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The Light And Dark Side Of The Aqua And Orange

dolphinstalk.com

What happened to my beloved Dolphins?  Why can they never seem to get it right?  Where did it go so wrong?  How could they let this game (insert any of the number of losses by 7 points or less) get away?  As a life-long Dolphins fan, these are some of the many questions that I am sure a number of you true Dolphins fans out there can sympathize with me on.   While he may never have gotten a Superbowl ring, every game that Marino played for the Dolphins gave us one thing – hope.  Every game Ricky Williams played in for his first few years, I felt a glimmer of hope in spite of the fact that Dave Wannstedt was the head coach.

Where did it all go so wrong for the Dolphins?  It began with the sale of the team by the Robbie family.  A new owner came in with a lot of swagger, and in a thinly veiled coup de’tat removed the iconic and immortal Don Shula, bringing in the hot choice at coach, Jimmy Johnson.  Jimmy was the start of the coaching carousel that would plague the Miami Dolphins for over a decade.  The coaching carousel is the single greatest reason for failure that the Dolphins have had.  Jimmy began building a team, despite not seeing it through to success,  that could really take off and go places.  He found the gems in the draft, despite some memorable failures (I won’t name any names, John Avery), and found some legendary Dolphin’s greats – Zach & Jason, I wish you were still here.  Then Jimmy departed after the heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs…  and left many Dolfans cringing at the thought that “The Moustache” would follow him.

-The Moustache Era-

That’s right…  I’m still so frustrated with the rapid descent in coaching skills that I’m dubbing one of the absolute worst as “The Moustache Era.”  He took what had been building in Miami and disassembled it.  It remained hidden for a year or two behind the monumental performance of Ricky Williams and a few others, but in reality the botches made by team management during that time were the most rapid and firm cause of descent for a historic franchise.  I can still palpably taste the disgust in my mouth with that regime.  Wannstedt’s first move as temporary coach was to push Marino out the door, who remains to this day the single greatest player to don the aqua and orange.  While it’s true Marino was probably only sixty to seventy percent of the player that he was in his golden years, I would take sixty to seventy percent of Dan Marino over one hundred and twenty percent of <insert failed successor here>.  It was shameful the way he was pushed out, and without an actual successor, this was a failed decision.

The play calling during the Moustache Era was the worst that I have ever seen from any team, at any level, ever.  The sheer and brunt ability of Ricky Williams is one of the primary reasons that any of it worked, in spite of poor decision after poor decision.  I’m going to let all of you in on a little secret here, I don’t study game film during the week… I just don’t have time in my schedule.  I can still, as if I were an individual gifted with a photographic memory, recall with succinct clarity so many of the plays where the offense lined up on the field and screaming at my TV “Oh my god no, don’t run that play!  Don’t run that <expletive> play!!!” – and the team would snap the ball and run exactly what we all knew was coming.  I can only imagine that, if the average Dolfan at home knew exactly what was coming on almost any given play, these defenders who get paid millions of dollars to study game film day in and day out were all too aware of what was coming.  This regime left a horror show in my mind, and I still can’t palate the sideline screen to this day.

Dave Wannstedt, amidst the turmoil caused by the shaky leadership provided by both Chris Spielman and himself, unceremoniously left midway through the 2004 season, with the team staring at a 1-8 record.  Less than 2 months later, he would resurface again, and in an effort to destroy all things that beloved for Dan Marino in football, it was as the new head coach at Pitt (On a personal side note, as a UCONN fan, I rejoiced at this news).  The experiment with the Moustache Era had drawn to it’s sad, tragic conclusion.

-The Post-Apocalyptic Aftermath Era-

I admit it, the name of the era following Wannstedt’s destruction of the team is a bit harsh, but as a fan we watched head coaches, GM’s, Quarterbacks and others shuffle through trying to change the culture in Miami.  Names both big and small were paraded past us… and kept right on going, shuffling along by in a an effort to fix the void and departing again.  Furthering the demise, they all seemed to have opposing viewpoints on how to fix the team.  “We’re going to swap out our big slow guys for little fast guys” followed  by “We’re going to swap our little fast guys out for some bigger slower guys” – all of which saw better players join the coaching shuffle, as in an episode of The Walking Dead, all headed towards some further, as yet unknown, destination.

I know many folks will argue this point, but I’m very adamant about the fact that I believe Tony Sparano COULD have fixed this team and righted the ship.  I am taking nothing away from Coach Philbin, as I don’t know enough about him yet to see if he can get us there.  I always liked Tony Sparano, but gained a huge amount of respect for him during the course of last season.  Tony finally “got it” that he needs to coach to the players he has and redesign his system to match the skills, experience, and talents of his players.  He took one on the chin after that hellacious start to the season last year, and in a matter of weeks transformed the team into one of the teams that might not be going to the playoffs, but was hitting people in the mouth and other than the Green Bay Packers – no team WANTED to face the Dolphins during the closing months of the season.  They suddenly found their swagger and started getting the job done.  In spite of everything, the second half of the season last year should be viewed as the best steps towards leading our fans out of the dark and into the light, and laid the groundwork for a team to finish climbing out of that cellar.

-Now-

Looking at this season thus far, Miami looks like a team that is heading in the right direction and righting that ship.  There will be mistakes – Philbin is a first year head coach, Tannehill a rookie starting Quarterback, and other young players at positions that will make some critical mistakes at the worst times.

Fans can say what they want to, and be frustrated if they so choose, but the Dolphins are 2 minutes and 1 play away from a 3-0 record right now.  You take back the 2 minutes where nothing could go right on offense in the Texans game, and the subsequent points that resulted from those 2 minutes, and the Texans game could easily be a win.  The Jets?  If Carpenter makes either field goal, or if the pass to Hartline had hit him in stride instead of Hartline having to make a superhuman amazing effort to catch the ball, or the timeout hadn’t been called to ice the kicker, etc… that’s another win right there.  Looking at that, I can’t help but be optimistic of where this team can go over the next few years… can you?

10 comments

  1. Scott

    I was born the same year as the Dolphins franchise. I have vague memories of the 1972 season, and remember watching the entirety of Super Bowl VIII after the 1973 season.

    Everything was going pretty well, right up until Kenny Stabler somehow stayed upright with Manny Fernandez hanging all over him for just long enough to slip the ball in-between the Sea of Hands.

    The past decade has been a nightmare. The only thing positive is that I now expect to lose. The Sea of Hands made me run up to my room and tear up all my Raiders football cards. John Riggins had nearly the same effect on 4th and 1. This last Jets game hurt, but it was against a backdrop of knowing this season was lost before the previous season even ended. Seeing us beat the Raiders felt wierd – maybe because for two of the past five seasons we have not even won a single game before being all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

    I follow two franchises in sports. My beloved Miami Dolphins, and my alma mater, the UK Wildcats. Thank g*d for my Cats. I may live long enough to see the ‘Phins play in another Super Bowl, but the odds look pretty long at this point.

    1. Paul Picken, Jr

      Hey Scott… I have to say, I’m completely jealous of the memories you have of the 1972 and 1973 season, and seeing them do so many amazing things. I was born in 1979, so I missed out on the glory years of Csonka & Kiick, Mercury Morris and the Killer B’s… I would have loved to see those games. My early years of Phan-dom were spent watching John Offerdahl sacrifice his body week in and week out… Marino was the only quarterback I ever knew in a Dolphins uniform during my time watching the team. It felt weird as hell seeing guys like Fiedler don the uniform, let me tell you…

      Try as I might, I can’t expect the fins to lose most weeks. I can see the glimmers of this once proud franchise resurfacing… I’ll be pulling for them right along with you, Scott, and best of luck to your ‘Cats!

      1. Scott

        We just need to hit on a franchise quarterback and things will move up. It is painful to think of all the second round picks we threw at forlorn hope targets – AJ Feely, Pat White, Henne, Culpepper. I know that “snakebit” feeling where you want to hope that Tannehill will develop into The Guy, but I was saying that about Henne after that Monday Night Jets game in ’08, and about Culpepper before the season opener against the Steelers, and about …..

        I was lucky to see two franchise QBs lead the ‘Phins for most of my earlier years (plus, the immortal David Woodley era in-between!). I miss that feeling that if we had the ball and time on the clock, we could still pull the game out.

        1. Paul Picken, Jr

          I agree. It still kills me that Saban paraded Culpepper in front of us while stating Brees wouldn’t be anything due to the nature of his injury… how’d that turn out? At least we’re not overpaying for other team’s leftovers anymore… that was my biggest worry with Flynn this offseason – I just wasn’t sold on him. Henne showed promise, but I can’t remember seeing the promise in him that I have seen from Tannehill thus far.

          The only worthwhile, serviceable QB to come through since Marino was Pennington, and that was a very short stopgap to “get to the next guy” – unfortunately that “next guy” never materialized.

          Hang in there, the fins will get there!

  2. maryann

    I remember the Dolphins when my father took me to their first training camp in St. Pete Beach, FL. Yes, they trained there for about 2 weeks. in 1966. If you Google map “Dolphin Village” shopping center on St. Pete Beach, that was the location of a dirt field and a goal post.. I have lived, loved, and cried over the “Fins since the beginning. My husband tells people he fell in love with me after finding out I was a Dolphin’s fan as we live in Buc’s land.

    It was a honor to be a fan, to be loyal to a team who just exuded the win mentality. To have the pleasure of watching Dan Marino, Don Shula and the many others who went out on the field every week and always had a chance to win.

    The last 12 years have been brutal. I have been told it’s a cycle, they will get good again.

    Not seeing that happen any time soon, but I will continue to watch and continue to root for them and continue to jump, scream, hoot and holler every time they do something great on the field.

    It’s just in my DNA.

    1. Paul Picken, Jr

      Maryann, that sounds amazing. I’ve never had the privelage of seeing a game in Miami, let alone a training camp, and think it would be amazing to see the place they used to practice. I’m actually scheduled to make a trip to the area for the first time ever next week for work (of course, it’s sandwiched between 2 away games!) and will definitely have to check out the Dolphin Village shopping center area! Thanks for the tip!

      I love the story about you and your husband, I just think that’s fantastic :)

      I totally agree… that hope that we all had every time Don & Danny took that field, you felt you had a chance to win.

      It’s definitely a cycle… and it’s easier these days to go from 3-13 to 13-3 than it is to get out of the 8-8 doldrums… so here’s hoping that they are finally back on that upswing!

      Thanks for the response!

  3. cali moreno

    It was Vern den Herder who was hanging all over Stabler! I was at that game. UGH!!

    1. Scott

      Amazing that you were in Oakland for thart classic game. I know those were the days way before wearing a team jersey was de rigeur. Did you get any trouble from the infamous Oakland fans?

      It is funny what time does to your memory. I have specific recollections of the game, like Nat Moore running back the opening kickoff for a TD, convincing me it would all be OK. Sometimes, when you google your memory 30 years or so later, you find that it isn’t as reliable as you think. I do remember screaming, desperately “he was down! He was down before he got the pass off!”, more out of disbelief that from what I had actually seen. And, of courrse, convincing myself that we would surely score again in the remaining :26 or so we had left in the game.

    2. Paul Picken, Jr

      @moreno – I’m completely jealous! Even if it was a debacle, I would’ve loved being there…

      @Scott – I love the imagery of “googling” your memory. I wish I could’ve seen that game as it happened!

      1. Scott

        RE: “Googling” your memory….

        I have a specific memory of seeing a Bengals game in Cincinnati while I was living in Ohio in the 1970s. My memory tells me they were playing the Patriots, that it was a dull, noncompetitive game (Ken Anderson for HOF!), and that I was puzzled when the crowd went crazy on a short pass in the third quarter. Years later, I decided it must have been cheering from fans listening to a Reds game on their radios.

        Google tells me that the 1975 Bengals did indeed play a home game against the Patriots on October 12, 1975, which they won 27-10. Google also shows the Reds playing a day game (away, of course) at Boston on October 12th – game 2 of the World Series. Sure enough, the Reds scored 2 runs in the top of the 9th inning to win 3-2. So, my memory and reconstruction of the reason for the cheering are both likely correct!.

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