The contaminated Dolphins pushed general manager Jeff Ireland out into the open last week, feeding him to the hungry and howling media beast. Question after question, on radio station after radio station, morning after night, the media-shy Ireland was forced to either a) defend himself or b) talk about why he is one of the most unpopular figures in the history of South Florida sports.
It is the most weve ever heard him talk, and he did it in an impossible position, the current climate and the nature of the questions cornering him into sounding either defensive or delusional. Nothing he could have said, not one word, would have given anyone confidence in anything. He was there to be a sponge for fury, to absorb yelling. This while false prophet Bill Parcells, who left him to janitor this mess, was coming off being wooed by the Saints and Vikings.
Hearing Ireland thrown to the piranha was clumsy and uncomfortable, which isnt what the power position for the Dolphins in this town has ever been. But there arent many faces remaining for our scorn after a quicksand decade of everything changing but the results, so Ireland will do as a public punching bag, tossed out there by the team last week to promote the Dolphins season-ticket push, an infomercial disguised as access.
Once upon a time, the Dolphins could be arrogant and private, and they were. Thats tolerated when you are winning. Or relevant. Or interesting. But these Dolphins arent any of those things. So arrogant and private dont work when what you are doing is begging people for their money. The Dolphins are trying to do some long-overdue public relations, even bringing a fan along to the NFL Draft, and the reason for that is as transparent as the new transparency owner Stephen Ross has been trumpeting: The Dolphins arent just behind teams, plural, in their division; they are behind teams, plural, in this town. And that has never before been the case.
The Fan Fest that Ireland was promoting next Saturday falls on a day when the Marlins are playing in their new playground and the Heat and Panthers may be partaking in playoff games. It has never been more difficult to run the Dolphins business, or at least not since football became Americas most popular sport, and there has never been this much of a fight for impoverished South Floridas stretched sports dollar. And the Dolphins, as has been the case for a brutal decade, are losing.
They had to buy 10,000 seats to a game last year, giving them away to military personnel to avoid a TV blackout. They gave two free tickets to every season-ticket holder on occasion last year and many of the fans didnt want them, as evidenced by all the patches of empty seats on Sunday. From 1995 to 2005, Dolphins season-ticket sales were always around 60,000, but one source says the team is presently laboring to be at half that number. Sales are worse at the moment than the 46,131 season tickets the Dolphins sold after a 1-15 season, and thats with the Dolphins selling a season-ticket package of 10 games in one section for $250 $25 per game, the cheapest rate in the league.
There is so much mistrust in the poisoned atmosphere around this team. Hope is what every sports team traffics in it is what sells those tickets. But the mismanaged Dolphins have given their paying customers the worst feeling possible the appearance that they dont know what they are doing.