At 5-0, the Tennessee Titans have had an unlikely fan jump aboard their bandwagon.
Mercury Morris, one of the most outspoken members of the 17-0 Miami Dolphins of 1972, told The City Paper Thursday by telephone that he hopes the Titans, as the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten team, could eventually join his group of Dolphins in completing a season undefeated.
The Titans are long way from finishing a season unbeaten, just five games into 2008, but Morris said he will be keeping an eye on Tennessee.
“I’ll be watching the Tennessee Titans, and I hope to see them go unbeaten,” Morris said. “We’d like a little company.”
Members of the ’72 Dolphins have an annual ritual of pouring a toast of champagne to celebrate their perfect season each time the last team in the NFL suffers its first defeat. Their story became big news a year ago when the New England Patriots finished an undefeated regular season and rolled through the AFC playoffs before being stunned by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Morris, 61, and some of the other Dolphins on that team came off in interviews as pulling against the Patriots to accomplish a similar feat to what they had done 35 years before.
“I thought they were a great team,” Morris said of the ’07 Patriots. “But their goal should not have been to aspire to greatness, but simply to win. How about winning? At the end of the day, you have to win.
“They had gone through the season unbeaten and the through playoffs, and they thought that was the biggest thing. But the Super Bowl was the biggest thing, and when you get right down to it, ironically, they couldn’t win the big one.”
That point is echoed by Titans center Kevin Mawae, who after 15 NFL seasons knows not to get too excited about a quick start.
“Not yet. I think the Patriots had a pretty good run last year, and I guess for a lot of players, that’s the standard now, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what your record is until you’re sitting in a Super Bowl and winning a championship,” Mawae said. “That’s our goal, and obviously the big picture is [winning a championship], but the smaller picture is Kansas City this week.”
The Titans aren’t think about challenging history just yet, as they prepare for Sunday’s game.
“Nobody is talking about what the record is and what it could potentially be,” Mawae said. ”We’re just talking about Kansas City right now.
“I’ve been on a team that was 4-0 [2000 Jets] and didn’t make the playoffs. … We ended up 9-7 and didn’t get in. The reality of the NFL is you’ve got to play every week.”
Morris said that is the right approach for any team to take.
“Every year, each team has just as much chance to win every game as it does to lose every game,” Morris said. “It’s called quantum physics and the laws of chance and probability. Thirty-one other teams have already gone down in flames. But the Titans have a 50-50 chance each week to win, and those chances never improve beyond 50-50, because on any given Sunday, anyone can win. As long as you keep that in perspective, you have a chance to win every game.”
There are a few comparisons between the two, no matter how early or ill-advised it might be to examine such things. According to Morris, those Dolphins were the only unbeaten team after 4-0 in a 14-game season. That Miami team also switched quarterbacks during the season as Bob Griese suffered a broken leg and veteran Earl Morrall won 11 games in his stead. The Titans have already switched from Vince Young to Kerry Collins after week one.
For a Titans team that has mostly flown under the radar as the NFL’s best teams are mentioned, it is a different view from the top. Titans coach Jeff Fisher just shook his head and said no when asked if he thought the Dolphins legends would soon be scrutinizing his club.
“There’s no target,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “We’ve got to take care of business, week in and week out. We play the game to win the game, and that’s the way we look at it. Each week is a different opponent, a different challenge, and Kansas City is a good football team.”
As for the chance at history, the Titans are smartly dismissing that as a premature notion.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck, aware of the media splash made last year by the Dolphins greats as the Patriots were making their bid at perfection, wanted no part of such scrutiny.
"I don’t even want to have to deal with that guy. I don’t even want to have to deal with Mercury Morris. He really takes a lot of pride in that record,” Bulluck said.
But as much as Morris and the Dolphins seemed to want to preserve their legacy that was challenged in New England a year ago, the former running back seems at peace if the Titans were to make a serious run to join them.
“It’s like that Clint Eastwood movie where he’s fighting everybody and beating them up, but then as he gets older, he lets a guy beat him so that that guy can have the attention and he doesn’t have to fight anymore,” Morris said. “I just got my AARP card. I’m too old to fight.”
So even at this early juncture, does Morris believe the Titans have a chance?
“I’ve got the champagne, but I haven’t poured it yet,” he said.