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Original Issue

Perfect Argument

A member of the undefeated '72 Dolphins gives the Pats their due but reminds us that his team was special too

JIM MANDICH, a tight end with the Dolphins for eight years, played in every game of Miami's 18--0 winning streak in 1972 and '73. As the analyst on the Dolphins' radio network, he has called three Patriots games during their record 19-0 run. He spoke about the two teams with SI senior writer Peter King.

I looked at my 1972 Super Bowl ring last week, and the words winning edge are engraved on it. That was Coach [Don] Shula's signature expression. He'd say, "We've got to find an edge. Maybe we'll outwork them, or outwit them, or outwill them, or find a weakness we can exploit." He'd always find an edge that worked.

And I can imagine Bill Belichick watching tape to get an edge too. He will find your weakness, and that's where he will attack. In the NFL, when teams around the league are close in talent, the only way you excel is with coaching. I think that's the big reason why Miami and New England put together such long streaks.

We weren't the same type of team as the Patriots are--New England's more balanced. In a lot of the games during our streak we just bludgeoned people with our running game. When we went 17-0 in '72, we ran the ball 69% of the time and rushed for more than 200 yards a game. But when we needed to, we'd make a play in the passing game. In our third win of the streak, in the mud and the crud of Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, we were down to the Vikings 14-6 in the second half. They were a brutally physical team, with the Purple People Eaters just beating people up. Garo Yepremian kicked the longest field goal of his life, 51 yards, and then Bob Griese hit me with a pass for the winning touchdown with 88 seconds left. I remember that because The Miami Herald headline the next day said something like, 88 catches winning td pass with 88 seconds left. That was the closest we came to losing during our streak.

We played the Browns in the first round of the playoffs, and we didn't think they were a very good team. But Cleveland threw a touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter to go up 14-13, and we were steamed. On the sideline we were saying things like, "We're not going to blow this against the Cleveland Browns, are we? What the hell is going on?" But we had the goods.

After we won the Super Bowl, there was talk of the perfect season but not about the streak. Same thing the next year. We went to Oakland for the second game of the season, and it was a slugfest. I caught a balloon from Griese, thinking one of those crazy bastards [George] Atkinson or [Jack] Tatum was going to kill me, but I scored to make it 12-7 Oakland. We just couldn't punch it in again.

People ask whether it's tougher to do it in 2004 or in 1972. Why discredit either one? Each, in its own way, is an unprecedented accomplishment. A perfect NFL season is unique, period. That Miami team stands alone in NFL history, and none of us had any idea that our perfect season would still be relevant and still be the measuring stick for greatness. But there were some pretty bad teams in those days, and today there are no slappies. The Patriots don't get any weeks off. Winning more consecutive games than any other team is an accomplishment on a scale of what the Dolphins did.

In 1972, and throughout much of the '70s, I played with the same quarterback, mostly the same line, most of the same key defensive players. We could hold onto our stars. The Patriots rent [safety] Rodney Harrison for a couple of years, and he plays at a high level. They find [linebacker] Mike Vrabel and make him an impact player. They draft brilliantly--Tom Brady in the sixth round? They see things in players that other teams don't.

I watch the Patriots win 19 in a row in this era, and I say, "Boys, hold your heads high. You're traveling in uncharted waters." Just like the '72 Dolphins did.