Could It Possibly Be Our Time Again?
As a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan I have seen two distinct eras in following my favorite team. The Shula era, and the post-Shula era. The distinction between these two eras comes down to a simple factor that is the single solitary criteria that defines all of sports. Winning.
I am 50 years old and grew up in South Florida and I think the first year I can truly recall seeing and being aware of the team was 1974 when I was 10 and we watched the Miami Dolphins in my house. At that time there was all this excitement about the Dolphins but I just did not quite know what all the uproar was. I mean I knew that they had won the Super Bowl twice but I just don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember the games or watching them. I just remember the excitement that was in my family, particularly my mother who was a die-hard Dolphins fan. I remember my older brothers and mother bragging that “OJ Simpson could not run on our no name defense”. And how Miami Dolphins news and mania was everywhere. The buzz was incredible and it sucked me in because I wanted to be a part of it. The first actual game action I remember was when the Oakland Raiders played the Dolphins in a 1974 AFC playoff game now known as the “Sea of Hands Game”. We all know this is where Raiders QB Ken Stabler tossed up a prayer of a pass as he was being sacked and Clarence Davis somehow miraculously reached between three Dolphins defenders to make the catch in the end zone and win the game. Now I remember it mostly because my mother lost her mind. Oh yeah, she went completely mental as if she herself had been personally involved with the game plan and was on the field that day. Oh how she hated the Raiders for the rest of her life because in essence they ended the championship era for our Miami Dolphins.
In the years that followed I remember great players and historical Miami Dolphins moments. Players like Delvin Williams, Bob Keuchenberg, Larry Little, and Nat Moore and moments like Bob Griese wearing glasses on the field, and Larry Csonka coming back to the Dolphins. But what I remember most was winning. Being in the hunt every year for the division and the playoffs. We were respected and loved and this had gone on for years and mostly because of Head Coach Don Shula. Don Shula was the cornerstone of the franchise and represented toughness, intelligence, and a relentless commitment to winning. He just kept his system fed with the right talent and the right pieces and then he was wildly brilliant at game planning and executing on Sundays. That is why I separate my Dolphins history based in his tenure with the team.
As I got into high school it coincided with the WoodStrock era and then the Marino era. And we were still winning because we went to the Super Bowl in 1982 and in 1984. We lost both but man it was fun watching, even though my wife at the time commented after the 49er loss that it “feels like someone died in this house” as my family Super Bowl party quickly turned into a wake. But it was fun during this time watching Marino who was just slinging the ball all over the place. Man what a great time to be a Dolphins fan and watch Danny play. He single handedly kept us at the top of the league at times. But we had great players too like Irving Fryar, Keith Byars, Richmond Webb, and Louis Oliver. We never could solve our defense or the Buffalo Bills so we never made it back to the Super Bowl. But we were a playoff team every year and we often advanced. We were still a force and top team in the NFL year after year through the Marino era. And that is just the way it was. We were one of the NFL’s elite for my entire life and it was great to be a Miami Dolphins fan. We were the cool fans and we always welcomed a debate about football because we always had the upper hand.
Well nothing lasts forever, and when Don Shula was forced to retire in 1995 things changed. Jimmy Johnson came in with a lot of anticipation and excitement and we were respectable. He built a great defense around Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison and Pat Surtain. But as brilliant as Jimmy was he could never get the offense right. So we never quite made it back to the dominance we had known. Then Jimmy Johnson left and this is the point where everything really changed for the worse. In the years and now decades to follow our Miami Dolphins fell into a really bizarre unexplained phenomenon. They were able to change rosters and Head Coaches and General Managers, and even Owners, over and over again and look exactly the same. It was like Groundhog Day in sports. It didn’t matter if it was Dave Wanstedt or Cam Cameron or Tony Sparano. Jay Fiedler, Chad Pennington or Chad Henne we looked exactly the same. Played the same way, lost the same way. It all just became a big weird blur of losing and mediocrity. Now, I will make the exception, that we were blessed to have Ricky Williams on the team for a while and we introduced the Wild Cat, Miami Dolphins football was fun and exciting again. Ricky was a force to watch and the most dominant back in the league. But it didn’t last long and in what had now become typical Dolphins misfortune the Ricky era went off the tracks, or should I say up in smoke. We were once again irrelevant and the mediocrity of draft busts and late season collapses just looped again and again as we just couldn’t seem to win.
So that brings me to what is happening in 2015 and why I am writing this article. For the first time there is legitimate optimism around the Miami Dolphins and things feel different. This optimism is not just a bunch of Dolphins “homers” believing that we are going to the Super Bowl for no reason, like Jets fans do every year, it is based on having real talent on this team. In the past two years Steven Ross has found the right chemistry and football smarts in pairing Dennis Hickey and Michael Tannenbaum in the front office. The resulting swing in talent is measurable and it has the Dolphins back in the conversation of contending for the division. Take the somewhat risky pick of Ryann Tannehill, a converted WR to QB in the 2012 Draft now looks like a move of brilliance. He has gotten better and better each year. And seemingly under Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazer and mentor Dan Marino, the lights have come on for him and he looks like a top tier QB in this league. The signing of Suh, the shake-up of the WR corp and a much better success rate in the draft have given us the right pieces that fit Joe Philbin’s plan and more importantly his culture. Gone are players who are malcontents and who under produce. The players and this team seem tighter and more focused and in tune with the scheme. Two years ago the Jonathan Martin debacle had many of us believing Philbin had lost the locker room, now it appears he has forged a roster of people who WANT to play for him and who not only believe in his system, but they believe in each other. This is a different Miami Dolphins team than we have seen over the past decade or two. They play hungry and with fire and with determination. The players are a good mix of veterans like Suh and Jennings who are taking on leadership roles and holding the young players accountable while setting the expectation high inside the locker room. It is exciting because when you consider the youth of this roster it is certain to get better and for years to come and maybe finally after all these years it may be our time again. Yes our time to win, contend, and to stand a little taller when we walk into a room wearing our Dolphin gear.
My mother passed away three years ago and never got to see the Dolphins win another Super Bowl. She was such a fan of the team that she spent her last days covered in her favorite Miami Dolphins blanket. As we head into the 2015 season there is actual hope that we will rise and become the next dominant team in the AFC and maybe, just maybe with this new team with this new direction will allow me to see my favorite football team win a Super Bowl that this time I will remember, and remember for the rest of my life.