Perfect Cats

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:33 PM ET

There is a press box area in Miami that honours the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team and every year Don Shula and Bob Griese and some other players of that era gather to crack a bottle of champagne when the last unbeaten team of that NFL season is no longer perfect.

Bobby Ackles remembers the strangest celebration of all.

"We were playing the Broncos on Monday night and they were unbeaten late in the season," said the B.C. Lions president and former Dolphins executive. "It was (John) Elway against (Dan) Marino, as good as it gets. We weren't supposed to win but we beat the Broncos that night.

"And afterwards Griese is quoted as saying: 'Great, we keep our record intact' and his kid (Brian) was one of the quarterbacks on the Broncos. And I'm thinking: 'Boy, that's kind of selfish, isn't it?' If my kid had a chance to break one of my records, I'd want him to do it.

"When you worked for the Dolphins, you couldn't help but hear about the undefeated season. It was everywhere."

Ackles is relating the story on a long-distance line trying to avoid talking about his own undefeated team. The B.C. Lions are 11-and-oh. The whispers of an unbeaten season already have begun. It's the sixth inning and a no-hitter is being pitched and nobody on the field or the bench will talk about it.

"You don't," Ackles said, "want to jinx yourself."

The Lions have not done a whole lot of jinxing this season. They have not lost since last year's Grey Cup. They have won two pre-season games, 11 consecutive regular season games, and with first place in the West all but guaranteed and the Grey Cup being played in Vancouver this year, well, you can see how this story looks to unfold.

There is magic in the air and on the field and even Wally Buono, who was a rookie linebacker with the Montreal Alouettes when the Dolphins went undefeated, knows how historical this season can be.

"History happens," Buono, the Lions' hugely successful coach, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "The focus can't be on the history, it has to be on the task at hand.

"We've not done anything yet that warrants anything. We're not going out trying to make history. We just want to continue on the road we're on."

A road toward history. The 1948 Calgary Stampeders are the only unbeaten team in Canadian Football League history. They went 12-and-oh in the regular season, won a two-game playoff (although tying the first game) and won the Grey Cup.

Now the season is 18 games. There are seven more obstacles for the Lions. Miami won 17 in a row, including Super Bowl VII. For the Lions to pull off a perfect season, the challenge is overwhelming. They would have to go 20-and-oh.

"Is it possible?" Buono asked rhetorically. "Everything is possible. You buy a lottery ticket because you think you've got a chance. Somebody is going to win. The person who wins the lottery probably didn't have a chance, but it's possible, right?

"There's always an exception to the rule. Why can't it be us?"

It's strange how things just seem meant to be: In 1972, sports psychologist Frank Lodato was working with Larry Little and Bob Matheson and other key members of the championship Dolphins. He wrote a book about the '72 team. Only 33 years later, he happens to be Buono's team psychologist. There are no books planned: Only he feels something that you always explain.

"The Dolphins lost their first Super Bowl to the Cowboys and, in fact, were beaten badly," Lodato said. "In the next training camp, Shula told them their goal was to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. They never lost sight of that goal."

The Lions lost to the Argos in their first Grey Cup with Buono in charge. "I sensed the same kind of feel in camp," Lodato said. "I keep hearing: 'We're so close. We can't miss out on this opportunity.' "

It isn't only the Lions' record that seems astounding. Dave Dickenson, the impish-looking quarterback, is passing at a 76% completion rate. That isn't logical.

Neither is an undefeated season.

"You can't sit around and say you're making history," Buono said, "because as soon as you say it, you probably won't be."

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A look at the remaining games on the B.C. Lions' schedule:

Sept. 24, at Edmonton

Oct. 1, vs. Saskatchewan

Oct. 10, at Winnipeg

Oct. 16, at Montreal

Oct. 22, vs. Winnipeg

Oct. 28, at Edmonton

Nov. 5, vs. Saskatchewan


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