By Jeff Merron
Page 2

When the Colts won their 10th straight game Nov. 20, they became only the 10th team in the Super Bowl era -- that's 40 years -- to achieve that distinction.

Five of the previous nine teams won the Super Bowl: the 1972 Dolphins, the 1985 Bears, the 1990 Giants, the 1991 Redskins and the 1998 Broncos.

Among those teams, only the 1972 Dolphins finished the regular season undefeated, going 14-0. No other team has matched that mark; the 1998 Broncos opened with 13 straight wins before finishing 14-2. The 1985 Bears also came close, finishing 15-1 -- but their loss came after 12 straight wins.

If the Colts do lose a game this season (or, to be more realistic, when), a group of '72 Dolphins alums will gather and drink champagne, toasting themselves for continuing to hold a unique distinction for yet another season. They'll also ship a case of champagne to the team which knocks off the Colts.

The Spano-Germanic term for that kind of celebration is machoschadenfreude. Year after year, the old '72 Dolphins celebrate another team's loss, which means they'll always be legendary -- as the most insecure great team in pro sports history.

We don't have a crystal ball, though, and have no idea how the Colts will do from here on out. But Google has the parity-era NFL pegged: When I pressed the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button after typing in "undefeated football team," I was led to … the official Cincinnati Bengals site. Go figure.

That doesn't bode well for the Colts, because the Google folks do know probability and statistics. But they don't know history quite as well, and the history of the modern NFL suggests the Colts will lose before a potential playoff meeting with the Bengals. Here's what happened to those nine other 10-0 teams.

1969 Rams
Season-opening winning streak: 11
Broken by: the Vikings, in Los Angeles. Final score: Vikings 20, Rams 13.
Final record: 11-3
Playoffs: The Rams lost to the Vikings again, in the NFL divisional playoffs (first round), 23-20.

Did you know?

Rams owner Dan Reeves had fired head coach George Allen after the 1968 season, but was forced to rehire Allen after Roman Gabriel, Deacon Jones, Charlie Cowan, and several other players said they'd retire if Allen wasn't their coach.

The Vikings ran their own winning streak to 11 when they beat the Rams. They apparently weren't intimidated by the L.A. Coliseum crowd of 80,430 or the banners reading "Knock the Ell Out of Eller," and (I am not making this up), "Go Rams -- Beat Thor!"

The Rams were outscored 61-20 in the process of losing their final three contests.

Also:
Gabriel played "Blue Boy," in the John Wayne western "The Undefeated," which came out on Nov. 27, 1969. Ten days later, the Rams were no longer "The Undefeated," bowing to the Vikings on Dec. 7

1972 Dolphins
Season-opening winning streak: 14-0 Broken by: The Dolphins remain the only undefeated team in NFL history.
Final record: 17-0 (including playoffs)
Playoffs: The Fins edged the Browns 20-14 and the Steelers 21-17 before beating the Redskins 14-7 in the Super Bowl.

Did you know?

The Dolphins had the top offense and the top defense in the NFL in 1972, leading the NFL in points and fewest points allowed. They outscored their opponents by a total of 214 points, an average margin of victory of 14 points.

But the Dolphins came mighty close to losing in the season's third game. Down 14-6 against Minnesota with 4½ minutes to go, Miami rallied with a 51-yard Garo Yepremian field goal followed by a touchdown drive.

Only two of Miami's regular-season opponents, the Giants and the Chiefs, finished 1972 with winning records.

The Dolphins clinched the Eastern Division title on Nov. 19, coming back in the fourth quarter to beat the Jets 28-24.

Earl Morrall -- not Bob Griese -- took the most snaps at QB for Miami. The Dolphins picked up the 38-year-old Morrall on waivers for $100 before the season. He took over as starter after Griese broke a bone in his right leg in Week 5, and completed 55 percent of his passes, averaging a terrific 9.1 yards per attempt. Morrall also started the first two playoff games, but Griese was given the start in the Super Bowl.

The Dolphins set an NFL team rushing record with 2,951 yards, and were the first NFL team to boast two 1,000-yard runners in one season (Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris).

The Redskins were two-point favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Also:
Morris rushed for exactly 1,000 yards, gaining 9 yards after the finish of the regular season. Morris had fallen short of the mark in the season's final game, finally hobbling off the field with leg injuries. On Dec. 21, the NFL reviewed a play from the Dolphins' Oct. 22 win over the Browns. On the play, the officials ruled that Morris had fumbled an Earl Morrall lateral and was charged with a 9-yard rushing loss. Upon review, the commissioner's office charged the loss to Morrall. It was the first and only time Morris reached the 1,000-yard mark. But it was no fluke -- Morris finished his career with an average of 5.1 yards per carry.

1975 Vikings
Season-opening winning streak: 10
Broken by: the Redskins, in Washington, 31-30.
Final record: 12-2
Playoffs: Lost in first round, the NFC divisional playoffs. Cowboys 17, Vikings 14.

Did you know?

Against the 'Skins, the Vikings came back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to take a 30-24 lead in the fourth quarter. Redskins QB Billy Kilmer then spearheaded a 71-second, 77-yard TD drive in the final two minutes to put Washington in the lead. The Vikings had one final chance to win with five seconds left, but on the final play of the game, Redskins defensive end Ron McDole blocked a 28-yard Fred Cox field goal attempt. The usually reliable Cox had missed his second field goal of the game -- and had earlier missed an extra point attempt.

Nine of the 10 opponents the Vikings had defeated during their winning streak had losing records.

1984 Dolphins
Season-opening winning streak: 11
Broken by: the Chargers, at San Diego. Chargers 34, Dolphins 28 in OT.
Final record: 14-2
Playoffs: Lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl, 38-16.

Did you know?

The loss to the Chargers ended the Dolphins' 16-game regular-season winning streak, the second-longest in NFL history at the time -- behind the 1933-34 Chicago Bears.

In the Chargers' win, Dan Fouts set Chargers team records with 37 completions and 56 pass attempts. It was his 40th 300-yard game. Meanwhile, Dan Marino completed his 31st and 32nd TD passes of the season, closing in on the mark of 36 held by George Blanda and Y.A. Tittle with four games remaining.

In 1984, Marino set a record by passing for 5,084 yards; he also set a record for most TD passes in a season, with 48 (broken last year by Peyton Manning). His primary Marks, wide receivers Clayton and Duper, each topped 1,300 receiving yards. Clayton averaged 19 yards a catch, Duper 18.4. Kicker Uwe von Schamann made only 9 of 19 field goal attempts the entire season.

1985 Bears
Season-opening winning streak: 12
Broken by: the Dolphins, at Miami, 38-24.
Final record: 15-1
Playoffs: Shut out the Giants 21-0 in the divisional playoff; shut out the Rams 24-0 in the NFC title game; pummeled the Pats 46-10 in the Super Bowl.

Did you know?

Coming into the Dolphins game, the Bears had a run of 13 straight quarters without surrendering a TD. Four minutes into the game, that streak was over, and the Dolphins went on to score 31 points in the first half of their streak-busting win at the Orange Bowl.

But the Bears kept one streak alive: Walter Peyton set an NFL record, rushing 23 times for 121 yards for his eighth consecutive 100-plus-yard game.

Marino toyed with the Bears' fabled "46" defense (named after former Bear Doug Plank, who wore No. 46), completing 14 of 27 passes for 270 yards and three TDs.

The game was crucial for the Dolphins in at least two ways: By winning, they tied for first in the AFC East -- and they didn't have to deal with Csonka, Bob Kuechenberg and Jim Kiick prowling the sidelines in existential angst.

Plenty of mud was slung before the game. "This is what the Refrigerator did to become famous," Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen wrote of William Perry. "He took a football, ran 3 feet and fell down. It doesn't sound like much, but when you're 307 pounds, this is all the excitement you can stand."

The much-hyped game set a "Monday Night Football" ratings record (which still stands), with 70 million fans tuning in to the broadcast, shattering a mark set during a Redskins-Cowboys matchup in 1978.

Also:
O.J. Simpson, who shared the record of seven consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing games with Earl Campbell, was in the booth that night as one of ABC's broadcasters. In the last 70 seconds of the game, the Bears called three timeouts in order to get the ball back from the Fins, so that Payton, who then had 98 yards, could break the mark. When he did it, Simpson, laughing, said, "Another one bites the dust."

1990 Giants
Season-opening winning streak: 10-0
Broken by: the Eagles, at Philadelphia, 31-13.
Final record: 13-3
Playoffs: Beat the Bears (31-3), the 49ers (15-13) and the Bills (20-19) in the Super Bowl.

Did you know?

The Giants and 49ers both had 10-0 marks going into the weekend of Nov. 27, and were slated to meet the following Monday night in a game some were already anticipating as "Super Bowl XXIV 1/2." If both teams had won, it would have been the first matchup of 11-0 teams in NFL history. Both teams lost.

The Eagles were battling for a playoff berth, and, as always, no love was lost between the teams. The Giants were concerned for the health of Phil Simms, because the Eagles had a reputation for injuring QBs: in the previous three games, the Eagles contributed to game-ending injuries for Pats QB Steve Grogan, Redskins QBs Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries, and Falcons QB Chris Miller.

Eagles strong safety Andre Waters boasted, "If I was a quarterback and I saw the quarterbacks getting knocked out the past three games, I think I'd take note of it." Surely, players took note of Waters' reputation for dirty play. He'd been fined $10,000 for taking a shot at Rich Gannon's knees in a mid-October contest against the Vikings. And during the Giants game, Newsday later reported, he threatened to take out Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, who'd had surgery on his left knee. Bavaro caught a short pass during the second quarter, and was taken down by Waters at the knees. "I didn't get it that time," Waters reportedly said, "but I'm going to get it the next time. I know which knee it is." Bavaro later fought with Waters and grabbed umpire Dave Hamilton's jersey, for which he was later fined $7,500.

The Giants-Eagles contest was close for three quarters. Then, early in the fourth quarter, with Philadelphia leading 17-13, the Eagles scored a TD when Randall Cunningham, working from the Giants' 6-yard line, tossed to rookie Fred Barnett. Barnett couldn't hold on, but his tipped ball was grabbed by fellow rookie Calvin Williams. Twenty-two seconds later, Eagles middle linebacker Byron Evans intercepted a Simms pass for another score.

Count on Giants great Lawrence Taylor for perspective: "If you're saying we're a sorry team," he told reporters after the game, "there are 27 sorrier teams than we are."

1990 49ers
Season-opening winning streak: 10
Broken by: the Los Angeles Rams, at San Francisco, 28-17.
Final record: 14-2
Playoffs: Beat the Redskins (28-10), lost to the Giants 15-13 in the NFC Championship Game.

Did you know?

The Niners, defending Super Bowl champs, were rolling on an 18-game winning streak. They hadn't lost a game in more than a year, their last defeat having come on Nov. 19, 1989.

The lowly Rams were 3-7 coming into the game.

When Dolphins head coach Don Shula heard about the Giants and 49ers both losing, he was thrilled, saying later that week that the 1972 team still took great pride in being the only undefeated team in NFL history. "The record speaks for itself," he added, possibly referring to an NFL Films computer simulation, released in 1989, that had the 1972 Dolphins losing to the 1978 Steelers.

The following week, the 49ers beat the Giants 7-3 in the first NFL game broadcast live in Great Britain. Those who stayed up for the 2 a.m. kickoff were treated to 16 punts and, as the London Times opined, "a contest that turned out to be as lifeless as King Tut's family tree." The Giants won the all-important rematch, though, beating the 49ers in San Francisco to win the NFC title.

1991 Redskins
Season-opening winning streak: 11
Broken by: the Cowboys, at Washington, 24-21.
Final record: 14-2
Playoffs: Beat the Falcons (24-7), Lions (41-10) and Bills (37-24) in the Super Bowl.

Did you know?

The Cowboys (6-5 entering the game) ended the Redskins' streak by winning their third game in four years at RFK Stadium, and their 10th game out of the past 17 in D.C. The Cowboys were aided by a successful Hail Mary at the end of the first half. But they also got one serious bad break, losing Troy Aikman to a sprained right knee at the start of the second half. But backup Steve Beuerlein finished the game in style, completing 7 of 12 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Michael Irvin torched Redskins great Darrell Green, catching nine passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

As usual, the 1972 Dolphins fielded plenty of questions before the game. "Let me tell you something," Nick Buoniconti told the Washington Post. "In 1972, there were outstanding players on both sides. People just didn't realize how great a team we had. Some people still don't give us credit, and I find that hard to believe. What we did was something I don't think will ever be done again."

1998 Broncos
Season-opening winning streak: 13
Broken by: the Giants, at the Meadowlands, 20-16.
Final record: 14-2
Playoffs: Beat the Dolphins 38-3, Jets 23-10 and Falcons 34-19 in the Super Bowl.

Did you know?

The mediocre Giants (5-8 entering the game) beat the Broncos on a controversial pass play. With less than one minute left and the Broncos leading 16-13, Amani Toomer wrestled a pass away from Broncos cornerback Tito Paul at the back of the end zone. Initially, it was ruled an incomplete pass, but the officials huddled and reversed the call.

The following week, the Broncos lost to the Dolphins. It was a big game that could have been much, much bigger, and it cost some former Dolphins a payday. Mercury Morris told the Rocky Mountain News that he, Larry Csonka, Don Shula, and Bob Griese had been slated to do a Nike commercial that would have hyped the 14-0 Broncos' visit to Miami. "I don't think we'll be doing it now," Morris said.

Csonka apparently didn't need the payday as much as Morris. Prior to the game, he said, "Aside from wishing [the Broncos] no serious injuries, I really wouldn't mind if they got a mild case of food poisoning."

The loss also cost Broncos running back Terrell Davis. A victory would have meant a day off -- and the taping of a segment with Elmo and Telly Monster for a 30th anniversary "Sesame Street" special. No go: The Broncos had to practice Monday because of the loss.

In 1998, Broncos backup QB Bubby Brister's 99.0 QB rating was higher than John Elway's. Brister, who was an ace sub for the injured Elway early in the season, completed 78 of 131 passes (59.5 percent) for 986 yards and 10 TDs. Brister also outran Elway, carrying 19 times for 102 yards. (Elway finished with 94 yards rushing.) According to Sports Illustrated, Brister motivated his teammates in the huddle by saying, "All right, [expletive], I'm not John, so get your asses in gear."


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