Last week, the San Francisco 49ers lost 27-24 to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime on Monday Night Football. You're probably wondering what that fact has to do with you. Well, if you're a Miami Dolphins fan, it has everything to do with you because the 49ers were the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL for the 2019-20 season, meaning, once again, the 1972 Dolphins stand as the only undefeated team in NFL history.
For almost 50 years, no one has matched what the greatest team in NFL history did in 1972. Nearly every pre-'90s NFL record you can think of has been bested, but the '72 Dolphins still stand alone in perfection. It's such a big deal that Funky Buddha Brewery releases a special beer every year when the last undefeated team in the NFL loses its first game of the season.
It's a record that will stand the test of time. No NFL team will ever be able to go undefeated throughout a regular season and win a Super Bowl as the Dolphins did in 1972. Here's why:
Talent is much more evenly distributed around the NFL than it was back in the day.
Thanks to free agency and a plethora of other rule changes, talent is less top-heavy in the NFL than it's ever been. A team has a short window to be great before it all comes crumbling down to the ground once a star player's salary cap and/or age catches up. The New England Patriots have dominated the league for more than a decade, but even they lose a few games a season owing to bad luck or disinterest at the end of the season.
Even the worst NFL teams are capable of beating anyone else on a random week. There's a movie actually titled Any Given Sunday. It's just not possible to run the table anymore because there's less room for error when the other team has such a solid chance of capitalizing on the opponent's mistakes.
Simple mathematics: There are more games played, thus more chances to lose.
The 1972 Dolphins went 17-0, which included three postseason wins. These days, there are 16 regular-season games (and soon maybe even more) plus the three to four playoff games needed to win a championship. In the near future, it's possible teams will need to win 20-plus games straight if they want to match what the Dolphins achieved in 1972. Eventually, the preseason will be all but eliminated in the name of more regular-season games that count, which will make matching the Dolphins' 17-0 even tougher.
It's difficult for anyone in any sport — much less in the NFL, where teams are more equally talented than any other sport — to win 20-plus games in a row. The more games, the more chances to slip up. It's science and math.
Players are bigger and faster than ever, which inevitably means more injuries and missed games.
In the '70s, if a player got a concussion, everyone chuckled and said he "just got his bell rung" and sent the guy back into the game as soon as he could see straight. Nowadays players are held out for a month in situations where pre-2000 they might've simply missed the rest of the game. There's just no comparison when it comes to missed games and injuries from era-to-era.
Players are bigger and faster than they have ever been, which means more collisions and broken bones. Cam Newton would be a defensive lineman in 1972, but instead he's a quarterback in 2019. Linemen today are big as bears and run faster than running backs in 1980. The game is more violent than it has ever been, which means by the time Week 14 rolls around, a lot of teams are on the third string at some positions. That makes it a lot harder to be perfect.
Any team that's 15-0 will likely rest its starters in the last game of the season.
Dolphins fans know this fact well, but unfortunately from the wrong side. The Dolphins have beaten the Patriots numerous times over the past decade in their last meeting of the season, many times because the Pats have already wrapped up the division title, a playoff bye, and home-field advantage by the time their second seasonal meeting with the Dolphins.
Whenever a team is in the position of being undefeated late in the season with little to play for, there's always a discussion as to whether that team's philosophy is to take its foot off the gas and rest some starters or stay in a rhythm and risk injury in a meaningless game. That thought process didn't exist years ago and will always be a self-inflicted hurdle if a team wants to finish a season without a loss.
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The 1972 Dolphins played a safer brand of football that no one can duplicate in today's NFL.
The 1972 Dolphins had two 1,000-yard rushers and one 500-plus yard rusher. That year, the Dolphins ran the ball an astonishing 613 times, making it possible to overcome losing their starting quarterback for the majority of the season with a backup who threw only 150 passes in 14 games — a total most quarterbacks today would rack up in fewer than four games.
Running the football well took a lot of pressure off the Dolphins' defense, shortened the game, and allowed them to overcome the loss of their Hall of Fame quarterback. That's not happening in 2019. Thus, the 1972 Miami Dolphins will forever stand alone in perfection, just as they have for the past five decades.