November 8, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: OK — it’s week nine and I’m ready to talk
by Dave Long

When the chatter about the Patriots are going to go undefeated started heating up after they beat Cincinnati in week four, I said come see me after the Colts game and if they’re still undefeated then we’ll talk. Well, your New England Patriots are 9-0 after coming from behind to beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Colts in their own building by scoring twice in the final seven minutes. So now what?

I rarely go overboard when a team gets off to a sensational start. Instead I want them to prove it’s not a just super hot streak rather than a historic season in progress. Generally I have a name for folks who take the opposite approach for a beloved team, but since I like to think I’ve matured a bit since, say, oh, last week’s column, I now call it Yearly Anticipation of High Performance (by) Our Own (team) syndrome, whose acronym interestingly still spells yahoo, but I’m not going to go there, since I have, you know, matured.

Especially since I took the Sox in six, while many of what I thought were Yearly Anticipation of High-Performance (by) Our Own (team) syndrome callers to (plug, plug) WGAM said sweep. And they’ve also been shouting about going undefeated since the Randy Moss trade, so maybe I need to chill. There’s also the matter of me picking them to win the Super Bowl but only after going 12-4 or maybe (gulp) 11-5. And finally, the super hot streak has stretched to nine games after taking out the undefeated Colts on the road while racking up an unbelievable 142 yards in penalties. So, I’m now starting to say, well ... maybe.

And while I am conservative about going overboard on a team, I’m just the opposite when it comes to breaking what seems to be an impossible record. If someone can do it once, why can’t someone else do it now? That goes for Joe DiMaggio’s supposedly unbreakable 56-game hitting streak in baseball and Jamal Lewis’ record of rushing for an astonishing 295 yards in a single NFL game. Whoops, almost forgot, a rookie nine games into his career by the name of Adrian Peterson ran for 298 the same day the Pats were going to 9-0 – so I rest my case.

As for running the table through an entire season, I know only the Dolphins have done it in the modern NFL, but why not? The Patriots already did the Tiger slam in winning 21 in a row over two seasons which included winning the Super Bowl. I know doing it in the same year is different because it will build into a gigantic story, but these guys don’t get distracted. So I’ll ask again: why not?

I do that because while I know mentioning something before 1993 is going to get Petey Tarrier’s eye’s rolling, which I’ll risk it to say, I’ve already seen some pretty long winning streaks in my day. I saw the Lakers win an amazing 33 games in a row in a streak that started 36 years ago this week. It continued into February when the Kareem Adbul Jabbar-led Milwaukee Bucks took out Wilt and company in a classic Sunday-afternoon tilt when Jabbar somehow stayed in the game after punching (not so) Happy Hairston right in the jaw. Two years earlier my Knicks won a then-record 18 in a row to start the year 23-1. The UCLA dynasty had four 30-0 seasons under John Wooden, won 38 straight tournament games to go along with winning streaks of 47 and 88. And what about the great 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses going nearly a decade without a loss in winning 122 straight races? So if they can do it someone else can too.

Which brings me to the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Being a “records are made to be broken” kind of a guy, I am bothered by the champagne toast Nick Buoniconti leads after the last undefeated team goes down every year. I think those who are eclipsed should be gracious when it happens. Especially when it’s done in an admirable way — which is why Hank Aaron gets a pass in the Barry Bonds saga.

Ironically, those Dolphins remind me of the Patriots Super Bowl-winning teams. They were led by the best coach of that day in Don Shula, and Bob Griese was a smart game-managing QB, like the young Brady. They also had an opportunistic and under-appreciated defense whose prime asset was intelligence. And they survived big injuries, as the 2003 and 2004 Patriots did, by winning 11 times with sub Earl Morrill filling in after Griese went down with a broken ankle in game five.

But now, with Brady firing away, these 9-0 Patriots are a lot different. Those Dolphins had a punishing running attack where both Larry Czonka and Mercury Morris ran for 1,000 yards in just 14 games. Two Patriots receivers already have doubled the paltry team-leading 29 catches Paul Warfield had for Miami that entire season. And three more will go way by Warfield before it’s over too. Not to mention the 18 different Patriots to already score a TD is four more than the Ds had all year.

And what about Miami’s schedule? While you can only beat the teams you play, only the 8-6 Chiefs and 8-6 Giants had a winning regular-season record among their opponents — whose combined record was a horrible 70-124-4. In the playoffs they beat the mediocre Browns, whose quarterback, Mike Phipps, threw more interceptions than touchdown passes; the up and coming 11-3 Steelers, who got to round two only by the grace of Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception; and George Allen’s Redskins, who were boring but effective. And while they weren’t blow-out specialists, interestingly they beat the 3-11 Patriots 52-0 — though I can’t recall if they faced the same “they’re running it up” hue and cry Belichick’s boys have this year.

Will they do it? The biggest obstacles look to be Pittsburgh, who’s given up just 91 points as I write this, their tackling — which has been pretty shoddy the last month — and their schedule. It’s soft inside the division, but they’ve already faced playoff-bound teams in San Diego, Dallas, Indy and perhaps even Cleveland, with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Giants still ahead. But if they do, Buoniconti and company should still have that toast to celebrate their own great work and that of a Patriots team that will face at least seven playoff teams and play 16, not 14, games. Because it means the road taken by New England to an undefeated season will have been much tougher than the one taken by the great Miami team way back when.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM-Nashua.


11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation

10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat