Which Team Is The Greatest In NFL History?

A group of sports writers at ESPN announced their pick for the greatest team in NFL history. They picked the 1985 Chicago Bears. Their thoughts about the 1972 Dolphins going undefeated? They said, "Ultimately, it's a thin argument". 

Going undefeated is a "thin" argument?

A reporter asked Bill Parcells, then coaching the Patriots, if he thought that the Patriots were better than their record. He responded by saying "No, we're exactly as good as our record". He explained that since winning was the only thing that counted, it didn't matter how fast, how tough or how strong the players were if they didn't win. No team is "better" or "worse" than their record. 

The '72 Dolphins were exactly as good as their record - they were perfect. No  team was perfect before them, none have been perfect since. And nothing else really matters. 

But for those who wish to nitpick, let's look at some of the details. The 1972 Miami Dolphins had the best offense and defense, in terms of yards gained and yards allowed. They also led the league in points scored and points allowed. They were so dominant running the ball, they had two 1,000 yard runners in a 14 game season, and both averaged over 5 yards per carry for the year. The team averaged 4.8 yards per carry running the ball, and averaged over 200 yards per game in rushing.

And while the passing game was overshadowed by the run, the Dolphins' top 3 receivers, Paul Warfield, Howard Twilley and Marlin Briscoe each averaged over 18 yards per catch. Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield averaged 20.9 yards per catch.

After Bob Griese was injured in game 5 of the regular season, the team played 9 regular season games and 1 playoff game with a backup quarterback - Earl Morrall.

In 1972, the No-Name defense allowed an average of just 12.2 points per game. They gave up just 18 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games; and five of those came in the fourth quarter of one-sided routs. The Dolphins intercepted 26 passes, recorded 33 sacks, and allowed NFL lows in yards (3,297) and points (171).

Of the games that Miami played in 1972, only 3 of 14 ended with scores that were within one touchdown. So Miami beat it's opponents convincingly.

In those days, there was no such thing as home field advantage in the playoffs, so the Dolphins had to go Pittsburgh to beat them in the AFC Championship game.

And, of course, they won the Super Bowl. Not just won it, but dominated it.

The bottom line is about what "greatness" really means. Does being "great" just mean being really, really good or does it mean something more? Because if it just means being really good, then the 1973 Dolphins have more of a claim to greatness than the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. Fans, knowledgeable sportswriters and the players themselves generally agree that the 1973 Dolphin team was a better team than their 1972 predecessors. And they're probably right. Although Miami lost two games in the following season (1973), the defense played even better. It allowed a league-low 150 points and 15 touchdowns. It held seven opponents to single-digit scoring. In the team's two losses, to Oakland (12-7) and Baltimore (16-3), the defense allowed only one touchdown. Speaking of great defense, consider this - the Miami defense allowed just 174 points during the 1971 regular season, a year before the Perfect Season.

Greatness is about more than just being really good. It's about more than even being the best in your chosen endeavor. Greatness, after all is said and done, is about going beyond the ordinary boundaries of what's possible and doing something that, under ordinary circumstances, would be impossible. It's about taking the game past its normal limits and showing the world something new... it's about accomplishing something that no one, before or since, has ever accomplished.

Greatness is unique. Many teams have ended the season with just 1 regular season loss and won a Super Bowl. No other team in the entire history of the NFL has ever gone undefeated through an entire season and won the championship.

Greatness is timeless. The achievements of greatness last well beyond the time in which they were accomplished. Merely being the best team in any given year is not timeless, because the players and the game have changed so much over the years. Comparing the 1965 Packers to todays teams is an "apples to oranges" comparison. If you could transport the 1965 Packers to this season, most of the teams in the NFL would squash them. But that does not diminish their accomplishments.

So, to pick the greatest team of all time, you must find a team that is truly unique - one that has accomplished something that no other team in the history of the league has accomplished. Otherwise, the selection has no meaning.

Coach Shula's Thoughts On The Question
"I never have thought the accomplishment has been treated properly in history. "The Forgotten Team," Buoniconti calls it, and that sounds right to me. The Lombardi Packers, the Steel Curtain Steelers, the 49ers of the 1980s - for some reason, those are the teams that seem to get history's first mention as the greatest ever. And, it's true, they were great teams with great achievements. But were any undefeated for a season? Did any go 32-2 en-route to two Super Bowl titles? Isn't that how you measure success?"


So far, Coach Shula and six players from this amazing team are enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame
(Hall of Fame links appear in new windows)

Bob Griese - Quarterback
Griese has been called the "thinking-man's quarterback" for his poised leadership and ingenious play-calling. He led Miami's offensive attack from 1967-80, becoming the 14th passer to reach 25,000 yards throwing in a career. His No. 12 jersey was the first-ever to be retired by the Dolphins. He had a .698 winning percentage (91-39-1) under coach Shula, and earned six Pro Bowl appearances to go with six team Most Valuable Player honors. After becoming eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame in 1985, Griese was named a finalist all five years before becoming inducted in 1990.
Bob Griese's Hall of Fame Page


Larry Csonka - Fullback
Csonka ranks as the Dolphins all-time leading rusher with 1,506 carries for 6,737 yards (4.5 average) and 53 touchdowns. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, he put together three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1971-73), as Miami advanced to the Super Bowl each year. He was named MVP of Super Bowl VIII after carrying 33 times for 145 yards and two TDs, leading the Dolphins to a 24-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. In 2002, "Zonk" became the third Dolphin to have his jersey retired (No. 39). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, his second year of eligibility.
Larry Csonka's Hall of Fame Page


Nick Buoniconti - Line Backer
Buoniconti played linebacker and was the driving force of Miami's famed "No-Name Defense." During his seven years with the Dolphins, the team advanced to three straight Super Bowls (1971-73) and won twice (1972, 1973). The first member of Miami's defense to be elected to the Hall of Fame, Buoniconti joined the team in 1969 after playing seven seasons with the Boston Patriots. During his tenure with the Dolphins, he was named the team's Most Valuable Player three times (1969, 1970, 1973), named to the AFL All-Star Game in 1969, and selected to two Pro Bowls (1973, 1974). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001 after being named for the first time that year as a nominee from the pre-1976 era by the Hall's Senior Committee. 
Nick Buonoconti's Hall of Fame Page.


Paul Warfield - Wide Receiver
Warfield spent his first six seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns before being acquired by Miami in 1970. In his five seasons with the Dolphins, he had 156 receptions for 3,355 yards and 33 TDs - good enough to place him 16th on the team's all-time receiving list. A member of both the 1972 and 73 Super Bowl teams, he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl all five years he was with the Dolphins. Warfield, one of only two Dolphins (along with Mark Ingram) in the team's history to score four touchdowns in one game, also played one season with the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League (1975) before finishing his career with Cleveland (1976-77). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983 in his first year of eligibility.
Paul Warfield's Hall of Fame Page


Larry Little - Offensive Guard
Little entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers for a $750 bonus. He was traded to the Dolphins in 1969, and played with the team at guard for 12 seasons. After starting just four games in two seasons with the Chargers, Little emerged with the Dolphins and played in 158 regular-season games. He also started 12 playoff games for the team and was a key piece of the Dolphins back-to-back Super Bowl teams of 1972 and 1973.
Larry Little's Hall of Fame Page


Jim Langer - Center
Coming out of South Dakota State in 1970, Langer was signed as a free agent by Cleveland but released on the final cut and picked up on waivers by the Dolphins. He was the backup center in 1971, and won the job outright in 1972, keeping it until a knee injury sidelined his career in 1979. He played in a club-high 128 straight games during his career and also had a team-record 109 consecutive starts (a mark broken by Richmond Webb in 1997). Langer was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and holds the distinction of having played every offensive down in Miami's perfect 1972 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987 in his first year of eligibility.
Jim Langer's Hall of Fame Page


Coach Don Shula

  • Became Baltimore Colts head coach at age, 33. The youngest head coach in NFL history up to that time.
  • Led Colts to seven straight winning records
  • Winningest coach in NFL history
  • Career regular-season record: Won 328, Lost 156, Tied 6,   pct: .676
  • Career overall record: Won 347, Lost 173, Tied 6,   pct: .665
  • In 26 years in Miami, he only had two seasons below .500
  • Coached in six Super Bowls, including the first one - before the NFL and AFC merged.
  • Won 2 Super Bowls - 1972 and 1973.
  • Went 32-2 enroute to two consecutive Super Bowl Titles, 1972 and 1973
  • Completed the only 17-0 perfect season in NFL history, 1972.
  • Shula and legendary coach George Halas are the only NFL coaches to win 300 or more career games.
    (Shula - 347, Halas - 324, Landry - 270, Lambeau - 229, Noll - 209)
  • Won 12 AFC East Division Championships: 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1992, 1994, 2000
  • Coached 11 Hall of Fame Players including  Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino.
  • Unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997 in his first year of eligibilty.

Coach Shula's Hall of Fame Page


Hall of Famers from Other Seasons

Dwight Stephenson - Center
Stephenson was an All-American at the University of Alabama, under coach Bear Bryant. Bryant called Stephenson the best player he ever coached, regardless of position. He was drafted by Don Shula and the Dolphins in the second round of the 1980 draft. Although he was used only on special teams until late in the 1981 season, he would become regarded as one of the best centers of all time. With the exceptionally explosive Stephenson as offensive captain, the Dolphins offensive line gave up the least sacks in the NFL for a record 6 straight seasons, from 19821987, which doubled the length of the previous record. Stephenson was voted an All-Pro five consecutive times from 1983 to 1987. He was selected to play on five Pro Bowl squads over the same span. He started at center in the AFC Championship Game three times, in 1982, 1984, and 1985. He was the starting center in the last two Dolphin Super Bowl appearances: Super Bowls XIX and XVII. In 1985, Dwight was the recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In 2005 he was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year. He played for the Miami Dolphins from 1980 until 1987, when his left knee sustained an injury. Despite the brevity of his career, in 1999, he was ranked number 84 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Also, in 1999, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame, for his contributions to sports in southeastern Virginia. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 1998. 
Dwight Stephenson's Hall of Fame Page


Dan Marino - Quarterback
The Miami Dolphins, drafted University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino as their first pick in the 1983 NFL draft. Marino was a bona fide Major League Baseball prospect, both as a pitcher and a shortstop, and was drafted in the fourth round in 1979 by the Kansas City Royals. Five other quarterbacks, including Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and John Elway, had been taken before the Dolphins grabbed Marino with the 27th pick overall. After two earlier relief appearances, Marino became the Dolphins starter in the sixth week of his rookie season and, for the next 17 years, the fortunes of the franchise rode on his shoulders. He took charge of the offense and guided the team to a 12-4 record and the AFC East title. Marino threw 20 touchdowns and recorded a 96.0 passer rating to earn Rookie of the Year honors. He was also named to the first of his nine Pro Bowl selections. His  performance the following season was unlike any seen in NFL history as he guided the Dolphins to a 14-2 record and a division crown.

By the time he retired following the 1999 season, Marino had literally rewritten the passing section of the NFL's record book.

He became the first player ever to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season finishing with a remarkable 5,084 yards. His 48 touchdown passes obliterated the previous record, 36 touchdowns passes held by Y.A. Tittle and George Blanda. By season's end, he had set six league records and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. In the 1984 AFC Championship Game, Marino passed for 421 yards and threw four touchdowns in the Dolphins' 45-28 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, earning his first and only trip to the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XIX, Marino completed 29 of 50 passes for 318 yards, passed for one touchdown and threw two interceptions as the Dolphins fell to the San Francisco 49ers 38-16. 

Marino's passing prowess continued at a record pace and by the end of the 1995 season had supplanted Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton as the career passing leader in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Marino's career totals are staggering as he completed 4,967 of 8,358 passes for 61,361 yards, and threw 420 touchdowns during his 242-game NFL career. Thirteen times in his career Marino passed for 3,000 yards or more in a season which includes the six seasons he reached the 4,000-yard plateau. He passed for 300 yards in a game 63 times and threw for 400 or more yards in a game 13 times.

Marino was named first- or second-team All-Pro eight times and earned All-AFC honors six times. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005..
Dan Marino's Hall of Fame Page


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