Protecting perfection

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Don Shula was about as transparent as a Macy's store-front window with his recent suggestion that a perfect season in New England this year should come with an asterisk in light of the Patriots' illegal videotaping episode in Week 1.

Let's not forget, the Dolphins' Hall of Fame head coach has been chafing about the Patriots' cheating for 25 years, ever since Ron Meyer sent that inmate driving a snow-plow onto the field in Foxboro to clear a path for a game-winning John Smith field goal. Shula's indignation has no bounds when it comes to that 1982 incident, but his latest attempt to both strike back at New England and protect the singular legacy of his 17-0 Dolphins of 1972 is beneath him.

First off, the chronology of his asterisk argument is fatally flawed. If Shula wants to question the legitimacy of the Patriots' success before their videotaping habits were exposed, have at it. He wouldn't be the first voice heard on that front. Fair or unfair, that's the blot on New England's legacy that Bill Belichick inspired with his blatant disregard for the league's rules. The NFL has unintentionally fed that perception by not revealing how far back the Patriots' covert videotaping went back, or how extensively it was used, thereby leaving room for doubt about New England's three three-point Super Bowl wins.

But Shula is lobbying for an asterisk on this year's Patriots, even though he knows New England was caught at halftime of Week 1, before their "scouting'' had any chance to provide a competitive advantage against the Jets. Something tells me that if the Patriots were 8-1 this year, Shula would neither have had an opinion about New England's 2007 season, nor would he have been asked for one.

By invoking the Barry Bonds comparison, Shula tried to give legitimacy to his claim that New England's accomplishment will be tainted this year. But Bonds inspired talk of an asterisk because he pursued and set baseball's career home-run record while clearly playing under the cloud of suspicion that he used performance-enhancing substances. It was a multi-year record, not a one-season mark as in the case of the Patriots.

Until Shula comes up with evidence New England has cheated its way to its nine wins this season, the Bonds-Belichick analogy doesn't fly with me, unless you're trying to make the case the entire body of Belichick's work from 2000-2006 is tainted. That's what Colts head coach Tony Dungy was suggesting in Week 2 when he invoked the Bonds comparison when asked about the Patriots' scandal. Not that New England deserved an asterisk being placed on whatever accomplishments it produced in 2007. That's a big distinction, and one not to be glossed over the way Shula so willingly did.

I think Shula is obviously worried about these Patriots joining his Dolphins -- and hey, let's be honest, topping them if New England goes 19-0 -- and thereby losing sole claim to the perfect season fame he and his players have proudly, and sometimes grudgingly, guarded for 35 years. Everyone knows Shula's ego is big enough to have its own zip code, and it's hard to ignore the irony of the ex-coach -- who always took 'em one at a time -- looking so far down the road he feels the need to go pre-emptive with his asterisk campaign despite New England being only 9-0.

What's the rush, Don? I mean, the Patriots are still 10 wins shy of perfection, right? And besides, your Dolphins rescued you from those pesky '85 Bears, and I'm sure they'll do it again in that Week 16 Miami at New England matchup, with Cleo Lemon or John Beck heroically filling the role of Dan Marino.

On second thought, now I see why Shula's getting way out front with all that asterisk stuff.

• I have to admit, I'm starting to really look forward to the potential of an icy Lombardi Trophy presentation in the desert next February. The prospect of Belichick and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- the man who fined him a half-mill and took away a first-round draft pick in the Spy-Gate affair -- sharing a stage in Glendale, Ariz., could make for the most awkward post-Super Bowl moment since commissioner Pete Rozelle and Raiders owner Al Davis had to make nice for the cameras while their court fight raged on.

• As the Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn question continues to deepen and get more interesting in Cleveland, it has the potential to be an echo of the situation Washington found itself in with Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte in 1994.

That year, the Redskins chose Shuler third overall out of Tennessee, and then selected Frerotte as a seventh-round afterthought, 197th overall out of Tulsa. Shuler held out during training camp, which allowed Frerotte to get a lot of preseason snaps he otherwise probably wouldn't have gotten. Frerotte not only made the regular-season roster, he went on to beat out Shuler for the starting job, holding the No. 1 post until Trent Green replaced him in 1998. Shuler's ill-fated Redskins tenure was over in two years.

This year in Cleveland, Quinn went 22nd overall, but held out of camp while Anderson and Charlie Frye split snaps. Once Frye was shipped off to Seattle after the Browns' opening-day home loss to Pittsburgh, Anderson (a sixth-round pick of Baltimore's in 2005) emerged as the No. 1, and his surprisingly strong play has kept Quinn on the sidelines throughout the first half of his rookie season.

In both cases, a training camp holdout designed to squeeze a little more money out of the team's coffers could wind up having very unintended consequences for a big-name, big-money, first-round quarterback. Interestingly, both Shuler and Quinn had the same agent: Tom Condon, one of the more experienced names in the business and frequent representative of first-round QBs.

It's still early, but Anderson could wind up making the AFC Pro-Bowl roster as the conference's third quarterback, behind guys named Brady and Manning. What if he does become an all-star, or even better, leads the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002? As far as the future in Cleveland, it could be a Frerotte over Shuler situation all over again.

The moral of a story that's still unfolding? Training camp holdouts might produce another zero or two on the signing bonus, but they can also contribute to turning a quarterback of the future into a quarterback whose best opportunity may have passed him by.

• What in the name of Marty Schottenheimer is going on out west? Why is it so hard for anyone to win in the west in today's NFL? Got me.

Of the eight teams in the league's two West divisions, three of them are at .500 and the other five are losers at midseason. Seattle in NFC, and Kansas City and San Diego in the AFC "lead'' the way at 4-4. Denver and Arizona are 3-5, while the Bay Area contingent of Oakland and San Francisco are a pitiful 2-6. The beleaguered Rams are in a class of their own at 0-8.

All six of the NFL's other divisions have at least one winning team, and some have as many as three. Combined, the two West divisions are 22-42, a woeful winning percentage of .344. The Seahawks, Chargers and Chiefs all made the playoffs last year, but the Cardinals haven't reached the postseason since 1998, and San Francisco and Oakland last qualified in 2002. The Rams are bound for a third consecutive non-playoff season, and the Broncos are in jeopardy of missing the dance in consecutive years for the first time since 2001-2002.

• Raise your hand if this offseason you had Terrell Owens in Dallas and RandyMoss in New England qualifying for team player of the year in their respective conferences. It helps, of course, that the Cowboys and Patriots are a combined 16-1, with the only loss being produced by their head-to-head encounter.

A rematch in Super Bowl XLII -- and two weeks worth of T.O. vs. Moss hype -- is looking more likely all the time.

• Seems to me the four most questionable quarterback decisions of last offseason have all come back to bite the teams that made them:

-- The Dolphins decided to trade for veteran Trent Green rather than take BradyQuinn in the draft.

-- The Falcons opted to trade Matt Schaub to Houston and bank on MichaelVick upgrading his play under new head coach Bobby Petrino.

-- The Bears chose to stand pat with the wildly inconsistent Rex Grossman, believing another vote of confidence was in order.

-- And the Vikings didn't seem concerned at all with the notion they were putting their 2007 season into the hands of the inexperienced Tarvaris Jackson.

Miami's 0-8. Atlanta is 2-6. Chicago and Minnesota are 3-5. All are in last place in their divisions.

• Donovan McNabb is dead right that his struggles are not the whole reason the Eagles are 3-5 and last in the NFC East. But c'mon, No. 5. You know how the game works by now. You've been in the NFL for nine years and that's plenty long enough to realize the starting quarterback gets most of the glory when things are good and most of the blame when things are tanking.

If you accepted that equation when Philly was making its perennial playoff trips, you have to accept the downside of it, too. How many starting quarterbacks could rightfully point out that they're not the entire problem? Only every one of them who lose more than they win.