ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
What an NFL season we're in the midst of. You don't even have to be a football fan to appreciate it. For one thing on Sunday, the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts to become the only remaining team with a perfect record. But, former Miami Dolphins coach, Don Shula - who was considered NFL royalty -says there should be an asterisk attached to the Patriots' season should they go undefeated.
Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us right now. What's Don Shula's problem here?
Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter, The Wall Street Journal): Well, Don Shula's problem is that he coached the 1972 Miami Dolphins who are the last team to go undefeated. And his beef is that the Patriots, earlier this season, were fined by the league. League also took away a draft pick because they used a video camera apparently to record signals that were being sent in by the New York Jets' coaches to their players on the field. This has been dubbed Spygate. Shula says this diminishes the Patriots' accomplishments. If they do go undefeated, they deserve that asterisk.
Now, someone from the NFL must have gotten to Shula because he later retracted the comment. You know, I don't know who to root for here. The Patriots did something that was at least unsportsmanlike. Their coach, Bill Belichick, has seemed more uncivil than usual this year. But the 1972 Dolphins, every season they gloat when the last unbeaten team goes down. That's not terribly sportsmanlike either.
SIEGEL: Asterisk or no asterisk, the New England Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady, are great this year.
Mr. FATSIS: They are. They've got this weekend off, but they're winning games by an average of 23 points. Tom Brady is en route to a record season for touchdown passes. He's got 33 of them against just four interceptions. That's an eight-to-one ratio. Two-to-one is considered pretty good.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about a remarkable rookie who would appear to be the early candidate for NFL rookie of the year. Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings, last Sunday, set an NFL record with 296 yards rushing in a single game.
Mr. FATSIS: And he broke the old record, which was held by Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens. He's had it in 2003. He broke it by a single yard. Peterson was the seventh pick of the NLF draft last spring out of Oklahoma. That means there are six teams wondering whether they should have taken him. He's rushed for 100-plus yards in five of the eight games he's played, 200-plus yards in two of them. He wasn't even starting until two weeks ago, which makes you wonder what the Vikings management was thinking.
He's looked like the second coming of Jim Brown so far, this guy. And that might help explain the nickname that he's been given by a writer who goes by the name Big Daddy Drew. He writes for a football humor blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber. And the nickname is Purple Jesus.
SIEGEL: Which is a reference to the uniforms of the Vikings, purple uniforms?
Mr. FATSIS: And the defensive lineup of Vikings. For those of us in our generation, we'll remember that back in the 1970s, they were known as the Purple People Eaters.
SIEGEL: Purple People Eaters. Now, so much for great running backs and brilliant quarterbacks. The position that the game is really all about…
Mr. FATSIS: Yes.
SIEGEL: …as you explain it to America, the placekickers. On Sunday, Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders attempted a record 64-yard field goal. This is what it sounded like on CBS television.
Unidentified Man #1: Jan double snap, left over hold. A 64-yarder for an all-time record. It's down. It's away. He may have the distance, and this one is no good.
Unidentified Man #2: Oh, no.
Unidentified Man #1: It hit the right upright, and is no good. But he came that close.
Unidentified Man #2: Field goal is no good.
SIEGEL: So the old record of 63 yards stands. But, wow, kicking a ball 63-yard, not bad.
Mr. FATSIS: Not bad. Not bad at all. And this thing just fall short, you know, the way the other attempts to break the record of 63 have. Janikowski's ball hit the right upright not near the bottom, halfway up. And the upright is 30-feet tall. Now, this guy probably has the strongest leg in the NFL. A few weeks ago, he hit the very top of the upright from 52 yards away on another missed kick. There are plenty of kickers that can get the ball there. No position, I would argue, has improved more in the last three decades. And you need the right circumstances, but I think this little record is poised to go down soon.
SIEGEL: That's what the NLF needs, more field goals.
Mr. FATSIS: Absolutely. I would bow - take that to my grave, more field goals.
SIEGEL: That's Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal, who talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports. Thank you, Stefan.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
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