Shula being overprotective of Miami's unbeaten season

The Baltimore Sun

We protect our babies. We swaddle them in love and defend them with fangs bared. So when Don Shula lobs grenades from the mountaintop, it's somewhat understandable.

Because the New England Patriots threaten Shula's baby.

No NFL team before the 1972 Miami Dolphins or since has completed an undefeated season. The 1989 San Francisco 49ers, with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice on offense, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley on defense, and Steve Young as a backup, didn't do it.

The 1985 Chicago Bears, who had nine Pro Bowl players and crushed opponents 91-10 in the postseason, didn't do it.

The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers, who had nine Hall of Fame players, didn't do it.

They were awe-inspiring.

But they weren't perfect.

Only the '72 Dolphins played the perfect season, and though they beat only two teams with a winning record during the regular season, and though seven or fewer points decided all three of their postseason games, they earned a parcel of real estate atop Olympus that no other team could claim.

Now, it appears the Patriots could build a shrine to perfection that encroaches on the '72 Dolphins'. But Shula told the New York Daily News that if the Patriots go undefeated, an asterisk should be affixed to their achievement.

"I don't know how people can't agree with that," Shula told the newspaper.

"The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished," he said.

"You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it."

Shula is protecting his baby, but paternal instincts and pride cloud his judgment.

Shula neglects to mention this: Spygate was exposed in the Patriots' first game, a 38-7 win over the Jets; because the videotape was confiscated at halftime, no illegal advantage was gained by the Patriots ... despite their worst efforts.

Does anyone think after the loss of a first-round draft choice, fines totaling $750,000 and healthy servings of public embarrassment that Bill Belichick and the Patriots continue to flout these rules?

Of course not.

If Shula speculated about the legitimacy of the Patriots' three Super Bowl titles, we would at least be willing to listen.

But to suggest the Patriots are cheating their way toward history is unfounded. Even members of the '72 Dolphins disagree with Shula.

"An asterisk?" Manny Fernandez, a defensive tackle on the '72 Dolphins, rhetorically asked The Palm Beach Post. "Personally, I don't think there's a need for one.

"Put an asterisk next to our record. We only played 14 games instead of 16. There's all kinds of ways to go back and forth."

"I wish he hadn't said it because we're not bitter about anybody else accomplishing what we did," Dick Anderson, a defensive back on the '72 Dolphins, told the newspaper. "If they go 19-0, I think it's a terrific accomplishment."

If Shula wants to cast aspersions on Belichick's ethics, have at it.

If he wants to argue his Dolphins were better than these Patriots, I would respectfully disagree but would like to hear his case.

But Shula's claim that the Patriots' thwarted attempt at cheating in their first game helped win the rest is groundless.

Defending your baby is one thing. Attacking a team without just cause is quite another.

Brian Ettkin writes for the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union.

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