It’s two minutes past 10 PM out here on the West Coast. Tomorrow’s lunch will be accompanied by a beer in a little mountain town just east of the Cascade mountains. The 2,000 residents of Cle Elum Washington often congregate at a corner dive bar located in the heart of the quiet little community. From the red crumbly exterior to the old fashion spittoon aligning the bar, ‘The Brick’ is aptly named. By the time I, and a bevy of other travelers, finish my burger and ale, the new NFL season will be less than 24 hours from kickoff.
This year is unique for me. I will be in attendance when the Dolphins buckle it up for the opener in Seattle. Any other year, I have the mix channel streaming on the laptop, the CBS broadcast on the television, and it’s a 50/50 proposition whether I’m nursing a hangover or not.
The anticipation of another season brings about a feeling of hope – even for supporters of a franchise that has specialized in let down with a side dish of dysfunction. The December collapses, the failed coaching searches, the national scandals, the never-ending quarterback discussion – and they say this team lacks consistency.
Amidst all the poor personnel decisions, questionable clock and game day management and sub .500 seasons, there’s a never-ending gravity, pulling back even the most downtrodden Dolphins fan. Like some sort of voluntary masochism, the allure of a fresh start vacuums us directly back into a dimension not unlike the one Bill Murray’s character finds himself in the 1993 classic, ‘Groundhog Day.’
It’s the unveiling of the Wildcat offense. Taking the AFC East crown from Bret Favre and the New York Jets with their former quarterback inside their stadium. It’s Ronnie Brown scoring a game clinching touchdown over those same Jets on Monday Night Football. It’s beating Pittsburgh in the snow and Michael Thomas picking off Tom Brady to almost certainly snap a then four-year playoff drought.
Even if the Dolphins logo always appears in the far right column of that annual “Playoff Picture” graphic that is aired ad nauseam but every sports network, we still buy in. Whether it’s the demolition of Houston in 2015 or the undoing of the Chargers in 2014, every season brings about reasons for hope.
Expectations are tempered in 2016, to say the least. The linebackers can’t tackle, our starting running back spends more time in the training room than in the backfield and the secondary is still a mess. 365 days ago, the Panthers weren’t going to be able to overcome the loss of Kelvin Benjamin, their best offensive lineman retired and the pass rush wasn’t the same when Greg Hardy missed 15 games the year prior.
No one truly knows what’s going to happen. That’s what makes the NFL the popular, mega-entertainer it has become. It’s the best drama television and live audiences can experience. The three -hour escape for the mundane routine of a 40-hour work week. It’s a grown man’s opportunity to dream and be a part of something greater than himself.
Why can’t the impossible become the probable? Why can’t Adam Gase have the instant impact Jim Harbaugh experienced? Why can’t Ryan Tannehill have a Drew Brees like emergence? Why won’t the defense adjust to Vance Joseph’s new, attacking scheme and take advantage of the superstars it employs?
Seven or eight wins seems to be the narrative for even the most optimistic Dolphins fans. Well, for one more day, take solace in the idea that sports aren’t scripted. No one can spoil the outcome in advance. Remember that every year, in the NFL, could be THE year.
Miami has the mother fucking Dolphins. And, to me, they’re still the greatest football team.