Since professional football began in 1920, several teams have navigated the regular season undefeated. Out of that group, a handful made it to the championship game without a blemish on their record. However, only one has ever remained perfect, with no ties, and won the Super Bowl.
Let’s a look at the teams who neared perfection as well as the one NFL team that finished their season with no blemishes on their winning record.
Four football teams came close but not quite
Before 1933, when the NFL was still known as the American Professional Football Association, four teams finished as champions with no losses, reports 99 Yards. These teams were the Akron Pros (1920), Canton Bulldogs (1922 and 1923), and Green Bay Packers (1929). Despite being undefeated, all of these teams had at least one tie, which kept them from being enshrined as “perfect.”
In the modern era, the Chicago Bears made it to the championship game with a perfect record twice, only to be defeated. This happened in 1934 against a mediocre 8-5 New York Giants team, and again in 1942 against the Washington Redskins. Only one other team has made the championship game with a perfect record before losing: the 2007 New England Patriots.
Interestingly enough, all of the teams that have entered the postseason with perfect records have gone on to play for the league championship and have never lost in earlier rounds of the playoffs.
The Miami Dolphins’ undefeated season
In 1972, the Miami Dolphins navigated the regular and postseason without any losses or ties, making them the only team in NFL history to do so, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The franchise played 17 games that year and capped the historic season with a 14-7 win in Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins.
The team was led by quarterback Earl Morrall. He was in his first season with the Dolphins after spending the previous 16 seasons with five different teams. Despite having previously started 90 games for other teams, Morrall was slated to start the season as the backup to longtime Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese. However, a broken ankle in Week 5 ended Griese’s season and set the stage for Morrall at QB, a title he kept the rest of the season on the way to 17-0.
The ’72 Dolphins also featured a stout defense that allowed just 12.2 points per game. The team prided itself on being a cohesive unit, without any flashy stars standing above the rest. Dubbed the “No-Name Defense” due to the units’ relative anonymity, the defense statistically ranks as one of the all-time great units, despite not commonly being mentioned among the best defenses in history.
Coached by Don Shula, who holds the record for most wins in NFL history at 328, the ’72 Dolphins have landed seven players in the Hall of Fame. They remain, to this day, the only team with a perfect NFL season. Miami still carries on the tradition of arranging a toast amongst members of the ’72 group when the last undefeated team loses each season.
Other great Miami Dolphin seasons
For notable Dolphins seasons, 1972 tops the list. But several others were successful despite never concluding in perfection. The ’73 Dolphins returned from their perfect season to finish 12-2 in the regular season. They captured Super Bowl VIII, marking the second of two championships in Dolphins history. The 1971 season was close to championship status. But Miami fell in Super Bowl VI to the Dallas Cowboys after a 10-3-1 regular season.
The early ’80s also produced a number of successful seasons for the Dolphins, although no championships were captured. The 1982 Dolphins lost Super Bowl XVII to the Redskins. Disappointed fans blamed a lack of passing presence for the underwhelming offensive output.
This mediocre QB play changed the following year with the arrival of Dan Marino to the Dolphins. This began his 17-year career as the team’s signal-caller. Despite having the future Hall of Famer, the Dolphins never captured a Super Bowl during his career. The closest miss was in the 1984 Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers.
Since Marinos’ retirement in 1999, the Dolphins have only won the division twice (2000 and 2008). Miami is still searching for a way to reclaim the greatness of their early ’70s teams.