THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Fish story is getting old

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 21, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - Harry Truman was dying. Landslide winner Richard Nixon was awaiting his second inauguration. American astronauts were getting ready to leave the moon after a three-day stay. Bill Belichick was a sophomore at Wesleyan and Tiaina Baul Seau Jr. was 3 years old, living in American Samoa.

It was December 1972 and Rodney Harrison was born one day before Don Shula's Miami Dolphins beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-0, to complete a perfect regular season (14-0).

Fast-forward 35 years and we have the New England Patriots sitting on a 14-0 record, preparing to play the no-longer-great Dolphins (1-13) in a quest to supersede the perfection of 1972. The NFL regular season has expanded to 16 games and the Patriots have a chance to vault past the '72 flippers this weekend at Gillette. (Wonder if Bill Parcells can make the Dolphins a threat between now and Sunday afternoon.)

There's great symmetry here. The Patriots are stalking history and they have a chance to replace the '72 Dolphins in part by beating the pathetic progeny of Shula's supermen.

It's been hard to get anyone in the New England locker room to talk about the quest for perfection. Belichick's success is owed to playing one game at a time. Patriot players are trained to believe that looking ahead can only bring trouble. But the game in front of them now is the game that will break the Dolphins' regular-season record.

Belichick knows more football history than the assembled talking heads of ESPN, HBO, CBS, and Fox, but he's usually reluctant to admit the obvious when his current team is part of the discussion. Yesterday, he allowed some questions about the 1972 Dolphins.

"I think everybody that followed football saw that," said Belichick. "I was a big fan of Coach Shula from when he was at Baltimore and his association with my dad, going all the way back to when they were in Ohio . . . The team they had was an awesome team and they were fun to watch. They had a great style of play that I think we all remember with Csonka and Kiick and Griese and Warfield and what they did on defense. I think everybody that watched football . . . I think you're aware of watching that team and Coach Shula."

Shula got our attention after Spygate when he said the Patriots should have an asterisk attached to their record if they ran the table. The old coach has since retreated from the remark, but he was clearly rooting against New England when he visited ESPN's booth during the Monday night game in Baltimore. Belichick said the two had dinner during the offseason, but have not spoken this season.

Belichick's extensive football library, donated to the Naval Academy last year, includes numerous histories of the NFL's greatest team. (Wonder if he has Garo Yepremian's "Tales from the Miami Dolphins.") He hasn't scanned his Dolphin books recently, but we're pretty sure he knows about 14-0 (regular season) and 17-0 (after Super Bowl VII).

Members of the '72 Dolphins have earned their reputation as the grumpy old men of modern sports. They openly root against any team that threatens their record. They pop champagne corks when challengers lose.

Mercury Morris has been milking the unbeaten season for decades and this month made himself more available and obnoxious than Curt Schilling. According to the Dolphins' publicist, none of the '72 players plan to be at Gillette other than former tight end Jim Mandich, who serves as one of the team's radio broadcasters.

If Bob Kraft had any sense of humor, he'd donate a luxury box and fly some of the '72 warriors here. It would be worth the expense just to see their faces when the Patriots steamroll the Dolphins to improve to 15-0.

Seau, who played three seasons in Miami, said, "They have a great history in Miami and it's something we need to know. When you are there, you have Don Shula over your head. And you respect that. I respect everything they did and we're not even close to doing what they were able to do."

Heath Evans played six games for the 2005 Dolphins, grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., and has great reverence for the fabled fish of the 1970s. Two years ago, his wife gave him an autographed No. 39 Larry Csonka jersey.

"We just moved so I don't have it out now, but it will wind up in my office or my weight room," said the Patriots fullback.

Larry Izzo was with the Dolphins from 1996-2000 and said, "The '72 season is something they will always be proud of and those guys are still around the team. You see Shula and Mandich and other guys. It was never overlooked when I was there and I doubt that it is today."

Beating the 2007 Dolphins should be easy.

But Belichick and the Patriots know that it's going to take 19-0 to overtake the '72 fish.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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