As most of you know, I was part of a contingent of Miami Dolphins fan site webmasters who converged on Miami this past weekend. With the Dolphins proving once again that they are the class of the NFL (they are the only team in the NFL who invites websites to spend a weekend with them).
This was my second trip to Miami on this ticket and I was a lot more observant than last year. Here are my top 10 weekend observations from Miami.
10: Kim Bokampers is the best sports bar in Fla. Former Miami Dolphins Kim Bokamper has his own sports bar. It’s located on Pine Island Drive and Peters Rd. Wall to wall HD TVs as well as a huge projection TV as well serves up the atmosphere for what can only be described as the penultimate experience in sports viewing and food. The food was great and the atmosphere fun. The inside serves as a sports bar while the outside patio decks serves as a social gathering. Inside Kim himself broadcasts his radio show from a booth seat across from the projection screen. He is quick to shake your hand and introduce himself. Something that John Offerdahl will do as well at his Cafe and Grille. (catch upcoming webisodes of Johns “Gridiron Griller” here every Saturday and Sunday morning).
9: Wayne Huizenga loves this team. The NFL has approved the final sale of the Dolphins to Stephen Ross. Wayne will sell off 45 of his remaining 50% interest in the team. Yet for now, he is still the decision maker. At Sundays game, Wayne was out shaking hands down the field level seats..with the fans. He did this last year as well, but this season it was almost bitter sweet. He won’t be doing this again next year and to some degree his smile was a little less wide this time around…as if he knew that his days of doing just that were now down to 3.
8: Ted Ginn is starting to learn the game. There has always been something about Ted Ginn that made you shake your head…almost in disgust. In video of practices he seemed to run fast but not with any real “authority”. Someone has gotten into his head. During warm-ups, Ginn was marching around clapping his hands, he had a strut in his gait and when you looked into his eyes, he was focused on what was ahead mentally and not what was ahead physically. Ginn took the opening KO back for a penalized TD, he walked off the field and made his displeasure known. Something that in the past would have gone unspoken. Standing about 15 yards from me on returns, Ginn looked like he finally had the confidence he has lacked the last season and a half. When you saw his little duck walk after the TD catch…yeah, that’s the entire attitude he is starting to have. Ted Ginn is believing in himself…finally.
7: Jason Allen is emerging as a leader. It was late in the game and the Dolphins had just taken the lead on the Ronnie Brown TD run. Jason Allen walked onto the field and started waiving to the fans in an effort to get them to start yelling. When they didn’t respond loud enough, he waived “louder”. On the field, Allen was taking the steps necessary to get his teammates fired up. His play has considerably improved in his 3rd season and he seems to be finding a fit. He hits hard and he doesn’t stop something Sparano made mention of. Allen has a long way to go…like Ginn, but his efforts on the field and the way he is working the fans up…is something this team needs.
6: Jake Long is a freaking monster. It was not hard to find Jake Long on the field when the offense walked on the sod for their series. He towered over the opposition. The big man looked like a wall unto himself. His play is non-stop and his motor is the same. He walked gingerly onto the field, set up and then never stopped until the play was over. He is not a rookie LT. Not on the field and not in the huddle where he is not afraid to open his mouth. This is the franchise LT the team has been looking for…barring injuries. He is a mammoth sized man that impresses with his play and the way he handles his opposition. He will lose some, but it’s easy to see why it’s said that he learns from his mistakes. I saw him make one…he didn’t make it again the entire game.
5: Tony Sparano commands attention. He walked into the Dolphins auditorium to a standing ovation. He took the mic and after a brief exchange with the Dolphins staff about what he was there for, he turned to the group and said, “what do you want from me?”. A barrage of questions were handled quickly and to the point. One member of the ShedDawgs said, “You have been here for less than 10 minutes and I am already afraid of you”, to which Sparano replied simply, “Good then it’s working”. Sparano walks the field prior to the game and touches…literally each player on the field during the warm-ups. He does this every day of practice. In his own words, “each player is touched by daily…good or bad, they know I have touched them.” It isn’t hard to see why the lineman of the Dallas Cowboys were so disappointed when Sparano left Big-D.
4: Pride is evident in the locker rooms. Last season I entered the training center and the walls were mostly bare. There was nothing motivational, nothing that showed any degree of enthusiasm. Not the case this year as their is motivational signage in the places the players frequent most. From the weight room to the auditorium, a player sees what he needs to see and is reminded that success is empowered by his play as an individual and as a team unit. It’s not a surprise that this team plays better than they did last year of for that matter the years before. It’s in their face that they can….and not that they can’t.
3: Chad Pennington is without question a leader. Pre-game Pennington stretches and does a series of routines down the field. From simple long stride stretches to shoulder stretches he moves down the field alone and in silence. He joins the team for team warm-ups and then the offense as they do the team drills. It is on the field that Pennington becomes the leader. He stands to the side of the huddle to get the play calling. During TV time-outs he stands about 10 feet away then walks to the huddle and calls his troops to attention. Late in the 4th, he paced the sidelines waiving a towel over his head to get the fans frenzied. On the final scoring drive, he walked into the huddle and said, “we are taking this ball down and scoring. We need it. Get your head in the game, this is ours no mistakes.” They did just that. Pennington is quick to point to a player after a play that is successful and he won’t mince his words in the huddle when it goes wrong. There were a few times that he was pointing towards someone in the mass of bodies. This is Chad Pennington’s team and they know it. The coaches know it to. Asked about the biggest signing this off-season, Jeff Ireland simply said…”Pennington”.
2: Tony Sparano loves football. He walks onto the field to applause, he waves with one hand and a half smile on his face, but make no mistake he is all business. He stands in the endzone while the team warms up and it’s almost as if he is mentally scripting the game. On the sidelines he will chase down a player who makes a mistake, when asked, Sparano had this to say. ”Sometimes they come off the field and try to avoid me. Sometimes they think they can slide to the bench without me finding them. I always find them. One way or the other.” He does. He is quick to pat a players but for a good play and just as fast to get in someones face on a bad one. If you wonder if this is Bill Parcells team or Tony Sparano’s, I can tell you that I came away with the impression that this is Tony Sparano’s and Bill Parcells is the one that is fetching the groceries. There is little room for doubt on who calls the shots on game day and in practice.
1: Electrified. Miami fans have long suffered losing after losing after losing seasons. This past weekend, they finally found a reason to cheer. With empty seats dotting the upper bowl and TV image of a half filled stadium, fans at home wondered if that would ever change. The fact is that it has. The lower bowl was 98 percent filled and the upper bowl was not as empty as the TV showed. The fans were loud and the sound after 4 quarters had given me a long overdue headache. It’s amazing how the home team fans can impact a game. From causing false starts for the opposition to rallying the home team on critical downs. The fans voices are heard by the players…good and bad. The sound electrifies the team, makes them want it that much more. Last year I sat in amazement at the fact that I could talk as if there was no game going on to the guy next me and hear him clear as day. This year, I had to yell over my self to hear my own voice…not on a huge play…on every play. Of all my personal observations, the fans attitude and cheering is by far the best I have seen in years….home field advantage looks to be returning to Miami and how fun it is to have been a part of that.
Honarable mention: The Renaissance Bowl. The second bowl game played in the hotel swimming pool. The “Two Michelles” and myself vs. the ShedDawgs crew. A bitter rivalry has developed and while the Canadians will try and give you the impression that they won, the fact is that a late comeback by the opposition sealed their fate for a 2nd consecutive victory! If the Dawgs say differently…ask them to provide a picture…!!!