header banner

NFL teams that came closest to becoming perfect teams and joining the 1972 Dolphins as members of the exclusive group

After 50 years, Perfectville is still a population of one. 

It's been five full decades since the 1972 Dolphins completed the only perfect season in league annals. No other team has been able to duplicate their feat in the years since, with several teams coming oh so close to perfection, only to stub their door on the way to immortality. A bad bounce, break or an officials' call cost a few teams a shot at perfection, while simply having bad day at the office was the reason why more than one team came up short at entering the smallest fraternity in sports. 

As the Dolphins prepare to celebrate the golden anniversary of their grand accomplishment, let's look at the teams that came closest to joining them in history. 

1976 Raiders 

VIDEO: NFL America's Game Super Bowl 7 Champions 1972 Dolphins
david stronach
  • Record: 16-1 (won Super Bowl XI)

John Madden's team suffered just one loss during the Raiders' first championship run. The loss was an ugly one, as Oakland fell 48-17 to the Patriots in Week 4. Four turnovers ultimately did Oakland in, along with the defense's issues containing the Patriots' talented trio of quarterback Steve Grogan, running back Sam Cunningham and receiver Darryl Stingley. 

The Raiders played much better in the rematch, which took place in Oakland in the first round of the playoffs. But they still needed a controversial penalty late in the game to ensure victory, as Oakland escaped with a 21-17 win. The Raiders, a team that included a host of future Hall of Fame players, then dethroned rival Pittsburgh in the AFC title game before dismantling the seasoned Vikings in Super Bowl XI. 

1978 Steelers

VIDEO: Are the 1972 Dolphins The Only Undefeated NFL Team
OwnersBox Fantasy
  • Record: 17-2 (won Super Bowl XIII) 

The star-studded Steelers were 7-0 before stubbing their toe against Houston in Week 8. The key factor in the loss was rookie sensation Earl Campbell, who scored three touchdowns in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience. The Steelers lost another hard-fought game in mud-soaked Los Angeles three weeks later, with the playing conditions playing a heavy role in Pittsburgh's 10-7 loss. 

Behind the play of league MVP Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh rebounded to win its final five games of the regular season. They won with ease over Denver and Houston in the AFC playoffs, then built a 35-17 lead over defending champion Dallas late in Super Bowl XIII. The Cowboys made a late comeback, but the Steelers prevailed while becoming the first team to win three Super Bowls. 

1982 Washington 

VIDEO: Larry Csonka on playing for Don Shula and the Dolphins' 1972 undefeated season | Get Up
  • Record: 12-1 (won Super Bowl XVII)

Washington's close brush with perfection in 1982 is largely overlooked, probably because it happened during a strike-shortened season. Joe Gibbs' team won their first two games before the strike halted play for two full months. Washington defeated division rivals New York and Philadelphia after the two-month long strike ended in late November. The undefeated start would end the next week against Dallas, as three turnovers and just 66 rushing yards doomed Washington. 

Washington rallied to win their final four games of the regular season. A stingy defense and the legs of running back John Riggins propelled Washington to four wins during the extended postseason. Riggins ran for a playoff record 610 yards that included a then-Super Bowl record 166 yards in Washington's Super Bowl win over Miami. 

Washington was aided all year by Mark Mosley, who remains the last kicker to win league MVP. 

1984 49ers 

VIDEO: Peyton Manning Meets only undefeated team ever- 1972 Dolphins
5th Overtime
  • Record: 18-1 (won Super Bowl XIX) 

One of the most dominant teams in league history that averaged more than twice as many points per game than it allowed. A questionable penalty and a dogged Steelers team were the only things that came between Bill Walsh's team and a perfect season, as San Francisco lost a 20-17 decision to Pittsburgh in Week 7 on a last-minute touchdown catch by John Stallworth. 

The '84 49ers wouldn't lose again. Nine of their final 12 games were decided by double-digits, including postseason wins over the next two teams (the Giants and Bears) that would win the Super Bowl. They trailed early against Dan Marino's Dolphins in the Super Bowl before pulling away in the second quarter to win the franchise's second title of the '80s. Joe Montana capped off his brilliant season by winning Super Bowl MVP honors. 

1985 Bears

VIDEO: Super Bowl VII: Dolphins Complete Perfect Season | Dolphins vs. Redskins | NFL Full Game
  • Record: 18-1 (won Super Bowl XX) 

The Bears' hit song, the Super Bowl Shuffle, would have needed a remix had Chicago gone undefeated. But Marino got in the way in one of the most infamous nights in "Monday Night Football" history. Mario's quick release offset the Bears' ferocious pass rush, as the future Hall of Fame quarterback threw three touchdowns in Miami's 38-24 win. The win was closely observed by a slew of members of the '72 Dolphins, who took in the action from Miami's sideline. 

Chicago didn't touch perfection, but it got pretty close. The Bears finished the regular season with a 15-1 record. They then proceeded to defeat the Giants and Rams in the NFC playoffs by a combined score of 45-0. The Bears then mauled the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, racing out to a 44-3 lead before coasting to a 46-10 win, at the time the largest blowout in Super Bowl history. Fittingly, Richard Dent, a member of Chicago's famed 46 defense, took home the Super Bowl MVP trophy. 

1989 49ers

VIDEO: 1972 Miami Dolphins Season
Classic Sports
  • Record: 17-2 (won Super Bowl XXIV) 

Fresh off the franchise's third Super Bowl win, the 49ers stubbed their toe against Los Angeles in Week 4, losing a one-point game to their division rival. San Francisco wouldn't lose again until Week 11, when they were upset by the Packers after committing four turnovers. The 49ers capped off the regular season by edging the Rams in a highly-anticipated on Monday night game in Week 14. 

The 49ers hit their stride in the playoffs. For a second straight year, they blew out the Vikings in the divisional round. For an encore, the 49ers routed the Rams in the rubber match before successfully defending their title in Super Bowl XXIV. The 49ers' 55-10 win over the Broncos remains the largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history. 

1998 Vikings

VIDEO: Don Shula Leads the '72 Dolphins on the GREATEST Season Ever!
NFL Films
  • Record: 16-2 (lost in the NFC Championship) 

Minnesota received two welcomed surprises in 1998: Randall Cunningham's comeback and Randy Moss' breakout rookie campaign. The duo had an instant connection that season that spearheaded the Vikings' 15-1 season. Minnesota's only regular season loss came in Tampa in Week 9, when Tony Dungy's Buccaneers won a 27-24 decision after scoring the game's final 10 points. 

The Vikings' only regular loss was eerily similar to Minnesota's upset loss one game shy of the Super Bowl. The Vikings held a double-digit lead but was unable to seal the deal after Gary Anderson -- who had not missed a field goal all year up until that point -- missed a 38-yard field goal with 2:07 left. The Falcons then forced overtime, then won the game when their Hall of Fame kicker -- Morton Anderson -- drilled his 38-yard attempt. 

The Vikings' loss prevented NFL fans from seeing an epic matchup between two immensely talented teams. The team the Vikings left standing at the alter is next on our list. 

1998 Broncos

VIDEO: Ghosts of the '72 Dolphins
  • Record: 17-2 (won Super Bowl XXXIII) 

Denver, a year after upsetting the Packers to win the franchise's first Super Bowl, ran its record to 13-0 while generating major undefeated buzz. But like other teams that tried to run the prefect race, the Broncos started to lose steam as they got closer to the finish line. The Broncos ultimately fell in a dreary afternoon against a Giants team that would finish with an 8-8 record. The nail the Denver's undefeated coffin was administered by Amani Toomer, who would be part of another all-time upset a decade later. 

The Broncos lost again the following week in Miami, bringing to question whether or not Denver could repeat as champion. The Broncos erased any doubt three weeks later, when they drubbed the Dolphins, 38-3, in the divisional round behind league MVP Terrell Davis' 199 rushing yards. Denver then overcame a slow start to defeat the Jets for the AFC title before beating the Falcons with ease in Super Bowl XXXIII. The 34-19 win over Atlanta was the final game in John Elway's Hall of Fame career. 

2004 Patriots

VIDEO: EVERY Play with a Nickname!
NFL Throwback
  • Record: 17-2 (won Super Bowl XXXIX

They didn't go undefeated, but the Patriots did secure the longest combined winning streak in NFL history, as they won 21 straight games dating back to the previous season. New England's streak would have probably lasted longer if running Corey Dillion and receiver Deion Branch were healthy enough to play in Pittsburgh on Halloween. New England, lost, 34-20, after committing several costly penalties and allowing then-rookie Ben Roethlisberger to throw two early touchdowns. Roethlisberger took advantage of an in-game, season-ending injury to future Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law. 

The Patriots were upset in Miami in Week 14, thus giving the Steelers the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. The Patriots proved that they didn't need home field in the playoffs, defeating the Steelers in Pittsburgh with Dillon and Branch providing big plays in the 41-27 win. The Patriots then defeated a talented Eagles team to become the second team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. 

2007 Patriots

VIDEO: 49ers Kyle Shanahan Exposes Massive Miami Dolphins Cheating Scandal
Barry Cunningham
  • Record: 18-1 (lost Super Bowl XLII) 

The '07 Patriots came closest to joining the '72 Dolphins in Perfectville. Similar to the '98 Broncos, the pressure of staying undefeated appear to take away from their on-field brilliance, as New England survived several close calls at the end of the regular season, including a 38-35 win in New York against the Giants in Week 17. Tom Brady and Randy Moss both made history on that night. Brady became the first player to throw 50 touchdown passes in one season after hitting Moss for a 65-yard score. On the same play, Moss broke Jerry Rice's 20-year-old record for single season touchdown catches. 

Those same Giants would pull off the greatest upset since the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. Led by Eli Manning and a swarming pass rush, the Giants defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIII while denying New England the distinction of having a perfect season as part of their legacy. 

2016 Patriots 

VIDEO: 1972 - Jets at Raiders - Enhanced ABC Broadcast - 1080p/60fps
Dave Volsky's Back Door
  • Record: 17-2 (won Super Bowl LI) 

New England went 3-1 to start the season without Brady, and it's pretty likely that the Patriots would have beaten the Bills in Week 4 with Brady under center. A close loss to Seattle in Week 10 would be the Patriots' only other loss that season, as New England enjoyed dominant play from Brady during the season's final 12 weeks. 

The Patriots rolled over Houston and Pittsburgh in the AFC playoffs before mounting the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. The 25-point comeback ended with the Patriots winning the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, with Brady winning his record fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy. 


Article information

Author: David Howell

Last Updated: 1702933921

Views: 664

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: David Howell

Birthday: 1977-09-10

Address: Unit 5473 Box 1659, DPO AA 65871

Phone: +4481870263705752

Job: Biologist

Hobby: Singing, Cooking, Snowboarding, Skiing, Skateboarding, Tennis, Animation

Introduction: My name is David Howell, I am a honest, proficient, venturesome, accessible, important, frank, enterprising person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.