Perfection is a word too easily thrown about and far too often erroneously said to have been achieved. One diner's perfect chocolate mousse is for another a dessert with not enough chocolate and too much mousse.
Perfection, then, often is in the eye of the beholder. But we have cheapened its meaning by flinging it about too casually to describe a perfect dinner, a perfect wedding, a perfect fishing trip. In truth, each perhaps was good, possibly very good, but perfect? Most likely not. At the very least, it depends on who is applying the descriptive and what the standards are.
A further problem is that perfection is a moving target. A dazzling sunset over the front range of the Rocky Mountains earlier this week was perfect to one viewer but in no way measured up to one seen over Maui in the opinion of another. So, was the Rocky Mountain version in orange and pink and gold brilliance perfect or not?
Surfers are in search every day for the perfect wave. Has there been one?
Millions spend lifetimes in quest of perfect spouses. Alas, there are only a few of us.
Ah, but glory be, there is an example of perfection for which there can be no dispute: a perfect football season, one in which all the games are won and none are lost.
The only time this ever was achieved in the National Football League was in 1972 by the Miami Dolphins, 17-0. Bob Griese quarterbacked and the No-Name Defense tackled its way into our memories.
But might it come to pass, or possibly to run, of course, that this year's Denver Broncos will scale the heights and plant the flag atop Mt. Perfection? For openers, it's silly to even talk like this about the 7-0 Broncs, who potentially have 12 more games to play, including two with talented Kansas City, one with longtime nemesis Oakland, and season-enders with Miami and Seattle, which might be tests.
Then, several playoff games and a Super Bowl. See how silly it is to talk like this?
There's no question the defending Super Bowl champ Broncos, with John Elway at quarterback and Terrell Davis at running back and Mike Shanahan at coach, is a team that started the season good, advanced to very good, and is now on the cusp of excellence. Maybe.
In last Sunday's easy win over Jacksonville, the Broncos' Jason Elam kicked a 63-yard field goal, tying the NFL mark set by New Orleans' Tom Dempsey 28 football seasons ago. "I hit it really clean," said Elam. But, of course, clean does not beget perfect since it's reasonable to assume another kicker on another day might succeed from 64 yards, a yard more perfect. So it was only an excellent kick. Beyond excellence lies perfection.
Twice, in 1934 and 1942, the Chicago Bears were undefeated, but lost in season-ending title games. Four other NFL teams didn't get beat but did get tied. Perfection doesn't allow ties. Ahead for the Broncs lie, almost certainly, snow games at Mile High Stadium, travail on the road, and injury home and away.
Yet, undefeated talk already is hitting crescendos. Conversely, Minnesota also is unbeaten at this point and nobody is chattering about the Vikings going all victorious. This is further evidence that Denver perhaps, possibly, might be, could be perfectly special.
What is fun about all this is the journey, which often is more fun than the destination. Indeed, the legendary albeit horrifically behaved football player Joe Don Looney once said, "If happiness was found in the end zone, I'd live there. But it's not so I don't."
Perfection unquestionably has a fine point on it. After all, Mark McGwire's baseball season wasn't perfect. He could have hit more homers, had a better batting average. Ditto Sammy Sosa. Ditto the maybe-greatest-ever-maybe-not 1998 New York Yankees. But should the Broncos make it unscathed, that is undeniably perfect because it cannot be improved upon.
The insightful essayist from New Jersey, Logan Pearsall Smith, wrote, "The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star."
It does. We all know that to pursue perfection is to set ourselves up for disappointment. But the thrill is in the hunt and so what if reach exceeds grasp?
After all, it is far, far better to have pursued perfection and lost than never to have pursued perfection at all. And just think how it must feel to achieve it.
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org