You remember the 1972 Miami Dolphins, right? A record-setting team that continues to defy irrelevancy even today – usually by the midway point in just about every season since.
Larry Czonka and Jim Kiick in the backfield, with Mercury Morris? Paul Warfield. Earl Morrall. Jake Scott. And one-time Patriot Nick Buoniconti among the big names. They were coached by Don Shula – yeah, the guy who the steak restaurants were named after.
He was Hall-of-Fame good, along with Czonka, Warfield and Buoniconti.
Undoubtedly, there are some who have little-to-no clue what the ’72 Dolphins mean to NFL history. Perhaps that Miami team was before your time. Or, you were simply too young then to know anything about them, or too young to care about them at all, and perhaps even too young to care about the sport of football?
Before growing up, of course. Right along side football itself, over nearly half of pro football’s 100-year lifespan.
Here’s what you need to know about those guys: The Dolphins are a somewhat painful part of the Patriots past – if not the present as well (remember the ‘Miami Miracle’ this year, anyone?) – because the ’72 team is the only NFL team to win a Super Bowl after finishing the regular season unbeaten.
Sorry to bring that up. 2007 remains as a sore subject within New England Patriots’ lore, to be sure. And because the Patriots came up short of perfection in ‘07, the ’72 Dolphins continue celebrating their legacy every year when the NFL’s last unbeaten team has its’ hopes of historic concomitance dashed in defeat.
Maybe we’ve learned to grow up and get over that shot at immortality, albeit grudgingly. But the Patriots are, after all, now building their own legacy one Lombardi Trophy at a time. And – get this – the Patriots have finally matched those historic Dolphins in one other significant way.
Miami began its own historical ’72 season in defeat. Before sweeping through the NFL universe in the 1972 regular season and playoffs, they ended the ’71 season with a loss, at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Thus, Miami had been the last team to lose a Super Bowl and return the next year to win it.
Dallas also pulled off the feat just prior to Miami’s magical year, losing SB V to Baltimore before bouncing back to take VI from the Dolphins. Since that time, Minnesota, Denver and Buffalo have all played for a championship after losing in the title game the previous season. The Bills, you might recall, went to four straight Super Bowls and lost them all from 1990-93.
None succeeded in the next year, until the 2018 Patriots.
This historical tendency to lose in one year and come up short the next has been part of what is known as having a ‘Super Bowl Hangover’ – or even a ‘Super Bowl Curse.’ Maybe you’ve heard those terms? A winning team one year has often found it difficult to win again, or even qualify for the playoffs the next year.
What about a losing team in the championship game one year, and coming back to the championship game the next? In the 53-year Super Bowl era, it’s happened on eight separate occasions (3x with Buffalo, Dallas, Miami, Minnesota, Denver, New England). 46 years ago was the last time a championship-game-loser became a championship-game-winner from one year to the next.
In the present-day and age of salary caps and free agency, it has been hard to even reach the postseason from one year to the next. From 2006-2013, every defending Super Bowl champ either lost their first playoff game the next year – or missed them altogether. And no team has repeated as SB champ since the Patriots went back-to-back in 2003-04.
So that’s something else to shoot for next season, perhaps. But you can see where the hangover effect has lingered for some time, in large part because of NFL rule changes. These changes have helped propel Miami’s mystical, unbeaten ’72 season into the stratosphere of athletic successes, because no other team has managed to do what they did for more than four decades.
Until the 2018 Patriots.
The Patriots also join the ’71-73 Dolphins and the Bills of ’90-93 as the only NFL teams to reach three straight Super Bowls. It appears history says the AFC East has had a legacy of kicking cans, rather than being kicked around like tomato cans.
How soon we forget.
Sure, the current Super Bowl champs struggled a bit on the field this past season, but they managed to put things together at just the right time. That’s part of the legacy the 2018 Patriots leave behind. They also continued to defy the odds of present-day NFL rules and regulations that say, “you can’t do this.” Or at least, “you shouldn’t be able to do this.”
They have. They can. Just like those ’72 Dolphins, who have every right to brag about what they accomplished, even if the rules were different in those days. Why? A few have been close since then, but no one else has matched them.
But these Patriots have. And they’re piling up other numbers – like 10 straight playoff appearances, 15 AFC East titles in the past 16 years, competing in eight consecutive AFC Championship games – that may be more impressive than anything Miami has managed over the long haul.
So, ’72 is cool. It’s their slice of immortality. The ‘Miami Miracle’ from this past season? Yeah, that was a stunner, too. But it was brief and ultimately inconsequential – small-time in the bigger picture. Both were so long ago. What’s happened in the big-picture since?
Take a look at the record book. And what happened in the playoffs this year? You’ll get your picture, and there’s nothing irrelevant about it.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, has concluded his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio & Television Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.