Yesterday, we received the unfortunate news that legendary NFL Coach Don Shula passed away. Shula was one of the most iconic figures in the NFL world — showing everyone that the term “impossible” was just a figment of their imagination. Even though he accomplished so much, being a NFL Head Coach for 33 seasons and only having two losing seasons as an example, his greatest career accolade was in the 1972 football season: Where the Miami Dolphins had a perfect season — going 14-0 before the playoffs, and then 3-0 in the post-season to claim a Super Bowl VII victory against the Washington Redskins.
In order to fully understand how Shula got his team to have a perfect season, we must flashback to January of 1972 — the only loss that the Dolphins were handed in that calendar year. The Miami Dolphins had made it to Super Bowl VI, and faced the Dallas Cowboys. In the game, they were obliterated 24-3. This made Shula extremely frustrated.
It was after their loss that Don Shula did not only promise that his team would make it to the Super Bowl the next year, but that they would win it as well. To ensure that his team wanted to win really bad, Shula made the whole roster watch their Super Bowl loss twice in training camp. Many believe that this played a significant role in the team’s source of motivation to win the next season.
Some believe that the ’72 Dolphins only had a perfect season because of their easy schedule, and in some ways they have a point. Because the NFL adjusted schedules by rotating teams back then, the Dolphins’ opponents had an aggregate winning record of .397. They only played two winning teams in the whole season: The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants. In my opinion, this would be a big deal if this Dolphins squad hadn’t won all of the games. But it is a big deal because they had to have immense pressure going out on the field every game, in efforts to maintain a winning season.
But, when all is said and done, only one team has come close to accomplishing what the ’72 Dolphins did. The only team to end with an undefeated season up to the Super Bowl ever since was the 2007 New England Patriots — but even they were upset by the New York Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. The surmounting pressure of playing as an undefeated team is like winning the lottery and then investing all of the winnings back into another, bigger lottery. It’s a huge gamble and it’s easy to lose. The 2007 Patriots fell victim to their pressure and lost in the Super Bowl. The 1972 Dolphins, however, stood tall above the pressure and won in the Super Bowl.
There is an urban legend that whenever the last undefeated team remaining in the NFL Season loses, the 1972 Dolphins team opens bottles of champagne in celebration. Don Shula tried to downplay the legend by saying that a couple of players live near each other and they get together for that. But in a college football broadcast, Bob Griese (Dolphins quarterback of the 1972 season) commented that he and the rest of the former Dolphins squad would have Diet Cokes together following the first loss of the only undefeated team left.
In my opinion, there will never be another perfect NFL Season. The Dolphins took advantage of their opportunity in the early years of the NFL, but now the league is more complicated than it seems. The overall level of competition has risen drastically, and made it almost impossible to go undefeated through the Super Bowl. The only way this could happen is if Patrick Mahomes decided to take a $1 a year salary — to bring in a mass of free agents. Otherwise, Don Shula and the 1972 Dolphins will be the only coach and team to ever have a perfect season.