It dawned on me Monday night that those are two teams with which I am rather intimately familiar with, putting me in a rather unique position to play the comparison game. An exercise I believe eventually will leave New England standing alone in NFL history. But first, let me explain my vantage point of the debate about where these Patriots are headed.
The Don Shula-led Dolphins of the early 1970s were my boyhood team. To grow up in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the pre-Tampa Bay Bucs era was to be a Dolphins fan, because the entire Sunshine State bled aqua, orange and white in those days, getting every Miami game on TV. I was a fourth-grader during that magical '72 season, and I was obsessed with the Dolphins' trek to perfection, filling scrapbooks with newspaper clippings of their unbeatable exploits (scrapbooks that I still have, somewhere buried in a box in the basement).
I knew those Dolphins of Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Jake Scott, MannyFernandez, Garo Yepremian and Paul Warfield like they were immediate family, but I treated them far more respectfully than that. I had their pictures tacked on my bedroom wall, a ratty old Dolphins pennant hung over my bed, and my stack of football cards always had Miami players on top. My oldest brother, a Baltimore Colts fan from the days when Shula coached them, spent the entire '72 season predicting doom and defeat for my unblemished Dolphins. But they never lost, Doug, and they never will.
Skip ahead 26 years, and by 1998 I was in my third season as the Vikings beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I watched, reported and wrote every week about those high-flying Vikings with Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Minnesota scored so relentlessly and so easily in their 15-1 regular season, it seemed almost unfair to defenses.
The Vikings' favorite play was sending Moss on a go route, with Cunningham lobbing the ball up and letting No. 84 either run under it or pluck it out of the sky amidst two or three defenders who never could jump quite as high as the freakish rookie. There was a playground quality to the offense that year, and only a 27-24 Week 9 loss at Tampa Bay stood between them and their own run at a perfect season.
Nine more years have passed, and now here I am again, both covering and watching history unfold. This time, I live in Boston, and the steamrolling Patriots are the hometown team that carries with them both an air of invincibility and inevitability. They score whenever they feel like it, and an older and wiser Moss is at it again, pulling Tom Brady touchdown passes out of the sky, as if he was a high school senior somehow allowed to play in a Pop Warner league game.
New England is off to its first 7-0 start in the franchise's 48-year history, and those wins have been by an average of 22.7 points. The Patriots aren't just defeating teams, they're destroying them, burying opponents beneath an avalanche of points. They show mercy to no one, and are on a pace that would obliterate the Vikings scoring record by a whopping 82 points (638 to 556, or five-plus more per game than Minnesota).
We're watching history in the making, folks. All of which leads me, after just seven weeks of this 2007 season, to a few screaming-headline conclusions. They're bold declarations to be sure, but they're based on what I've seen of those Miami and Minnesota teams in the past, and what I'm seeing from the Patriots now, even before the arrival of their titanic showdown at Indianapolis in Week 9.
Cue the drumroll, please:
• I believe these Patriots will go 16-0 in the regular season, and then march through the playoffs to become the first 19-0 team in NFL history. Write it down and underline it twice. They're that good, and they're that motivated.
I already picked them to win the Super Bowl last May, but now I'm going even further. Move over, Miami. After 35 years of solitude, you're going to have company in the perfect-season club. The Pats will beat the Colts in two weeks, and then everyone else in their path this season.
• I believe we just saw the most dominant seven-game stretch of offensive football ever, with New England's 279 points (39.9 per game) setting the Patriots up to demolish the Vikings' scoring record at some point in December. New England needs to average 30.8 ppg over its final nine games to beat Minnesota's 556, and Brady and Co. will get it done. With flair, and points to spare.
• I believe these Patriots will stack up in history as a better, more dominant overall team than the '72 Dolphins, the team (sniff, sniff) of my childhood. Miami that season never faltered. But the Dolphins were also far from overwhelming. They won six of their 17 games by seven points or fewer, and nine by 10 points or fewer. Only four times all season did Miami post a blowout win of 21 points or more. New England this season, we remind you, is winning by an average of 22.7 points per game, with six of their seven victories by 21 points or more.
Bit off quite a mouthful with this one, didn't I? Seven weeks in, it sounds preposterous to project these Patriots to stand alongside or even beat the perfect-season Dolphins of 1972. And for a New England team that famously cares little about statistics or setting records -- only winning -- the idea that the 1998 Vikings and their single-season scoring mark is in its sights is near blasphemous.
No matter. I didn't say the Patriots care one whit about beating out the '72 Dolphins or the '98 Vikings. I don't believe they do. But that doesn't mean they won't still supplant them en route to their fourth Super Bowl title in the past seven years. It'll just come naturally in the process of keeping their eyes on the prize.
History in the making. That's what we're watching unfold in New England this season. Remember, you heard it here first.