Revisionist History: Loving A Game That Doesn’t Love You Back

Foreword: This was a message board post I wrote after the trouncing the Buffalo Bills put on us in week 3 last year. Joe Philbin was still the head coach, and I had little reason to care about this team any more. 2015 was the first time that I didn’t make watching Dolphins games a priority every Sunday. It may be just a game to some, but I cannot express how grateful I am for Adam Gase and what he has done to my biggest passion in life.

Miami Dolphins mini camp
Adam Gase may have saved a young generation of Dolphins fans that has never seen winning… Until now.

 The professional sporting arena is a sanctuary. An escape for the everyday monotony that adult life can bring about. Sunday afternoons have become the ultimate microcosm of American life where we can justify eating foods that will send us to an early grave, require minimal use of our basic ability to get up and walk and turn our brains off for double digit hours at a time.

For some, this aura, this buzz wears off as soon as the evening game concludes and life continues on. But there remains a small percentage of fans that probably invest too much emotion into the results. This minority looks forward to the weekend not for Friday or Saturday night, but those three glorious hours that their “boys” take the field. That invested emotion can leave them riding high or becoming the scrooge of the office for the entire following week.

I classify myself in that second group. The one that cares too much. And, to make matters worse, the colors I’ve chosen to support from infanthood to my grave is a club that has delivered some mediocre returns for the better part of two decades. Unfortunately, the allure of the bright aqua and orange color of the Miami Dolphins does not reflect the feelings you are left with after that three hour battle on Sunday afternoons.

I’m turning 28 in October. When I was eight years old, the winningest coach in the history of the league ended his 26 year tenure with the Dolphins. When I was 12, the greatest passer to ever play retired leaving behind a 17 year legacy of individual greatness. Miami was a proud organization entrenched in rich history of winning games and hoisting championship trophies.

These were the things that attracted me to the team as a naïve young boy. Running around the yard in my fluorescent colored jacket imitating what I had seen from Dan Marino, O.J. McDuffie, Irving Fryar and Kareem Abdul-Jabar (no, not the Lakers great – the mediocre tailback.) In that naïve state of mind, I had just assumed that winning was what this team did and I could look forward to that for the rest of my days.

Suddenly, Shula was out – Marino couldn’t do it anymore and the franchise turned to a coach who’s pornstache was better than his ability to lead men and a quarterback who’s giant ears were the most interesting part of his game.

Fortunately, the team had drafted well on defense the previous several years and were able to win the AFC East back to back years in 2000 and 2001 while delivering one of the greatest playoff games the NFL has ever seen when Lamar Smith ripped off 209 rushing yards including a game winning 17 yard touchdown scamper in over time. I was 12 years old – more jubilant than a multi-million dollar lottery winner thinking about the potential of winning just TWO more games and advancing to the biggest stage in sports – the Super Bowl.

See, back then I always thought the Dolphins were a title contender. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Brock Marion, Tim Bowens, how could this team do anything BUT win a championship? And they typically put together double digit win seasons making me even more of a believer.

The off-season following a difficult playoff loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens, the team made the most notorious acquisition in the history of the organization.

We welcomed Ricky Williams to South Beach.

ricky-stiff
Ricky Williams was supposed to be the final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.

 
And the following season was magical. I can still rattle off the stats from the top of my head. 1,853 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns, probably should’ve been the MVP of the league and he would have been if the team hadn’t collapsed down the stretch losing its final two games including an 11 point blown fourth quarter lead to Tom Brady and the defending champs in the final game of the season.

That was okay, though. We would be back. We had Ricky Williams. We had that dominant defense and a bright second year receiver by the name of Chris Chambers.

Even though the 2003 season ended with an improved 10-6 record, playoffs were still just barely out of the grasp of my beloved Phins and now the frustration of a back to back season playoff drought was setting in. Alas, we still had Ricky and that defense.

I was 16 years old. I was on summer break, not a care in the world. I had just gotten my license 9 months prior, I was chasing high school girls and the 2004 football season was just around the corner. My best friend was a well-known prankster and was plenty knowledgeable in regards to my undying love for the Miami Dolphins. It was one of the rare nights we weren’t together, but I still thought nothing of a 10 PM phone call that would forever change the football team I had long beloved.

After telling me I may want to sit down for the news he was about to deliver, I began to assume something had happened to a family member – real life problems; something! Upon him delivering the news that Ricky Williams, a star 27 year old tailback, was hanging up his cleats and leaving the game behind, I had to get to a computer (before smart phones) to confirm what I had assumed was just another joke from my buddy Josh.

Training camp started the next day and number 34 was absent. Two jerseys, a life sized cardboard cutout, the countless bobble heads, posters on the walls, every bit of memorabilia I had of my childhood hero was now expendable. How could he leave the team, the fans like this?

Being the optimist and complete homer that I was, I justified the team having a chance to still win without its best player. A four victory season ensued and the Phins had moved into full on rebuild mode. They brought in a highly decorated college coach from Louisianan State University.

Ronnie Brown was the made the second overall choice in the draft in lieu of Aaron Rodgers despite the team’s glaring hole at the quarterback position. The team struggled to a 3-7 start but rebounded to win its final six games and ensure that the organization would not suffer back to back losing seasons for the FIRST time in its history.

2006 saw another former star of the league come over to play quarterback. And just as the ink from Drew Brees’ signature was about to dry on a new contract, the Dolphins team doctors advised the team to move in another direction because Brees’ shoulder was irreparable.

saban
Nick Saban failed miserably as the next “savior.”

Enter Daunte Culpepper. I remember refreshing my favorite Dolphins forum’s front page repeatedly just awaiting the news of Brees becoming the new Phins quarterback. Instead, they took a chance on a hobbled quarterback without much success outside of throwing the ball to Randy Moss in his career.

Despite the move, the Dolphins were media darlings. Nick Saban, Daunte Culpepper, a six game winning streak to end the season – this was the year Miami would return to prominence after a brief hiatus.

That quickly fluttered out when the Dolphins opened the season with a 1-6 mark. The team would go on to win five of the final nine games, but that wasn’t enough for the egotistical, selfish, arrogant head coach to stick to his words about “Not becoming the Alabama coach.” Just a few days after his strong proclamation that he was the Dolphins coach and no one else’s, Saban accepted an offer to move to Tuscaloosa to take over the Crimson Tide program.

The coaching search began once again. Cam Cameron had an impressive resume including turning a mediocre quarterback like Gus Frerrote into a pro-bowler as a quarterbacks coach in the nation’s capital for the Redskins. He orchestrated the brilliant offense in San Diego that had LaDainian Tomlinson breaking multiple records.

He then passed on the can’t miss quarterback prospect from Notre Dame opting for the skinny return specialist from Ohio State. Upon receiving a thunderous, unanimous , “BOO!” from the entire fan base, Cameron approached the podium with that clueless look on his face for the first of what would be many maddening statements. Along with the encouraging words of “fail forward fast,” Cameron suggested Miami fans would love this selection because of the strong upbringing and overall likability of the Ginn family.

Among many other punchlines from that 2007 season, the ‘Ted Ginn’s family joke’ is one that is still often made fun of on Dolphins forums.

After the 1-15 season where the lone victory came in a ceremonious overtime touchdown reception that saw the players storm the field and left the owner in tears in his luxury box high above the playing field, the team turned to football czar, Bill Parcells, to put together the roster and hire a staff.

Parcells put together an outfit that won 11 games and won a division title for the first time in eight years. Dolphins fans could rest easy – the winning tradition was back.

 

sparano-wins-east
The playoff drought was over! Huzzah!

Or so we thought.

2009 saw the team struggle to an 0-3 start, the quarterback went out with an injury and Parcells would eventually leave the club prematurely before his contract expired.

Since that time, middling mediocrity has been the name of the game for the Dolphins. Tony Sparano went 7-9, 7-9 and 6-10 in the following years before finally being dismissed week 15 of the 2011 season after the club started 0-6.

Todd Bowles, the former secondary coach of the Dolphins, was promoted to interim head coach where he finished the 2011 season with victories over the Jets and in Orchard Park over the Bills and a narrow defeat at the hands of the dominant Patriots.

Bowles was an up and coming bright head coach candidate who oozed of promise. Rather than allowing Bowles to retain the job, third year owner, Steve Ross, called upon Joe Philbin to lead his squad and left Jeff Ireland in charge of the general manager’s role.

The team landed quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the 8th pick in the 2012 draft and, to date, Tannehill has started 51 out of 51 possible career games. That kind of stability should have meant some winning seasons, right?

2012 was a wash where the team outperformed expectations winning seven games. 2013 set up to be a huge opportunity as the team had five choices in the first 100 picks of the draft and a boatload of cash to spend in free agency.

Mike Wallace, Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe, Brandon Gibson, Dion Jordan, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis were the haul Jeff Ireland was able to pull off.

 

jeff-ireland
Jeff Ireland promising the 2013 off-season wasn’t the worst in team history…. it was.

Two years, later the only player on that list remaining on the roster is Jamar Taylor who has performance has mirrored that of one-armed cornerback playing without the luxury of film study.

The team stumbled to 8-8 and Ireland fell on the sword as owner Stephen Ross was convinced a new decision maker could get the team over that hump.

Negative. 8-8 again in 2014 including losses in three of the final four games and allowing 200 yard rushers at the same frequency President Obama leaves himself open for republican criticism.

And that brings us to 2015. Joe Philbin is still the head coach after putting together a 24-27 record and a begin to a highly anticipated season that has shown the Dolphins play three dreadful games including the team’s worst home opening defeat since 1970.

Dolphins fans were led to believe it was going to be different this year. That the previous decade was a farce that we simply had to endure to get back to this level of sheer dominance led by our star quarterback and prized free agent, Ndamukong Suh.

Yet I sit here on a Wednesday afternoon, the team is traveling to London for a game with our most hated rival, the New York Jets, and the season already has the feel of another rebuild. Some fans of the team are even rooting for a loss just to see Philbin dismissed. If you know Dolphins fans, losing to the Jets is never an option – just to overstate the delicacy of this situation.

joe-philbin
Trust me, Joe. You weren’t the only one depressed about your tenure in Miami.

It’s this kind of constant beating of hopes and dreams that causes one to re-evaluate his priorities. I pride myself on the fact that I sat through each one of those beat downs in 2007 and watched every single snap. However, on Sunday, I couldn’t do it anymore and chose to do something else with my Sunday instead of watch the Dolphins return from the halftime locker room trailing to 27-0 to a team that is comparable in terms of talent.

A search for a new head coach is imminent. This has been the saving grace of the past fifteen years for us Phins fans as we always anticipate change, the draft, new players, the promise that this go around will be different. Yet, here we are, stuck in perpetual motion just hoping for new results.

As pained as it makes me, the joy of hope has escaped the fan in me. How can I trust an owner that still stands by a coach who has proven, time and time again, to just be mediocre? How can I trust an organization that has consistently made the wrong moves year after year after year?

I don’t want to be, but I’m simply done buying into hope. You’ve robbed me of that, Miami Dolphins. You’ve robbed me of the minimal childhood exuberance and optimism I used to feel about my escape from reality in the NFL.

As we stand today, nothing you do impresses me until I get to see the dividends pay off between the lines on game day. You have to earn that childhood fan back by winning games, going to the post-season, putting the title of “league’s punchline” well to rest. From here on out, I’m just another boring average fan that no longer gets to bring the excitement of the fantasy world of professional football into my mundane adult life.

 

@travis_writes

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