the same speculation that has surrounded other franchises in the same position over the past 35 years.

Can the Titans join Shula's 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team in league history to finish with a perfect record?

Let's just say the prospect isn't putting the same fear into retired Miami players as New England did during last season's 18-1 campaign.

"I don't think they're that good," former Dolphins running back Jim Kiick said after watching the Titans-Colts game. "In all honesty, I'm not really concerned. They're seven games in and have a long way to go.

"I can't knock them because they have won every game, but I can't imagine them doing it. They're no Patriots."

Former Dolphins defensive end Manny Fernandez is so nonplussed that he didn't even bother tuning into the Titans-Colts contest. After the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay World Series game was postponed by rain, Fernandez went to bed rather than change channels.

"There's no need to pay attention," Fernandez said. "I can't even tell you what the name of their quarterback is."

Shula was more diplomatic but also didn't seem overly concerned about his team's hollowed standing being seriously challenged.

"The Titans look strong and I can see where they're going to be in every game," Shula said. "I think offensively they just maybe are going to have to show a little more firepower. But their defense is as good as I've seen in a long time."

Tennessee's two biggest strengths—a dominating defense combined with a powerful ground game—are what led the 1972 Dolphins to a 17-0 record. Conversely, the Patriots team that came this close to upstaging Miami did so primarily through its passing attack.

New England did post the NFL's first 18-0 record, but was upset by the New York Giants in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLII.

"Last year was the first time a team had gone that far," Shula said. "It gave us much more of an opportunity to talk about what we did."

And talk they did. The more the Patriots won, the more Shula and his troops became the focus of media attention.

Comments slighting New England's accomplishments—especially because of the Spygate scandal—polarized NFL fans. Some felt Shula and the most outspoken members of the 1972 team were bitter because their unique place in league history was on the verge of being ruined.

Others believed the Dolphins were justified in showing pride at having the only unblemished record in the NFL's 88-year history.

Ironically, the most boisterous of the 1972 Dolphins—running back Eugene "Mercury" Morris—has publicly lobbied for Tennessee to keep winning.

It's easy to understand why. For many '72ers, New England's success led to newfound acclaim and commercial endorsements, including a Reebok ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

"I picked up a pretty good check," said a laughing Fernandez, whose 17-tackle performance helped lead Miami to victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

New England's near-miss also reminded Dolphins players to not take their standing for granted. Kiick said that teammate Larry Csonka, a Hall of Fame running back who no longer follows football, called him from Alaska after Super Bowl XLII.

"He was like a little kid he was so excited," Kiick said. "It made you realize just how special it was that we accomplished."

Another reminder will come if/when the Titans lose. Some Dolphins players will follow the annual tradition of popping open champagne after the last unbeaten team falls.

"The fact New England was so good last year but couldn't do the undefeated season again brought to light how difficult a task it is," Shula said. "All you have to do is think about all the years before 1972 and how many years there have been since then. Nobody has done it except one team.

"That's us."

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