This is the strangest Miami Dolphins season I have ever witnessed. Not because of the 3-7 record. Not because of the 0-7 start. Losing seasons and streaky play have been ingrained in the DNA of Dolphin fans for the last decade. It’s also not unique because of the coach on the hot seat, or the starting QB on IR.
Been there, seen that.
This season is unique because it has divided the fanbase right down the middle. It’s separated “loyalists” that celebrate the simplest goal of the game – winning, from “traitors”. The traitors crossed the tracks, and have gone against every fiber of their fandom by celebrating losses in the hope of landing Marino 2.0 in the 2012 draft. It’s present versus future.
I turned “Benedict Arnold” after the Week 6 loss to the Jets. After staring an 0-5 record in the face I jumped all hands on deck aboard the Suck For Luck party barge. We’ve all heard the arguments by now, and it just made sense. This wasn’t 2009 with Mark Sanchez being considered the best QB product. This wasn’t even 2004 with Eli Manning or 2010 with Sam Bradford (although both would be looking just fine in aqua). Of all the years to be climbing to the summit of suckitude, this was the year to do it. The surest bet there could be in finding a franchise QB - Andrew Luck, was there for the taking. Dolphin nation had never crossed over like this before. Not once, during any season, have most Dolfans ever thought losing games was worth a higher draft slot. We celebrated the lone 2007 Baltimore win like it was Super Bowl XLII. Yes, we had the top pick locked up that year anyway, but there was no clamoring for a broken season then, nor was there in 2004 when the Dolphins finished the season 4-12 and ended up with the 2nd pick. But, desperate times now called for desperate measures.
For those of us that did jump ship this season, that first game on the other side was eerily refreshing. It didn’t feel right, but it didn’t feel wrong. I’ve followed each and every Dolphin game since I was a kid in 1992. 157 losses. And, after each one, the all-too-familiar pit in my stomach festered for days until I could look forward to the next week. But now, after realizing the only way out of the purgatory of mediocrity was a complete and total 2011 collapse, the losses felt different. It wasn’t the pang of defeat lingering in my gut – it was hope. Glorious hope in the flesh – Andrew Luck. So what’s one awful season in the grand scheme of things?
We’ve been slowly peeling off a band-aid embedded in our chest hair for years. Time to rip it off, deal with the brief agony and move on. The Suck For Luck movement was not unlike exposing kids to chicken pox. It felt criminal, but it’s for their own damn good. The movement may not be good for these Dolphins, but it was the cure for the franchise moving forward.
In a twisted way, I compared rooting for losses this year to my own personal experience. I was critically injured in the summer of 2010. Paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a machine to breath. But, I was lucky as far as spinal cord injuries go, and within the first few weeks I was showing signs that a recovery could be possible. Over the last year it’s been a battle in Physical Therapy for several hours every single day. Hell. Agony. But, there’s a reason and a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yes, this is an over dramatic example. One is life. One is sports. But it proves the point of the Suck For Luck movement that Dolphin fans have been been resigned to. It’s worth going through a year of torture for the greater good. This season was lost, but we had the future. I’m walking again and slowly getting my life back (a-thank you). I wish I could say the same for the Dolphins.
The only teams fortunate enough to turn catastrophes around, are those that hit rock bottom. Mediocrity doesn’t change franchises, but catastrophe reaps franchise changing players.
I’m an Indianapolis native and have witnessed first hand what Peyton Manning has done for the Colts and the city. He’s arguably done more for Indy than the mayors that have been in office during his reign. If it weren’t for Manning the Colts would likely be in Los Angeles right now. There would be no 700 million dollar Lucas Oil Stadium, and no Super Bowl XLVI in Indy. Before Peyton, Indianapolis was a Pacer town. Maybe you spotted a Jim Harbaugh jersey here or there, but the Colts were irrelevant and Jim Irsay was pissed. The RCA Dome was 3/4 filled on Sundays, except when teams with nationwide fan bases came to administer a beatdown. Then the dome was only full thanks to guys like Marino, Farve, and Aikman. Now the Colts have a nationwide fanbase thanks to Manning.
That’s what franchise quarterbacks do. They’re ambassadors for the team and they sprout football fans everywhere. That’s the reason I’m a Dolphin fan. Dan Marino was my ambassador to the game in all those primetime matchups in the 90′s.
It’s time for the Dolphin’s next ambassador. Sadly, that likely won’t happen in 2012 draft. Andrew Luck is out of reach, and the consolation prize of USC’s Matt Barkley is falling out of grasp as well. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Barkley stays in school anyway. He’ll have a shot at the Heisman and will be a front runner to go number 1 overall in 2013 if he stays for his Senior season, a season in which USC will be off probation and bowl eligible. Perhaps the only way that an elusive franchise QB will be available to the Dolphins rests in the health of that other franchise QB in Indy. If Peyton Manning’s neck fusion is healed, the nerves in his arm are healthy, and he comes back full strength – maybe, just maybe, the Colts do the unthinkable. Maybe they trade down for a treasure trove of picks. Maybe they take Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, who could be willing to sit and learn behind Peyton for a few years – something Luck may not be keen on. Maybe Luck falls to another team like the Dolphins.
Or maybe hope has been replaced with that stomach knot.
Maybe the Dolphins are stuck in purgatory. They’re too good to be bad. They’re too bad to be good. Maybe they’ll be rebuilding in 2012 without a quarterback to build around.
How appealing will that be for the next coaching candidate?