'72 Dolphins and '07 Patriots alike

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Name a coach and NFL team caught cheating and then forced to give up a first-round pick, only to gain a measure of revenge by roughing up an opponent or two en route to a perfect season and a Super Bowl title.

Bill Belichick's New England Patriots?

How about Don Shula's 1972 Miami Dolphins?

The parallels aren't exact, since that Dolphins team is already in the record book and these Patriots are only halfway through their regular-season schedule. But Shula couldn't be bothered with distinctions earlier this week when he suggested an asterisk would be appropriate if the Patriots did make it onto the same page by season's end.

"The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished," the retired Hall of Fame coach told the New York Daily News . "You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it."

If Shula believes that, then he ought to negotiate a two-fer and paste the other asterisk next to his own undefeated team.

He was still the coach of the Baltimore Colts at the end of the 1969 season, when then-Miami owner Joe Robbie approached him and signed Shula to a contract. The NFL charged the Dolphins with tampering and awarded their first-round pick to the Colts.

Belichick might be crazy but he's no fool. Whatever advantage his Patriots gained by stealing signals in their opener against the Jets, chances are good they put the extra video camera back in the case after that little chat with commissioner Roger Goodell. Yet, they've only gotten better.

Teams have been looking for an edge since the league opened for business and they've only become more sophisticated in the intervening years. Since the Patriots are state-of-the-art in just about everything else they do, it stands to reason they were better at stealing signals than their opponents, too.

The Patriots are might be the NFL's most talented team, they're definitely the best-coached and thanks to comments like Shula's, they're easily the most motivated. There's no chance success will go to their head.

To know that, you only had to see Belichick grab a clipboard in the Dallas game a few weeks back, walk grumpily toward the bench and start lecturing his linebackers, who hadn't given up so much as a first down at that point.

Better yet, go back and look at the film on tackle Matt Light's personal foul in the second quarter Sunday against Indianapolis. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney fooled Light with his pass rush and was en route to steamrolling Tom Brady. Rather than see his quarterback crushed, Light desperately leg-whipped Freeney and got caught. Even so, it was one of those win-at-all-cost maneuvers that Belichick and Light's teammates would have admired.

Back in the day, Shula probably would have felt the same. His Miami teams, like Belichick's, were disciplined and punishing and the Dolphins were not above running up a score once they got rolling. In the perfect season, coincidentally, that translated into a 52-0 beating of New England.

That year, the Dolphins also happened to draw what most experts consider one of the NFL's softest schedules ever. Their opponents had a winning percentage below .400. If the Patriots go through a deeper league and all the way to a Super Bowl without losing, Shula should remember what Larry Csonka said:

"Perfection ends a lot of arguments."


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