1972 Miami Dolphins Remain on Top: All the NFL Teams that Nearly Matched Unbeaten Season

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Larry Csonka, one of the stars of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, declared himself a “Washington fan” Monday evening. He puffed a cigar and toasted with a glass of the good stuff.

The 73-year-old Hall of Famer then laughed the low chuckle of an old-school fullback.

Csonka probably never would cheer for the Steelers anyway. The crusty fullback was a Dolphins grinder nearly a half-century ago. Miami never took too kindly to Steelers or any other team in the AFC back then. Same for the Dallas Cowboys.

But Csonka mostly was celebrating that no team this year will pull off a perfect season. Until Sunday, Pittsburgh was the lone undefeated team left standing.

So for another season, all those old Dolphins like Csonka know that their 17-0 perfection in 1972 won’t be matched.

The Steelers got close. They were the 13th NFL team, ever, to win their first 11 games.

Early on, it looked like Pittsburgh was on its way to win No. 12. The Steelers jumped to a 14-0 lead. Their team history suggests Pittsburgh wins those games. But Washington erased the advantage by outscoring Pittsburgh 23-3. It was only the second time in 17 years that the Steelers had lost the game after owning at least a two-touchdown lead.

The old Miami Dolphins Do Get a Bit Anxious If a Team Reaches December Undefeated

Every time an NFL team reaches December with an undefeated record, the old Dolphins get anxious. But every time a team fails at perfection, somewhere a Dolphin is celebrating. That’s the way it works when you’re waiting out history.

The closest any team came to an undefeated season was in 2007 when Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a blemish-free 16-0 regular season. The Patriots matched Miami’s 17-0 with their first victory in the playoffs. But New England lost to the New York Giants, 17-14, in the Super Bowl. You may not remember that game, but you’ll recall the defining play. Eli Manning and David Tyree combined for what’s now called the “Helmet Catch.” It went for 32 yards to convert a third down and set up the Giants on their winning, final drive.

Those who love to bet on games probably remember the Giants were a 12-point dog. Somebody made some cash.

There was lots of talk about whether the Patriots should sit next to the Dolphins in the record books since New England played more games and won 18 straight. But, close, but not a Csonka cigar.

The 2015 Carolina Panthers also pushed the Dolphins for a spot in NFL history. The Panthers won their first 14 games of the season. Ron Rivera, who now leads Washington, was the Carolina coach. But the Panthers lost to Atlanta in the penultimate contest of the regular season. Carolina made it to the Super Bowl. But the Panthers, with league MVP quarterback Cam Newton, were no match for the veteran savvy of Denver’s quarterback Peyton Manning in his final career game.

The Old Miami Dolphins Got to Work Their Mojo In Person in 1985 Against Chicago Bears

Then there were the 1985 Chicago Bears. Wow. The Bears defense might’ve been the most intimidating of all time, with Mike Singletary as its ferocious middle linebacker.

Chicago reeled off a dozen straight victories. Then the Bears traveled to Miami. They were without quarterback Jim McMahon. Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino never felt threatened by the Bears blitzing’ 4-6 defense. Miami won, 38-24. All those old 1972 Dolphins were on the sidelines celebrating their spot in NFL history remaining firmly in place.

Still, as good as the Dolphins were in 1972, they never had their own music video. Check out this blast from 1985.

Miami Finally Made It To White House – 4 Decades Later

The 1972 Dolphins never were invited to the White House after their Super Bowl win. Then-president Richard Nixon liked to suggest plays to coach Don Shula. But Nixon got too busy with the Watergate Scandal, which topped his presidency.

At the urging of Miami’s management, President Barack Obama invited the team in 2013 for their time in the limelight.

It’s True: the Miami Dolphins Spawned An Urban Legend

The 1972 Dolphins even spawned an urban legend. A few players got together in Coral Gables, Fla., one year and toasted the demise of a team with some champagne. The story eventually evolved into quite the tale. All the surviving members of the Dolphins would buy a bottle of champagne each season and pop the cork when the last undefeated team lost.

But it never was an official tradition. The fact-checking site Snopes.com ruled it false. Nick Buoniconti, Bob Griese and Dick Anderson got together once in Coral Gables, Fla.

“We’ve been accused of being angry, old men and just hoping and praying that the last team would lose, and that’s not true,” Shula said.

But guys like Csonka always can light a cigar and pour a tall glass of the good stuff. There’s nothing angry nor old about that time honored-celebration of greatness.