’72 Dolphins & history

There’s a popular story that every year, when the NFL’s final sole remaining undefeated team goes home a loser, the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins pop champagne corks and celebrate the fact that their perfect season will remain the only one in NFL history.

The story might not, strictly speaking, be true. But it does make me think about an important point: do the achievements of the present come at the expense of the past?

Today, the big news is that Miami legend Don Shula has suggested that, even if they do run the table and finish 19-0, the New England Patriots should be asterisked. From MSNBC:

Coaching legend Don Shula, who guided the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins to the only unbeaten record in NFL history, saiys an asterisk must accompany the New England Patriots if they go 19-0 this season because of the Bill Belichick spying scandal, the New York Daily News reported Tuesday.

“The Spygate thing has diminished what theyve accomplished. You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. Theyve got it,” Shula told the Daily News. “Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,00 and they lost a first-round draft choice. That tells you the seriousness or significance of what they found.

19-0 Pats would need asterisk, Shula says – NFL – MSNBC.com

To me, the idea of the ’72 team toasting the demise of winning seasons always seemed kind of ghoulish. Well, maybe vampiric is a more apt word. It’s the whole idea that the accomplishments of today come at the expense of yesterday, that history is a zero-sum game.

That just seems a suffocating attitude. The past becomes a burden, a set of requirements and prohibitions, instead of lessons for the future.

The right way to handle this thing is how Hank Aaron did: graciously. Even though Barry Bonds’ surpassing his home run record has hardly been free of controversy, no one can say that Aaron hasn’t been a complete gentleman throughout. He knows that his place in history is secure, and doesn’t need to rely on future mediocrity to ensure it.