JOHN YDSTIE, host:
In 1972, the Miami Dolphins football team made NFL history going 17-0, a record that seemed unassailable until this year. The New England Patriots currently at 14 and 0 are threatening that mark. This weekend, the Dolphins' legacy is in their own hands as they try to stop the Patriot juggernaut.
NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Don Shula is a football icon. He's a hall of famer and the winningest coach in NFL history. But he counts that '72 unbeaten season as one of his proudest achievements.
Mr. DON SHULA (Former Dolphin Coach): Yeah, when you realize just how tough an accomplishment it was, it makes it that much more meaningful because teams haven't been able to do it. You know, teams have made a round at it. The Colts were 13 and 0 in one year, and San Diego beat them. But the Bears were undefeated in '85. I have to remember that game. That was the best first half of football I've ever been around.
ALLEN: It was a Monday night game at the Orange Bowl. The Bears came in with a 12 and 0 record. Shula invited members of the undefeated '72 team to come to the game. The Dolphins stopped Chicago and preserved the franchise record. That game did two things: It drew attention to Miami's unparallel achievement, and it made clear that Shula and the other Dolphins would jealously defend their legacy.
There was another reminder of that earlier this season after New England was caught by the league videotaping the defenses signals of the New York Jets. Shula said the episode, quote, "diminished what they have accomplished," and suggested if New England does finish the season unbeaten, then perhaps an asterisk would be attached to the Patriots' record.
At a reunion of the '72 team in Miami, Shula wasn't eager to expand on those remarks, but his former kicker, Garo Yepremian, was.
Mr. GARO YEPREMIAN (Former Dolphin): It pains me to think, I mean, if you do it properly, it's fine. I mean, if you hear the things that are happening in baseball and people are getting punished for life. And these people did something and they got punished for, what, $500,000. In the NFL right now, it's a pittance. They don't care for $500,000, a big fine. They can do it again.
ALLEN: In past years there's been a sense here in Miami that the '72 Dolphins maybe didn't get all the respect they deserved. Every time another team has threatened its record, Dolphin veterans have openly rooted for a loss, leading a Sports Illustrated editor to once call them, quote, "bitter old men."
The '72 Dolphins aren't happy their achievement may soon be equaled. And former quarterback Bob Griese says he can't help but admire the Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady.
Mr. BOB GRIESE (Former Dolphin Quarterback): A part of me is really rooting for them. And then a part of me is, you know, hoping that they lose early and then they win the Super Bowl. The thing I don't want them to do is go undefeated through the season and then lose in the playoffs, because they are the best team and I'd like to see them win the championship.
ALLEN: Even before the end of the season, former Dolphins safety Charlie Babb is ready to call the Patriots the best team in NFL history, although he would still put the '72 Dolphins in the top two or three.
Today, members of that team are in their 60s. Fans may have a hard time recognizing some of their former heroes. They're a little grayer, moving a little more slowly. They still get together for these reunions, Babb says, because it's an achievement they did as a team. And 35 years later, they are still proud.
Mr. CHARLIE BABB (Former Dolphin): You see us all limping around. You see guys that have run businesses, done everything else. And the one thing we can look back on is we wear a ring that says we were undefeated and world champions. There's been a lot of Super Bowl winners, right? But undefeated, that means something.
ALLEN: They'll all be watching this weekend's game and hoping against all odds that the current Dolphins will be the first to stop the Patriots. Who knows? The legacy of that unbeaten season still carries some weight in Miami. After last weekend's halftime commemoration of the '72 team, Dolphins came back against Baltimore to win their first game of the season.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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