Last week, as the haves of the National Football League began preparations for the post-season, the owner of my favorite team, the Miami Dolphins (a have-not for eight of the past nine years), went full-blown Steinbrenner. With current coach Tony Sparano twisting in the proverbial South Florida wind, Steven Ross flung dollar signs –- haplessly, it turns out -- at the biggest coaching names in the business. And all I could think was, “Why?”
Not why Harbaugh, or why Cowher, or why Gruden, although those are all valid questions. I had something deeper and more personal gnawing at me. Nobody was going to be talking about it in the Herd with Wingo and Schlereth any time soon.
Why do I like this team?
I don’t mean that in the usual despairing we-were-supposedly-playoff-caliber-but-closed-the-season-with-home-losses-to-Cleveland-Buffalo-and-Detroit-sort of way. I’ve checked myself a few times on this. I’m considering the question in its most fundamental form.
As a point of fact, the Dolphins are not likeable. Wins and losses aside, they don’t play an exciting brand of football. The offense is plodding. The quarterback is awkward and robotic, the run-blocking toothless. The backs and receivers lack explosiveness, and the defense, while stout, is not a game-changer. It’s not just the current incarnation of the team, either; the Dolphins haven’t been likeable since sometime in the mid-90s. In
fact, I submit that the last time the Dolphins played fully-realized, enjoyable football was the Dan Marino fake spike game against the Jets in 1994.
To wit: Since that game, more than 16 years ago, my favorite team has scored less than 10 touchdowns on deep passes. I’m talking 40 yards or more with the receiver catching the ball behind the secondary. Fewer than 10 bombs for touchdowns. In 16 years. Some stat whiz can back me up on this. Even if I’m wrong, I’m not far off.
And now we find out that the dearth of likeability in Miami starts at the top. An owner who humiliates the head coach instead of firing him, then does a disingenuous song-and- dance for the media when it blows up in his face.
Why do I like this team?
I’d have an excuse if I was a Floridian in any way. But I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Baltimore, and have lived in New York and Los Angeles. My father is a Jets fan. It was my oddly sympathetic best friend in kindergarten who started to like the Dolphins after the Cowboys smeared them in Super Bowl VI.
He told me stories of guys named Griese and Csonka and Mercury Morris. Amazing names for a 6-year-old to process! I was hooked!
Then, after the perfect season in 1972, he discarded them in favor of the perennial bridesmaid Vikings while I held on. But nostalgia hasn’t kept me in the game; if anything, whatever warm feelings I have quickly fizzle when I see those guys from the 17-0 team popping the bubbly after the last undefeated team loses each
season. Maybe it’s the self-congratulation I find distasteful, or just the sight of my once-heroes in their plaid sportcoats, reminding me how my current heroes aren’t cutting the mustard.
Which brings me to uniforms in general. And in the case of the Dolphins, this may be the franchise’s most egregious flaw. I realize aesthetics are subjective and there is no absolute qualifier for what makes a good or bad uniform. But I will say this: Aqua has no place in football. Beyond that, it has no place in my wardrobe, and if there’s anything I’m truly bitter about, it’s the fact that the Dolphins have been my favorite team for 38 years, and I’ve owned exactly zero jerseys.
And yet I cannot walk away from these guys. It’s inconceivable to me. One of my friends suggested that there is a religious flavor to my devotion. That what keeps me coming back is the idea that if I just believe, no matter how much circumstances (turnovers, special teams meltdowns, etc.) conspire to shake my faith, I will, at the end of my journey, be rewarded with admission to the pearly gates, which of course is a metaphor
for a Super Bowl victory. Or a division title. Or at least a season sweep of the Patriots. Perhaps.
It’s true that one of the reasons I don’t want to consider another team is the fear that the Dolphins will get good the moment I switch, and all my hard work will be for naught. And I will admit that my one trip to a Dolphins home game, in 2009, had something of a journey-to-the-promised-land feeling –- especially since they wore the much more tolerable orange unis and Ted Ginn Jr. caught, as of this writing, the last of the fewer-than-ten long bombs, a 53-yard strike from the then-full-of-potential but now on-his-last-legs Chad Henne. But as great as that moment was, it only took me a day to wipe the smile off my face. It was just a moment, and considering all the time and energy and blog reading and live feeds from the draft, etc., not really worth it.
I got a more likely explanation from my shrink, of all people, who doesn’t follow sports at all. She said what keeps me aligned with the Dolphins year after year is not the promise of their success but the promise of something much less exciting and more important: that they will simply exist. Real things in the world -- like jobs and relationships and people -- come and go without warning. But my favorite team is permanent. Watching them may feel like slow torture, but they will be there, doing battle every Sunday, as long as I am. She said that kind of dependability is something not to be underestimated, and that, finally, makes sense to me.
Which is why, despite my current mood, I will spend this off-season tracking every move the organization makes. I’ll once again pledge my allegiance to Tony Sparano and believe their new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach are perfect fits. I’ll buy into their personnel moves, take their word for it on the draft, and when it comes to the owner, hey. Could be worse. Could be Oakland. I will re-up with DirecTV for the
football package next season so I can watch them and, if I have a little disposable income, I’ll promise my wife a spa weekend and shell out a few hundred dollars for great seats to an actual game. But wherever I am on Sundays, I will shiver nervously during their opening drives, desperate to believe, as I am every year, that they could be great again.
-- Jonathan Abrahams is a television writer and producer. His recent work includes Raising The Bar, Haven, and the emmy-winning show Mad Men.