Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Here's to Perfection

  The Green Bay Packers lost their chance for an undefeated season when they lost 29-14 in Kansas City by the Chiefs on Sunday. The Chiefs chances of pulling off this upset were boosted considerably when Head Coach Todd Haley was fired less than a year after taking the team to the playoffs. With their coach fired, the only way for the players to prove that the reason for the teams’ disappointing 5-8 record was the coach and not the players was to give their very best effort. That, the calming stewardship of interim coach Romeo Crennel, and the return of recently acquired quarterback Kyle Orton from his broken finger proved to be just enough to stifle the Packers great QB Aaron Rodgers and take the victory.

   The Chief fans are elated by the victory and rightly so, but I wonder why a coach in only his third year is fired when he won the division in his second year? The Chiefs lost Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, quarterback Matt Cassell, and budding superstar tight end Tony Moeaki to injury earlier this season. General Manager Scott Pioli managed to pick up a serviceable quarterback (Orton), who promptly broke his thumb in his first game, leaving the quarterback chores in the shaky hands of one Tyler Palko. I’m assuming Haley had some sort of problems getting along with the players or Pioli, but since Pioli was the one who hired Haley less than 3 years ago, how long will it be till the former New England boy wonder’s judgment comes under question?

   I was one of the many who thought the Packers would win all their regular season games, especially after their last second victory in the Meadowlands against the Giants. I was watching the Kansas City game and it appeared to me the defending Super Bowl champs were upended by injuries on the offensive line which played into the hands of a hungry team intent on pressuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an offense that found a couple of trick screen plays to tight end Leonard Pope that went for 35+ yards each.

   The pundits are now talking about how Green Bay’s weaknesses have been exposed and how vulnerable they will be in the playoffs, but I’m not buying it. I like how the Packers didn’t shirk from their quest to go undefeated, unlike the Colts of the last few years who went 13-0 AND 14-0, twice took it easy and played to lose in the final weeks, and twice failed to win the Super Bowl (I wrote about it here). The Patriots kept pushing for their undefeated season and were only stopped by a talented, desperate, and very lucky Giants team in the last 2 minutes of the Super Bowl.

  This year’s Packers remind me a lot of the 1998 Denver Broncos, who were also defending Super Bowl champions (both winning from the wild card spot), and also started 13-0 in defense of their super bowl. The Broncos lost their 14th game of the year to the Giants in the last 2 minutes and only after their undefeated season was over did they rest their starters for the last 2 games to get ready for the playoffs. The Broncos cruised to the Super Bowl and I expect the Packers to do the same, barring an injury to Rodgers. They have the talent and have shown they have the will to compete in every game and expect to win every game and that leads me to expect a Green Bay Super Bowl again this year.

  Lost in the Packers first loss is another year of the 1972 Miami Dolphin’s record as the only undefeated team in NFL history. The surviving members of that squad annually have a champagne toast when there are no undefeated teams left in the NFL and they tend to be derided for celebrating other team’s losses. Ever since the Patriots managed to go through the regular season unbeaten, I think there has been far less attention paid to the Dolphins and their perfect season of 40 years ago. But each season that goes by without an undefeated team underscores just how difficult it is for a team to go undefeated and how awesome the Dolphin’s accomplishment was.

   I saw (or heard on the radio) at least half the Dolphins games that year and they were a powerhouse, smashmouth team, belying their white uniforms with the fish on the helmet. The Dolphin’s would run inside with brusier Larry Czonka and Jim Kiick behind an all-pro offensive line. When the defense would eventually try to plug the middle, then the Dolphins would run a sweep with speedster Mercury Morris or a play-action pass to Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. The defense was led by a ball-hawking secondary and bend but don’t break defense that put a premium on making the opponents offense drive down the field in small chunks, knowing they would eventually be able to force a mistake. The Dolphins even lost their Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese to a broken leg for over half the season and still won all their games. Compare that with last year’s playoff teams like the Chiefs, Bears, and Colts who went into the tank this year as soon as they had to turn to their backup quarterback.

  The only game I thought the Dolphins were in danger of losing all year long was the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh against the then inexperienced Steeler squad who would win 4 Super Bowls later in the decade. The Dolphins were trailing in the second half, but Griese came off the bench and rallied his team to victory. Like all great teams, the Dolphins could win in any number of ways. They chose to keep the game under control and grind out wins by running and relying on their great defense, but they could out score their opponents if needed. Being behind by a touchdown to the Dolphins that year was like being behind 2 or 3 touchdowns to another team. The Jets played them twice and the Giants once. Once they fell behind, the game seemed over because it was next to impossible to get the ball back and once they did they could barely move the ball against the great Dolphin defense.

  The Dolphins perfect season is maligned by some, who say they had one of the weakest schedules of any Super Bowl winner and during the regular season only had to play 2 teams with winning records. They were so lightly thought of during their undefeated run that they were underdogs to the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. But they played every team on their schedule and won, which no team in the last 40 years have been able to do. If the 1972 Dolphins come off as arrogant in celebrating their perfection, it’s OK with me. Here’s to the Dolphins who are still the only undefeated team in NFL history and the Packers for not taking the easy way out in their (unsuccessful) pursuit of perfection.