The success of the New England Patriots has prompted questions as to how this current edition would stack up against the 1990's Cowboys, 1980's 49'ers, 1970's Steelers, or the 17-0 Miami contingent that won Super Bowl VII.
As difficult as it is to compare athletes or teams from varying eras, that's part of what we do here at The Source.
For those that say such comparisons are premature because the Brady Bunch hasn't won a title this season yet—might we point out that Belichick U. already owns three Lombardi Trophies?
Without further ado, let's compare the Pats and '72 Dolphins, unit-by-unit (the Niner and Steeler cases will be made in February if Brady, Belichick and Bruschi win their fourth championship together):
OFFENSIVE LINE: Edge: Miami
Larry Little and Bob Keuchenberg were Pro Bowlers, the former a perennial pick and Hall of Famer. Many consider Little the greatest to ever play his position. Center Jim Langer was All-Pro four times and second team twice—no mean feat considering he was an AFC contemporary of Steeler Mike Webster, Raider Jim Otto, and Bengal Bob Johnson.
This line launched the first pro backfield with two 1,000 yard rushers. TE Marv Fleming was a decent blocker as well, and flanker Paul Warfield threw the second most feared "crackback" in the game (after Washington's 215 pound Charley Taylor).
QUARTERBACK: Edge: New England
Tom Brady's got the digits, the jewelry, the collectiveness and the leadership. He's a constant on the Pats' Super Bowl teams, and the man who demanded management go out and sign worthy wideouts. He's accurate, he's long, and he may tie or break Peyton Manning's single season t.d. mark.
Bob Griese's in Canton, but he was best at the midrange game, the rollout, and the "scramble". To be honest, he missed more of '72 than he played, and aging Earl Morrall led much of the 17-0-0 charge.
During Griese's first three seasons as starter- he threw 46 TD's and 50 interceptions. More importanly, during his prime, (1974-76), when surrounded by better teammates, he threw 41 TD's to 40 picks. By then, AFC stars Ken Anderson, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, Dan Pastorini, Ken Stabler and Bert Jones were better passers.
OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD: Edge: Dolphins
As good as Laurence Maroney is, there's only one of him. The Fish came at opponents with bullish Larry Csonka, gritty Jim Kiick, and the sweeping Eugene "Mercury" Morris. "Zonk" wore defenses down, and never fumbled, Kiick was versatile as back and receiver, and Morris ran the end sweep better than any back in NFL history with the exception of Tony Dorsett. Two of them rambled for 1,000 yards apiece, Kiick added 521, and 21 receptions.
RECEIVING CORPS: Edge: New England
Miami had talented receivers. It was Warfield whose acquistion turned the expansion franchise into a winner. He was a Hall of Famer who was acrobatic on the sidelines and in the air—think of a shiftier, stronger Lynn Swann. Diminutive Howard Twilley had hands of glue, but wasn't very quick. TE's Marv Fleming and Jim Mandich were serviceable, but not prime targets in the run-oriented offense.
Wes Welker, the incomparable and lengthy Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, dependable Jabar Gaffney, Kelley Washington, and TE's Ben Watson and Kyle Brady are better. They are the reason the boys in blue have once again eclipsed Indianapolis in talent, and no secondary can hope to cover them all. Welker alone is second in the league with 96 catches, and has already exceeded 1,000 yards. The game is different now, but that's pretty impressive for a man who came to camp as the third option.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Edge: Dolphins
The first line of defense of the No Name Defense coached by Bill Arnsparger, a unit that played the pass well, the run better, and held the high powered Washington offense scoreless in the Super Bowl (the losers scored on a special teams play botched by Miami placekicker Garo Yepremian).
Rangy end Bill Stanfill. 6'6" end Vern Den Herder. Tackles Manny Fernandez and Bob Heinz. Fernandez was a great tackler in the mold of Lyle Alzado. The ends were tough to see over, much les pass over. The line was also young, quick, and pursued well. No superstar names, but great performers who stood up against the best during the playoff run.
Richard Seymour is the cream of the Pats' crop, and while Vince Wilfork is steady, Miami was more balanced.
LINEBACKERS: Edge: New England
The Patriots have the names, but the Dolphins were an innovative, mobile trio. Let's take the old guys first. Buoniconti, a Pro Bowl Patriot before Miami acquired him, was an all-time great in the middle. A bowling ball and a leader of an otherwise young and unheralded "D". Doug Swift of Amherst was a very good cover man on the outside, no Pro Bowler, but light on his feet. Bob Matheson, after whom the "53 Defense" was named, was a steady player.
These guys were no match for either Bruschi, Vrabel or Seau in their respective heydays. Yet none of the Patriots' crew is in their heyday. But athletic Adalius Thomas was added in the offseason, and he is but 30. Junior's 38, Bruschi's 34, the versatile Vrabel is 32. Their combined smarts, the availability of Roosevelt Colvin, and their overall talent, even with the longtooths, gives the Pats the upper hand.
SECONDARY: Edge: New England
Miami had great safeties: All-Pro's Jake Scott and Dick Anderson. Both had a nose for the football, and Scott, a Super Bowl MVP, was a vicious hitter. The corners—Tim Foley and Curtis Johnson—not so much. They were the weakest link on a team with a perfect record, unspectacular and nothing special at the NFL level. Neither was a big playmaker (the exact opposite of the safeties). Nickel man Lloyd Mumphord made his share of key plays, and was the best in the league at blocking FG's on special teams.
Asante Samuel, ballhawk Ellis Hobbs, James Sanders, and cagey Rodney Harrison get the nod. Not as good as the Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy group of several years ago, but they're not being compared to them.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Edge: Dolphins
Larry Seiple was a decent punter who was a threat to run. Garo Yepremian, his Super Bowl gaffe notwithstanding, had a long and stellar kicking career. Miami covered punts and kickoffs well, and the aforementioned Mumphord had knack at getting to field goal attempts from the end. The special units helped keep this team in games. Kick returners Hubert Ginn and Charlie Leigh were not breakaway threats, however.
On the Pats' side, Larry Izzo and Kelley Washington stand out on coverage, but the kicking game is nothing special.
We won't rate the coaches, since the game is won on the field—right, Joe Gibbs?—and neither Shula (in the late 1980s and early 1990s) nor Belichick (with the Browns) were proven to be geniuses when they lacked the horses. Given the way the various units match up, you may decide who would have triumphed had the teams met. Bear in mind today's linemen are much heavier, and that if the teams clashed more than once, the victories might have become evenly distributed, or nearly so.
In a dream, one-time contest, we'd have to favor the Patriots, what with Brady at the helm, the lack of cornerbacks who could cover Moss and the rest, the size advantage, and the fact that New England's success has been more prolonged than Miami's (as the Dolphins, while undefeated once, were coming off a 24-3 Super Bowl loss to Dallas the previous year, and in years subsequent to '72 fought tooth and nail with the Steelers and Raiders for AFC supremacy.
It is worth noting, however, that the '73 Dolphins went 15-2, and beat a very strong, future Hall of Famer laden Viking team 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII.