Monday, December 22, 2008

Finding My Youth in the Tuna

What a difference a year makes and it’s truly amazing what can happen in 365 days. The turn arounds and twists of fate. The changes in direction and attitude. For the Miami Dolphins, this time last year had them still celebrating their first and what would turn out to be their only win of the season. This week finds them celebrating a hard fought win in the coldest elements ever for the Dolphins franchise. A win that left them with a 10-5 record and one win away from a division championship. Yes, you read that right …….. one win last year, one win away from the playoffs this year.

It is a remarkable story. It is one of bouncing back as an organization after proverbially hitting rock bottom in 2007. Since their inception in 1966, the Dolphins had never known such an horrific season nor had they found themselves mired in such a prolong period of futility. The seasons leading up to and including 2007 were always things that happened to other teams but never to the Miami Dolphins. Never to MY Dolphins. The team of my youth has been MIA (no acronym-pun intended). The storied franchise of Don Shula, Bob Griese, Paul Warfield and 17–0 was gone. The ever competitive teams of Marino and the Marks Brothers had disappeared beyond the horizon in the rear view mirror. Even the recent and somewhat successful team of Ricky Williams and Jay Fiedler (yes, I said Jay Fiedler) seemed light years away at the end of the ’07 season.

Yet here we are, one year removed from falling into the abyss of the NFL cellar and poised on the precipice of the post-season. Bill Parcell’s latest reclamation project has shown unprecedented improvement, even by Big Tuna standards. In 1993, he took over a 2-14 Patriots team and finished 5-11. In 1994, the Pats were 10-6 and two years later they were in the Super Bowl (losing to the Favre-led Packers). That same year, the Jets finished their season 1-15. The next year Parcells took over the Gang Green and finished 9-7 and was 12-4 in 1998 (losing in the AFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos). He wasn’t done there. BP came on as head coach of America’s team in 2003 and took the Cowboys, who had finished their previous 3 seasons at 5-11, to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.

Parcells will be the first to tell you the credit goes not to him but rather to first year coach Tony Sparano. Nevertheless, the Tunaprints are all over the 2008 Dolphins. With disciplined, mistake-free football, a speedy and aggressive defense, and patient and consistent offense, it’s amazing yet not entirely surprising the Fish are one win away from jumping the hyphen: going from 1–15 to 11–5.

As the NFL gods would have it, the Dolphins finish their season with a trip to the Meadowlands, the former stomping grounds of Dolphin quarterback and team leader Chad Pennington, to play for all the marbles against the hated Jets. As much as my heart will be racing from the opening kickoff until the final whistle and as much as I will be screaming at the TV and willing my Dolphins to victory, I also know that win or lose I will have a smile on my face at the end of the game. Thanks to Bill Parcells, GM Jeff Ireland and Coach Sparano, the team of my youth is back. MY Dolphins are back and will be relevant and competitive for years to come.

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