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 Dark Days for a Team Adrift

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ngdaubiet
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PostSubject: Dark Days for a Team Adrift   Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:59 am

Outside the stadium where the Miami Dolphins play, a bronze statue of Don Shula shows him being carried off the field on the shoulders of his players. It is a tribute to a team of a much different era, when the Dolphins had the N.F.L.’s only perfect season and their defense was so good that it did not have to spend a week arguing about why it could not stop a goal-line run that everybody knew was coming.

Had Shula’s statue come to life last Sunday, it might have lowered its upraised fist to smash a table in frustration. It is difficult to pinpoint the nadir for the Miami Dolphins, a once proud and successful team that is being drowned by years of personnel mistakes, underachieving players, questionable business decisions and general ineptitude. But those factors coalesced last Sunday into one of the strangest and most dispiriting days the Dolphins have ever endured, unlike anything Shula presided over in 1972.

The Dolphins dropped to 0-6, losing a 15-point lead with five minutes to play against the Denver Broncos and a quarterback — Tim Tebow — who, until the unthinkable comeback began, did not even look like a passable pro.

On Sunday, the Dolphins play the Giants, but they spent the week assessing who is a failure (running back Reggie Bush says everyone is) and arguing about why they could not stop a Tebow run on a 2-point conversation that sent last week’s game to overtime. Players say the wrong personnel was on the field (read: coaches’ fault). The defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said the correct personnel and scheme were called and his defense should have worked (read: players’ fault).

At one point during the meltdown, Coach Tony Sparano was captured by a sideline microphone pleading with an official for a replay and noting he was going to be fired. At another point, the team owner, Stephen Ross, was laughing on the sideline with Tebow’s college coach, Urban Meyer, invited there as part of the Dolphins’ promotion to honor the Florida Gators, a plan to sell some tickets when real Dolphins fans have little to cheer.

The Dolphins still play their song “Miami Dolphins No. 1” on the rare occasions that they score, but this season, a circus calliope might be more appropriate.

“I’ve been around this team a long time, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre things, but that whole scene really takes the cake,” said Kim Bokamper, a linebacker and defensive end for nine seasons with the Dolphins during the 1970s and ‘80s, who is now a South Florida broadcaster. “I came back on the field afterward, probably an hour after the game, and there must have been 200 fans on the field waiting for Tebow to come out and take a picture.

“Then, he’s walking off the field and you hear some little girl yell, ‘We love you, Tim Tebow.’ It was the perfect exclamation point on a completely ridiculous day.”

Sparano is well liked and respected in the coaching community. He amiably joked with reporters this week that he found a heads-up penny on his morning jog before the Broncos game and that had not worked out. But there is little doubt he will be fired at the end of the season, if not sooner. He was given a contract extension in the off-season after Ross flew cross-country to try to lure Jim Harbaugh to the Dolphins.

Ross may have been naïve to think nobody would notice what he was doing, but it has escaped no one’s attention that Harbaugh has engineered a fast turnaround in San Francisco, making a dormant team suddenly relevant and riveting again.

That is what Ross, a New York-based real estate mogul who went to high school in Miami Beach, longs for.

Even in their best days, the Dolphins had trouble selling out their stadium, and Ross has tried to transfer some of South Beach’s shine to the team by inviting celebrities to be minority owners, and by creating a game-day nightclub out of some unsold luxury suites at the stadium. The sound of the thudding bass could still be heard after Miami’s loss Sunday, one of the few things about the Dolphins that seemed to be working properly.

In the halcyon days under Shula, and when Dan Marino was the quarterback, the team never needed gimmicks to attract celebrities. It was no surprise that The Miami Herald reported that Ross wanted a franchise quarterback and a star coach or general manager to shape the future.

“The bottom line is any of that other stuff doesn’t really matter,” Sparano said during the week. “The losing part is what’s difficult. It has been difficult because the team has played hard and they’ve been in a bunch of games, games that could have went either way here. This game isn’t about could haves or should haves. We’re where we are right now and we’re the only ones that can get ourselves out of where we are right now, so that part of it has been the most difficult, but the guys are upbeat.”

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