Morris, Shula, '72 Dolphins salute Patriots' success

By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
December 30, 2007

MIAMI (AP) -- Mercury Morris played online football Saturday night, calling plays for the New England Patriots and New York Giants while trying not to think about the stakes.

"I was so busy monitoring my game plan, I didn't have that emotional involvement," said Morris, a 1,000-yard rusher for the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Morris placed 240th out of 1,013 contestants -- not bad, but not as good as the still-perfect Patriots. They rallied to beat the Giants 38-35, completing the first unbeaten regular season since the 1972 Dolphins.

Those Dolphins achieved the NFL's only perfect season by finishing 17-0. Some 35 years later, the Patriots need three postseason wins for 19-0.

"I have to embrace the fact there's a possibility we may have company," Morris said. "But it doesn't change anything about who we are. We'll always have the pole, and they'll have the outside pole."

The perfect-season Dolphins are perceived by some as being jealously protective of their unique achievement. Many of them have acknowledged they're rooting against the Patriots, but they saluted New England for a 16-0 regular season.

"Going undefeated during the regular season is a remarkable achievement," coach Don Shula said in a statement released by the Dolphins. "I know firsthand how difficult it is to win every game, and just as we did in 1972, the Patriots have done a great job concentrating on each week's opponent and not letting any other distractions interrupt that focus."

In November, Shula said the Patriots' success was diminished by their early season spying scandal that prompted stiff punishment from the NFL. In recent weeks he has declined to discuss the subject.

Not all of the 1972 Dolphins were glued to the TV as the Patriots overcame a 12-point second-half deficit. Perfect-season cornerback Tim Foley said he watched only "part of the game."

"It started out really good," Foley said from his home in Tavares, Fla. "But I don't watch much football, and when it started going the other way, I had other things to do. ...

"The thing that makes it less irritating," he said, pausing to chuckle, "is they do play so well together and they're so much like we were, in the sense that the stars were wonderful team players and weren't looking for extra recognition. Everyone played well together, and it was a team. I see a lot of that in those Patriots."

The 1972 Dolphins are divided as to whether the Patriots will finish the season unbeaten.

"I do not believe they'll go 19-0," said 1972 guard Bob Kuechenberg, noting they still have three postseason games to win. Among the teams they may have to beat are the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC champion in the Super Bowl.

"If the Patriots can do all that, my hat is off to them," Kuechenberg said. "They will have earned the right to join us in the ranks of the immortals."

Dick Anderson, who played safety for the 1972 Dolphins, said the Patriots are "very capable" of finishing 19-0.

"They don't make mental errors. They're well coached. They've got a well-oiled machine," Anderson said. "There are a lot of similarities to how we played."

With their comeback win over the Giants, the Patriots surpassed the regular-season win total of the 1972 Dolphins because the NFL schedule is now two games longer.

"I read somewhere where they were going to `eclipse' our record," Kuechenberg said. "I think that's a very careless and disrespectful term. We're not being eclipsed. We're being joined. Perfection is perfection."


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