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Life as a Dolphin Fan
Yet another Miami Dolphins season is upon us and once again it is filled with a mixture of optimism and skepticism in fans. While the team has some definite question marks, the successful history of the team and some key additions also have many fans expecting a lot from this team, and they should have high expectations. The pessimists will point at an offensive line coming off a bad season in which thus far hasn't looked any better. They will point at a run defense that once again is struggling and ask, "can Jay Fiedler be consistent and take care of the football?" Those three areas ultimately will be key to the success or failure of this team. The question is what team will show up? The team for the optimists or the team for the pessimists? The answer will be answered in the coming months but if history shows anything the answer will be both.
There are many reasons to believe that this team will once again make the playoffs and perhaps make a run at the Super Bowl, but there are also many reasons to make one believe this team is due for another playoff blowout, if they even make it that far. As Dolphin fans we have been both extremely spoiled with success and in put through extreme agony at the same time. We always have hope but always fall short in the end. The Dolphins are like that kid who gets invited to all the popular parties and he thinks he's finally going to break through and be part of the "in" crowd, only to get lost in the crowd and have to leave early because he wasn't what he thought he was. Every year it is the same, even when the Dolphins weren't that good they were decent. What is it about this franchise that has allowed them to be so consistently good and successful for so long yet not reach that mountain top?
The 2002 season marks the 30th anniversary of the "Perfect Season" and it's been 29 years since we last won the Super Bowl. In my first year of life the Dolphins win twice, I just hope it doesn't take my death for them to win again. It's been 17 years since Dan Marino led us to the Super Bowl and even in defeat we were so sure our day would soon come, but with Marino we never even got back let alone win. In the 17 seasons since our last Super Bowl appearance, the Dolphins have made the playoffs 10 times which is still pretty good by NFL standards. Since 1990 Miami has made the playoffs 9 out of 12 years. Even the three years the Dolphins missed the playoffs weren't that bad, we were decimated by injures in 1991 and lost to the Jets in the final game of the season which was basically a playoff game, a game in which still haunts me. 1993 the injury bug once again killed the team and took Dan Marino. 1996 was the other season we missed the playoffs in the 90's and that was the first year of rebuilding with Jimmy Johnson.
Since Don Shula arrived in Miami in 1970, which was the turning point of this franchise, only twice have the Dolphins had losing records(1976 and 1988). The Dolphins have also only twice missed the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons in that span (1975-1977 and 1986-1989). The Dolphins even went 10-4 twice in that streak during the 70's, in which only 4 teams made the playoffs, so they weren't necessarily bad. Those four seasons in the late 80's the Dolphins were just a bad team, without Marino who knows how bad they would have been. Still while 8-8 or 9-7 is hardly a successful season by our standards, something must be said for a franchise that never bottoms out. Even our bad teams found a way to be competitive. Maybe that is the problem; the Dolphins are victims of their own success. It's truly amazing that a franchise, although not always a true contender, can consistently be competitive for a 30 year span. Only 5 times in franchise history has the Phins even had a top 10 draft pick. The first two came in the expansion years and of the other three, one came via a trade. That means since 1970 only twice has Miami's own pick been in the top 10 and both of those came in back to back years in the late 80's. All this just makes the Dolphins legacy all the more amazing. But that legacy is tarnished, no Super Bowl victories in 29 years.
Even in the current age of the salary cap and parity the Dolphins have been very successful. The Dolphins have made the playoffs five consecutive seasons, by far the longest current streak. They've also perhaps been the most consistently good franchise during the salary cap era, but again no Super Bowl victory, not even an appearance in the AFC title game. Frustrations get compounded further when we see other teams come out of the gutter and win the Super Bowl. Something isn't right here.
So why is it the Dolphins can be so good yet consistently fall short? Did Don Shula or Joe Robbie make a deal with the devil in order to get those two trophies and perfect season in the early 70's? The problem is that since the great teams of the early 70's, the Dolphins simply have not had a complete team. That team had Hall of Fame runners, receivers, blockers, and quarterback. That team also had a great and underrated defense. Those Dolphin teams had both a great defense and a great offense. They could run, pass, stop the run, and stop the pass. Add in the good coaching and special teams and it is no wonder they were winners. Since then we have just had one or the other.
I can't speak on the late 70's, but as the 80's got going the Dolphins were built around a great defense that became known as the "Killerbees" and a low octane offense. Still somehow this team got to a Super Bowl, losing to the Redskins. As this defense aged, here came Dan Marino and an explosive offense. Marino and this offense were also able to get to a Super Bowl as well, losing to the 49ers. But as the offense continued to be explosive, the defense completely fell apart. Throughout the Marino era the Dolphins were known as a great offense with no defense. Once the 90's arrived, the defense was better but still not championship caliber as they consistently got ran over. The lack of an offensive running game probably only elevated the defensive woes. But wait, it continues. As Marino and the offense faded, here comes the defense again. Dan's last years the offense struggled while the defense once again prospered. That has continued the last two seasons under Jay Fiedler. So I ask, in the last 29 years why hasn't this franchise been able to put together both a good offense and defense at the same time? I don't truly know the answer. Maybe it's the lack of early draft picks but my theory is that while the team has one strong unit, they concentrate on the weaker unit too much and by the time it becomes strong the other unit is down.
Will this season be any different than those of the past? Only time will tell and it could go either way. This defense, while it has the potential, isn't dominant as it has been. The run defense is a major concern and if they can correct that the there shouldn't be any worries. As for the offense, we have more talent than we've had in years. We finally have a franchise back in Ricky Williams, and the receiving core is very solid with future superstar Chris Chambers along with Oronde Gadsden, Dedric Ward, and James McKnight. Throw in the explosive rookie tight end Randy McMichael, Travis Minor, Rob Konrad, and Desmond Clark, this offensive team could become very special with Norv Turner pulling the strings. But only if Jay Fiedler can continue to improve and the offensive line can regain the form they had in 2000 and block.
Whether we win it all, finally completely fall apart, or something in between, I and Dolphin fans everywhere will be watching and cheering intently each and every week. Yes we are spoiled by the great success of this team over the years. Yes we live in agony because of the ultimate failure of the team every year. But in the end we all come back because we love this team and love cheering for them. We love applauding great moves and criticizing not so great moves. Dolphin victories are our victories and Dolphin defeats are our defeats. Win or lose, we should be very proud of our team and we should be very proud of the great success they have had over the years. The Dolphins are the winningest sports franchise since 1970 after all. We've had it all, great victories and disappointing losses. We had Dan Marino and Don Shula, arguably the greatest quarterback and coach ever. We had a perfect season, the hook and lateral, the snow plow, a blown Achilles, a Thanksgiving Day miracle, the longest game in NFL history, Garo's Gaff, Lamar's run, and AJ's interception return in the rain and mud during the AFC Title game. We've defended the perfect season on Monday night against the Bears, surpassed Papa Bear Halas, broke almost every passing record known to man, and even suffered a 62-7 playoff thrashing. But the torment of no championship on 29 years tears away at us all. So take the optimism and the pessimism of the 2002 season, for most of us it's all mixed together anyway. Starting on Sunday against the Lions we begin another journey. It'll either be a journey to the Promised Land or a journey another disappointment. But in the end it's a journey with a great franchise, the Miami Dolphins.