Hey, Guys, Get a (Poli-)Grip!

November 30, 1998

Can you hear them coming? The rattling walkers? The creaking
knees? The menacing thump of orthopedic shoes?

Happens almost every year. An NFL team starts thinking about
going undefeated, and the gasping, graying authors of the 1972
Miami Dolphins' 17-0 record start getting their Depends all in a
bunch. On Sunday the Denver Broncos won to go 11-0. Expect the
'72ers to clap off Matlock, pack the Metamucil and tow their
Airstream trailers toward Miami, the left-turn signal blinking
all the way.

It happened in 1985 when the Chicago Bears, then 12-0, pulled
into Miami for a Monday-night game. The '72ers showed up on the
sideline, glaring at the pretenders whenever possible and all but
sticking pins in stuffed bears. It worked. Miami stunned Chicago
38-24, and nobody has gone 12-0 since.

As soon as the last undefeated team loses, the '72ers, wherever
they are, hold their glasses high and toast themselves. Safety
Dick Anderson, linebacker Nick Buoniconti and quarterback Bob
Griese meet in their neighborhood in Coral Gables, pop open a
bottle of bubbly and pronounce, "We did it again!" Hell, guard
Bob Kuechenberg sends a case of champagne to the team that
blemishes the last unblemished.

But this year's Broncos are testing the old coots' pacemakers.
They look as unstoppable as wrinkles. On Monday night, Dec. 21,
Denver plays at Miami, and if the Broncos are 14-0, the '72ers
will make another sideline stand, baring their dentures, ready to
trip fullbacks with a well-placed cane or wipe out cornerbacks
with a flying prune. "I plan on bringing one of those red laser
pointers," says '72 running back Mercury Morris.

Apparently these old guys were napping when sportsmanship made
its comeback this year. They must not have seen the way the Maris
family welcomed Mark McGwire to Roger's record. Nobody's put this
kind of Poli-Grip on faded glories since the Rolling Stones.

What's stupid is the '72ers don't need to. "I tell my dad, 'We
can't beat your record of going without a loss, we can only match
it. So share the wealth a little, O.K.?'" says Brian Griese, the
Broncos' No. 3 quarterback and Bob's son. "But I guess they've
just held it so looooong."

"Oh, I'm sure it will happen," says Anderson. "I just hope it's
not while I'm alive."

O.K., that's it. They want to make this team versus team? So
let's give the '72ers a pill that will make them a quarter
century younger. Denver will still turn them into fish tacos.
"We'd beat the brakes off 'em," says Broncos tight end Shannon
Sharpe. "If it was for all the marbles? If you said, 'Winner of
this game is considered the greatest of all time'? They wouldn't
stand a chance."

No duh. For one thing, Miami's starters would give up 500 pounds
to Denver's, or the equivalent of Henry Hyde. It would look like
the jayvee taking on the varsity. The Dolphins' offensive line
would be 30 pounds lighter per man than Denver's defensive front
four. And remember, Miami played only two teams with a record
better than .500 in the regular season. Denver has already played
four. Garo Yepremian missed 13 field goals that year. Jason Elam
hasn't missed from 63 yards in. Or passed like a florist.

True, Morris, Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick were terrific running
backs, but Terrell Davis is all three rolled into one. He'd run
through Miami like I-95. Just to give you an idea of how things
have changed, that No Name defense had just one black guy on it.
"Really?" says Sharpe. "Then we'd just run go routes all day on
them."

If the Broncos end up unbeaten, their achievement will be greater
than Miami's, and not just because they would be 19-0, to the
Dolphins' 17-0. Do you know how hard it is to build a great team
in the era of free agency, parity and ESPN2? Do you have any idea
how much media will descend upon Denver if the Broncos get close?
How much media did Miami have to deal with in '72--two
sportswriters and a trained seal?

Look, I'm not saying Miami wasn't great in its day. It was. But
that day is gone like Pong.

Anderson says he'll have champagne on ice for that Monday night.
I'm sure he'll get to pop it, too, and toast the best team that
ever played.

Too bad it won't be his.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA [Rick Reilly]

When the last unbeaten team loses, the '72 Dolphins hold their
glasses high and toast themselves.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)