Perfect rarities are by definition scarce on the ground. It is a perfect rarity to See a perfect season in pro football. Following on from enjoying some ‘Imperfect Perfection‘ I thought it would be fun to look at the opposite end of the spectrum.
There just isn’t a lot there though. Oh teams have come close. So agonisingly close at times. Yet so far only three teams in pro football history have had truly perfect seasons, – no defeats and no ties.
Take a bow the 1937 Los Angeles Bulldogs, 1948 Cleveland Browns, and 1972 Miami Dolphins.
A Few Ground Rules
First we need to lay some ground rules. This is only for perfectly perfect teams. Hence teams from the early NFL with ties in their record cannot be counted.
Further we need a minimum number of wins in a season to celebrate this success. How far into a season can be considered a perfect season? We need to exclude some early teams who only existed for a few games.
I have arbitrarily set this at 10 games. Making a double digit winning season is some kind of achievement surely? Teams that got to 10-0 but later fell in a longer season do not count here.
This will only take into account major pro football leagues. Hence we will not be looking at the Hollywood Rangers 13-0 1944 season that includes a 2 game championship.
Nor the the Continental Football League‘s 1965 Charleston Rockets who ultimately finished 15-0-0 including a championship.
We will also miss out on the 1972 Hartford Knights of the Seabaord Football League who finished 17-0-0 and were so unimpressed by the competition they quit the league the following year!
First a look at some teams that came agonisingly close to a perfect season. Before the NFL introduced the concept of Playoff games in 1932, 4 teams had undefeated seasons.
Under NFL practices at the time, from 1920 to 1971 tied games were not included in winning percentage (there was also no overtime to determine a potential tie in the regular season until 1974) so, these four teams were recorded with perfect win percentages of 1.000 at the time.
1920 Akron Pros
The Pros finished the 1920 APFA (forerunner to the NFL) season 8-0-3. That included a 6-0-3 record against other APFA teams. The final game of the season saw them tie the Decatur Staleys (later Chicago Bears) 0-0 in front of 12,000 people.
There was no post-season at this point so the league had to decide between the 8-0-3 Pros and the 10-1-2 Staleys for the league title. As they had a ‘perfect 1.000’ record due to not recording ties the Pros were awarded the league trophy.
The Pros scored 151 points and allowed 7 over 11 games. Allowing for rounding, an average score of 14-1 in their favour. (Yes I know the rouge doesn’t exist in the NFL it is just for illustration).
1922 Canton Bulldogs
The Bulldogs finished the 1922 season atop the NFL standings with a 10-0-2 record.
The Bulldogs scored 184 points and conceded 15 over 12 games. Allowing for rounding, an average game score of 15-1 in their favour.
1923 Canton Bulldogs
Canton were a true early dynasty in the NFL. They again topped the NFL table in 1923. This time with an even better record at 11-0-1
The Bulldogs scored 246 points over 12 games whilst conceding only 19. Allowing for rounding, an average game score in their favour of 21-2.
1929 Green Bay Packers
This was the first time the Packers collected the NFL championship and they did so with a 12-0-1 record under the tutelage of legendary coach Earl ‘Curly’ Lambeau.
Green Bay scored 198 points and allowed 22 over a 13 game season. Allowing for rounding, an average game score in their favour of 15-2.
Post 1932 – Oh so close!
Once playoffs had been introduced it was possible for an NFL team to put together a perfect regular season, but still not have a perfect season. This has happened 3 times so far.
1934 Chicago Bears
Led by Hall of Famer George Halas, the Bears were the class of the NFL Western Division finishing 13-0.
They finished the regular season with 286 points to 86 over a 13 game season. Allowing for rounding, an average winning game score in their favour of 22-7.
They were upset 30-13 by the Giants in a championship game that has resonated down the ages.
1942 Chicago Bears
Attempting to win a third straight championship the 1942 Bears went 11-0 in the regular season only to be upset 14-6 in the championship game by a 10-1 Washington team.
They finished the regular season with 376 points to 84 over an 11 game season. Allowing for rounding, an average winning game score in their favour of 34-8.
2007 New England Patriots
The 2007 Patriots were one of the most dominant teams in league history. Their defeat by the Giants in Superbowl XLII ranks alongside the Jets downing the Colts in Superbowl III as one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
The Patriots finished the regular season with 589 points to 274 over a 16 game season. Allowing for rounding, an average winning game score in their favour of 37-17.
A Special Mention
It would be remiss of me as this sites main adherent of the joys of the CFL not to mention their closest team to perfection too.
1948 Calgary Stampeders
In 1948 the Stampeders became only the second Western Division team to win the Grey Cup.
They did so on the back or a remarkable 14-0-1 season. The Stamps had gone 12-0 in the regular season. Their only ‘blemish’ came in a 4-4 tie with Saskatchewan in the first game of a two leg Western semi-final.
To this day the 1948 Stamps remain the only undefeated team in CFL history.
I think we can agree that we have seen an array of great teams across a spectrum of pro football history so far. Now though it is time for the truly ‘perfect’ teams (no ties, no defeats) to take centre stage.
Los Angeles Bulldogs: 1937
The Bulldogs played from 1936 to 1948 and were formed with the express intention of joining the NFL.
Ironically they were overlooked in favour of the Cleveland Rams who would go on to relocate to Los Angeles in 1946.
All the more ironic as the Bulldogs had been the first major league team to play on the West Coast. Two teams named for LA previously, the Wildcats and Buccaneers had actually been travelling teams based in Chicago.
The Bulldogs joined the second AFL in 1937 and became the first professional football team to win a league championship with a perfect record (no losses or ties).
According to the criteria laid out above they shouldn’t be on this list. They went 8-0-0 in that AFL season. So not 10 wins. However, they get a mention as they did play 8 exhibition games too and went 8-0-0 in those giving them a 16-0-0 record for the 1937 season.
The Bulldogs had proved themselves to be a competitive unit in 1936 as they defeated the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Eagles on the way to compiling a 6-3-1 record.
In fairness that also included a tie against the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and shutouts to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers but nonetheless they had served notice.
LA finished their 16 game season, (league & exhibition), scoring 345 points to 116 giving them an average win allowing for rounding of 22-7.
The Bulldogs season had been split into blocks of home and away games to reduce travel costs. They drew crowds of 15,000 in each of their AFL home games and became the only AFL team to make a profit in the 1937 season.
In 1938 the second AFL folded and the Bulldogs played on in the Pacific Coast Professional Football League until folding themselves in 1948.
As the Bulldogs pulled the plug on their 1948 season another team was emerging – and the team that had wanted to be in the NFL was again overshadowed by a team from Cleveland.
Cleveland Browns: 1948
In 1946, the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) began play attempting to challenge the supremacy of the NFL.
The Browns were among the eight original franchises. It was one of the first Football leagues to include teams from the Southeast and West Coast as the Miami Seahawks, Los Angeles Dons and San Francisco 49ers made up the eight-team league.
The AAFC ultimately lasted four seasons before folding in 1949. During that time no team was more dominant than the Browns. They won all four championship games, translating that success into being one of three teams, including the 49ers and Baltimore Colts, that the NFL added once the AAFC folded.
Their best season came in 1948 which they finished 15-0-0. The season is recognised as perfect by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although the NFL itself does not recognise it.
The Browns scored 389 points over 14 regular season games whilst conceding only 190. Allowing for rounding, an average game score in their favour of 28-14.
The Browns left the AAFC with a 45-4-3 record.
A success in two leagues
The Browns continued to be successful in the NFL and between the two leagues appeared in ten straight championship games.
Between 1950, their first season in the NFL, and 1972, the Browns finished with a losing record just once. That included going 58-14-1 between 1950 & 1955 whilst appearing in six straight NFL championship games and also going 3-3 in those.
They were one of the league’s most successful teams during its pre-Super Bowl era. Only the Green Bay Packers (9) and Chicago Bears (8) won more NFL titles than the Browns (4) before the playing of Super Bowl I. Those two teams joined the league roughly 30 years earlier.
Miami Dolphins: 1972
This is the only perfect season (so far) officially recognised by the NFL. The Dolphins coach Don Shula, had made his start in pro football on the 1951 & 1952 Cleveland Browns guided by the architect of that 1948 perfect season.
Shula coached in the NFL for 33 years and won 11 division titles, five conference championships, one NFL championship, and two Super Bowls. This season is the one he will be most remembered for.
Over a 14 game regular season the 1972 Dolphins scored 385 points against 171. Allowing for rounding that gave them an average win of 32-12.
It is interesting to compare that to the average 37-17 by the 2007 Patriots listed above. You think of the latter as being from a pass heavy high scoring era. Clearly the run heavy Dolphins could rack up the points too.
Run Miami Run
How run heavy were they? They had the number one offense in the league but were only ranked 16th in passing. Their 148 yards per game passing were bolstered by 211 yards per game rushing.
They have often been criticized for having had a weak schedule. Well they beat a 10-4 Cleveland, 11-3 Pittsburgh and 11-3 Washington team in the playoffs.
You can only beat what is put in front of you and the 1972 Dolphins did that every time they took the field. Because of that they hold a unique place in NFL history and Dolphins fans still celebrate that.
Between 1970 and 1975 Miami went 67-16-1 and made 5 playoff appearances winning 3 conference championships and 2 Superbowls.
If it wasn’t for the WFL and the Memphis Southmen they could arguably have had a longer stretch of dominance.
We will never know. Nor do we know if we’ll see another perfect pro football season. They are so hard to come by and because of that it is good to celebrate the ‘perfect rarities’ created by these teams.
Banner image from NFL.com
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