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Tom Knott: Put a fork in concern for a perfect season

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Perfection is an illusory concept, for no institution stuffed with humans is perfect.

That, of course, is the beauty of being a trial lawyer, forever motivated to find imperfections in institutions with cash-atoning recourse.

The Colts and Saints should consider this imperfect truth as they weigh the prospect of an unblemished record against the benefits of resting their starters in the coming weeks before the playoffs.

The conflict emanates from the 1972 Dolphins, the standard of perfection in the NFL, as perfection is distilled down to a 17-0 record.

It is easy to talk this game, and talk they do on the airwaves, where a sore knee is not liable to hold back anyone's vocal cords.

The Dolphins are inevitably trotted out each time a team makes a run at an undefeated season, the 2007 Patriots being the last team to inspire a nostalgic break in the action.

The Patriots came within David Tyree's one-in-a-zillion, ball-pressed-against-the-helmet catch of going 19-0 and putting the 1972 Dolphins to rest.

And maybe Shula's Steakhouse, too.

That would be Don Shula, coach of the 1972 Dolphins, chain restaurant entrepreneur and one of the spokesmen of the Nutrisystem weight-loss program.

You can draw what you want from the connection: steakhouse, expanding girth, Nutrisystem.

As it was, the Dolphins were hardly the top NFL organization of the '70s, not when you consider the four Super Bowl championships of the Steelers, their sustained level of excellence preferable to a burst of brilliance.

If it is about hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the end - and it is - every other consideration is extraneous.

Pity either coach if Peyton Manning or Drew Brees suffered a season-ending injury in the final regular-season game.

Actually, the Colts could secure home-field advantage this weekend, which would reduce their final three games to exercises in bookkeeping.

This would appeal only to those agents tracking the bonus clauses in the contracts of their clients.

The Saints would merit an asterisk if they go 19-0 after Shaun Suisham missed a field goal from chip-shot range and stayed employed long enough to apologize, as is the wont of the Redskins in their season of discontent.

Colts coach Jim Caldwell has it right so far. He is not seeking a historical footnote, just the Lombardi Trophy. He has made it clear he plans to give his starters plenty of rest once they have earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

That was the wise approach of his predecessor, Tony Dungy, all too aware of the injury variable.

All teams are nursing injuries at this point in the season. All the teams' locker rooms look like pharmacies. Many of the so-called healthy are one cortisone shot away from being sidelined.

There is no sense in tempting the football gods other than securing a seat at the table of the Dolphins, a mythical honor, not a tangible one that puts zeroes at the end of a contract.

The Dolphins are not even history's team anyway. That would be one of the Steelers teams in the '70s or one of the 49ers teams in the '80s, each equipped with a better quarterback and more playmakers.

A similar debate afflicts the NBA, the 1996 Bulls sometimes perceived as the be-all because of their expansion-inflated 72-win season.

That barometer overlooks what the 1986 Celtics and 1987 Lakers might have achieved with a scaled-down schedule that included games against six more bottom-feeders.

Sustained excellence removes the guesswork from history's caretakers.

Not that the 1972 Dolphins were a one-season wonder. Theirs was an impressive body of work in the early '70s as they appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls and won two.

That period may not hold up to the '70s Steelers or '80s 49ers, but it provides a measuring point in a way that 17-0 does not.

The Saints and Colts have a postseason to consider.

And that, really, should be their only consideration.

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