Monday, November 18, 2013

A Toast to the 1972 Dolphins

One of the more ridiculous things that gets people's knickers in a twist about the NFL - and for a league supposedly founded on "manliness", there is a lot of offensensitivity under them thar pads - is the tradition of the surviving members of the 1972 Dolphins, whereby they get together for a champagne toast every year when the last surviving unbeaten team finally goes down. Last night, it was the Kansas City Chiefs' turn, as a combination of Peyton Manning and Andy Reid mysteriously thinking he was still coaching the Eagles coincided to end their run.

Now, last year the Chiefs were famously terrible. As in "2-14". As in "2 games worse than the 4-12 record that got Reid fired in Philly". In the offseason they brought in a new coach, a new QB, and for all I know, a new team caterer. And these generally take time to gel. Fans of 2-14 teams are usually understanding that they might not get an immediate turnaround; usually "5-11" is considered good progress. So by any measure, the fact that the Chiefs got to 9-0 before losing respectably was a freaking football miracle. At this point in the season, they're playing with house money. They're at 450% better than last year and counting.

But however you want to contextualize it, the last undefeated team in the NFL went down last night, and the Dolphins got their Moet on. Which, in my opinion, is one of the most harmless traditions out there. It's one of the very few things the NFL has going for it that actually draws attention to anything other than the next scoring play - God forbid they actually pay attention to something that doesn't directly affect their fantasy team - and as a nod to the league's history by a bunch of dudes who otherwise wouldn't get any play, it's kind of vaguely sweet. Yes, they're toasting the fact that someone lost but half the NFL fan base (more, honestly, if you consider guys who bet against their own teams) does the same thing every week. And to be honest, it's nice to get at least one story per year about former football players that doesn't include the words "brain damage", "suicide", "broke", "homeless", or "Deion Sanders". 

There are those folks who find the ritual smug or ghoulish. They point out that the undefeated 1972 Dolphins would be roadkill today, and that some of the communiques from team members are a little cranky at times, and that some of them say or do stupid things. All of which conveniently ignores the fact that yes, it has been 40 years, and there may have been a few advances in training and developmental techniques since then. Saying they wouldn't be any good now is trollery of the first water. If they were playing now, they'd probably have personal trainers and dietitians and modern weight rooms and really smart biochemists and - just stop. It's apples and oranges, and nobody actually likes fruit salad. 

So let's take a moment and let these guys have theirs. Let's let them remind us of something that happened more than fifteen seconds ago, and not by wearing uniforms that look like they're cos-playing bumblebees. And then we can go back to fretting over whether Buffalo covered the spread and if you're likely to get enough points from Carolina's defense to win your fantasy league this week (answer: no). 
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