MIAMI — Standing on my seat at Joe Robbie Stadium, I felt an electric jolt of collective will and hope transmitting from the sellout crowd to the eleven Miami Dolphins strung into kickoff formation. The AFC Championship against Miami-killer Thurman Thomas and the nemesis Bills was seconds away. The special-teamers were pumping their arms at the raving, towel-waving crowd, inciting even more noise. It was a cloudless, temperate afternoon in 1993, Quiet Riot was blaring from the stadium speakers, and the Super Bowl would follow if they could just win this game. Those few minutes of optimistic anticipation during warm-ups, the intros, and that kickoff rank among my favorite Dolphin memories. It was finally going to be our time after so many letdowns and stories about the seventies.
Ten years before that awful loss to Buffalo, my preschool teacher gathered her class of mini-Miamians, with our defenselessly malleable developing brains, to start our indoctrination. She told us we were lucky, because we were from Miami, and Miami’s football team, the Dolphins, had the best winning percentage of any sports team in the world, she emphasized. It was also the only team that ever had a perfect season. Then she dropped the needle on a record and played the catchiest damn folk song our little ears had ever heard. I already knew about the golden-arm quarterback, because we had the same first name (my Dad’s friends made sure I knew this) and now I was hit with this fantastic little kids’ song, and told that I was a winner by geographical birthright, because the Miami Dolphins were #1. Soon I was watching every game on TV, learning to read with Edwin Pope’s articles, and even went to the Orange Bowl a couple times before Mr. Robbie built his stadium. There was never going to be another way for me. Unfortunately, following pro football in Miami means suffering the furious frustration of a spoiled kid denied the toy he covets, the self-delusion of an earnest mother with eternal faith in her no-good son, and, for the last decade, the excruciating boredom of a goat-rapist. Our teams’ irrelevance is perpetual, and because the draft and free agency are captivating times for a football fan, the disappointment is year-round, since we always blow the draft. Like smoking cigarettes, it’s marginally pleasurable, intellectually indefensible, and continued regardless. And we continue to dig to new lows. The losing is intolerable, but it is not the worst part. The star-struck owner has turned home games into a galling, cross-promotional caricature of a stadium experience. Random, chipper celebrities materialize constantly on a giant screen and make little dorsal-fin-hand-hats over their heads and tell the fans to “Fin Up!” Somebody reading this just yelled out “NO!” involuntarily and startled the people around him. But yes, I swear, that’s what happens at Dolphins games now.
The personnel department is exceptionally bad at procuring personnel, though we are used to that now. But our current GM seems a graceless ghoul, famous for suggesting that a potential draft picks’ mother was probably a whore. Though he is no longer nursing off the ample tit of the fraudulent Daddy Parcells, the baffling, bungling decisions continue. The organization has not been what anyone would call competent for many years. We have been losers, but we were somewhat classy losers. Now even that is gone. We used to have Marino – Dan the Man, to me, the best ever. Maybe we’d lose, but rarely because of him. Now we have Henne: inventor and champion of the one-yard swing pass Hail Mary. Do you remember the scene in Fire in the Sky when Travis gets back from the alien abduction and he’s by a phone booth, crouched naked in the rain, and when his friends almost touch him he unleashes a haunting, high-pitched scream of panicked terror? That’s either Henne under pressure or me watching the games – you choose, either works.
Do you realize it was eleven years ago that The Mustache imported his loathsome, repellent Run-Punt-Fold system that turned even the occasional 10-9 win into insipid, entertainment-neutral slop? That ultra-conservative, faux-macho style is a punishment to fans, vendors, cameramen and anyone else subjected to it, but now it’s practically ingrained, part of Dolphins DNA, a requisite to coach here. I support neither the method nor the results.
So what is The Dolphins? Who do we root for year after year? Is it the players, the clumsy keepers of the brand, the genteel uniforms, or just the city? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s mostly the city for me, although sometimes I really like some of the players. My Dolphins habit has taught me patience. It has helped me existentially, giving me the self-awareness boost you get when you realize you are delusional for maintaining irrational perpetual hope in something broken. You know better, you do it anyway, but at least you know you know better. It’s a step.
For every Keith Byars sideline run through the Dallas snow with my whole family, even abuela, yelling deliriously at the TV, there have been dozens of wasted Sundays. With the epic gift of Marino came the sad reality that he retired ring-less and made the “best QB ever” argument on his behalf noble, but futile. That catchy song and schoolteacher’s appeal to my burgeoning civic pride doomed me. The situation is hopeless by all rational measure. It would be ridiculous to get sucked in again when there are no signs of a renaissance. I am a Dolphins fan and I hate the Dolphins. Unless… unless we get Cam Newton or Ryan Mallett. What this team needs is a quarterback, and then we’ll be contenders, maybe even #1.