Staying power counts in great debate Pro Football

ON THE NFL

November 15, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

It's the debate of the year in pro sports.

Is the team that wins the most games the best team?

That question was debated at the end of the baseball season when the New York Yankees won 125 games.

Their supporters proclaimed them the best team; the skeptics argued they weren't even the best Yankees team, favoring the Ruth-Gehrig 1927 Yankees, the Gehrig-DiMaggio 1936 Yankees and the Mantle-Maris 1961 Yankees.

The debates are fun because they can never be resolved, and it's appropriate that the NFL may have the same debate this year as the 9-0 Denver Broncos attempt to become the first team to go 19-0.

With only two tough Monday night road games left -- tomorrow night at Kansas City and Dec. 21 at Miami -- they certainly have a good shot at becoming the first team to go through a 16-game regular season undefeated.

Coach Mike Shanahan has tried to motivate the team by telling the players that if they go 19-0, they'll be the best ever.

Said wide receiver Rod Smith: "When we first started working out in the off-season, he was giving us stories during minicamp about the teams who won the Super Bowl and you never heard from them again."

Smith said Shanahan told them, "I'm not letting that happen. You've got a chance to go and be the team team ever."

This is not a new debate. The 1972 Miami Dolphins try to claim they were the best team ever because they posted the league's only perfect season -- 17-0.

But few football observers consider them the best team ever. When Steve Sabol of NFL Films put together a Dream Season, he had the 1978 Steelers beating the Dolphins in the final.

Sabol was stunned when Don Shula, the coach of that team, called him to complain. Sabol assumed he was kidding until he saw how angry he was.

In reality, the Dolphins, who won back-to-back titles in 1972-73, don't even deserve to rank second to the Steelers of the 1970s, who won four titles.

The Packers of the 1960s, who won five titles; the Cleveland Browns of 1946-55, who went to the title game 10 straight years in the All-America Football Conference and NFL and won seven of them; the 49ers of the 1980s, who won four; and the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders, who won three from 1976-83, all accomplished more.

In football, the measure of greatness is to win more than two titles. The 18-1 1985 Chicago Bears may have been as good as any team for one year, but they get downgraded for never making it back to the Super Bowl.

If the Broncos really want to make history, they not only have to win this year, but a third straight in 1999. Nobody has won three straight in the Super Bowl era and only two teams -- the Curly Lambeau Packers of 1929-31 and the Vince Lombardi Packers of 1965-67 -- have ever done it.

That's why if the Broncos do go 19-0 and repeat, Shanahan shouldn't claim they're the best ever. He should save that for next year's motivational tool.

Close but no car

Dawn Smith, a 23-year-old graphics designer in Fredericksburg, Va., entered a contest sponsored by Redskins flagship radio station WJFK-FM whereby a name was chosen and the winner would get a $30,000 car -- if the Redskins ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.

Smith's name was pulled last week, but what were the odds the Redskins were going to score on the opening kickoff? It turns out Brian Mitchell ran it back for a touchdown against Arizona.

But Smith didn't win the car because Patrise Alexander, on his first play of the year after coming back from an injury, was called for holding.

Since the touchdown didn't count, she didn't get the car. Picky, picky.

Alexander then was cut, and he claimed he was made a scapegoat. The penalty also cost the Redskins the game, but the way they're going, Smith was the bigger loser.

The station gave Smith a consolation prize of two tickets in the station's suite for the Redskins' game today against Philadelphia, a chance to meet the team broadcasters and a limo ride to the station's pre-game tailgate party.

Burnout case

John Madden, who burned out after a decade as Oakland Raiders coach, has reinvented himself as the friendly broadcaster who passes out turkey legs on Thanksgiving Day.

Every once in a while, though, the old, intense Madden emerges and shows why he had to get off the sideline.

There was a conference call last week with Madden, Joe Namath and an NBC executive to discuss the 30th anniversary of the "Heidi" game, when NBC pulled the plug on a Raider-Jets game to show the movie, and viewers missed the last two touchdowns as the Raiders rallied from a 32-29 deficit to win.

Namath remembered few if any details of the game and Frank Ramos, the Jets' PR man then and now, was explaining that Jets safety Jim Hudson was kicked out of the game in the third quarter for arguing a face-mask call. Ramos said that Hudson's backup was beaten by the Raiders' Charlie Smith on the winning touchdown catch.

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