The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce held its annual Dolphins Kickoff Luncheon on Tuesday, and perhaps only in this NFL town can an ostensibly uplifting occasion come off as sort of depressing. The event was at Jungle Island, where screaming birds and shrieking monkeys were making more noise than the fans in the banquet hall.
It would be unfair to say the room was somber, but neither was it quite full, or nearly full of life. There were empty seats among the 72 tables of 10 (with some of those empties at the stadium-namesake Sun Life Financial table, oddly enough).
Players were paraded out and introduced to barely polite puffs of applause, with Ryan Tannehill and Reggie Bush among the very few to inspire anything approaching an actual cheer. Modest clapping for new coach Joe Philbin hardly lasted until he reached the stage.
“I think you’ll be delighted with this group,” Philbin told the crowd.
By this group he meant his team, in case it might not be obvious that anyone would use the word delight for what we have seen thus far in the preseason.
Fittingly, somehow, the team’s best player, tackle Jake Long — the lone elite-at-his-position Dolphin — conspicuously missed the luncheon because he was off resting a right-knee injury that will sideline him from the season opener.
This was the pep rally without the pep, for a season that — based on current indications — should be arriving with a warning more than a welcome.
“This was always the good-luck charm for the Miami Dolphins,” kickoff luncheon host Jimmy Cefalo said of the event, trying to pump up the crowd.
And a multitude ought to have been thinking:
No team could use some o’ that good luck more.
Alumni Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Dwight Stephenson and Larry Little were introduced to again remind Dolfans how distant the halcyon days have become. A chronological video of franchise highlights had nothing more recent than the turnaround season of 2008, which proved a brief, aberrant pause in the decade-plus of misery.
Former Dolphins players are magnets for (usually unsolicited) opinions on the state of the current team, and they get an earful.
“The morale of fans is lower than I can ever remember,” Jeff Cross, the defensive end from 1988 to ’95, told me at the luncheon.
I spoke to a few fans as they walked in. They were easy to spot because many wore team colors, standing out visually like jesters at a funeral among a crowd of mostly business folks in dark suits at corporate tables.
“Our only hope is that Tannehill is fantastic right away like Marino was in ’83,” said fan Martin Coslaw of Miami Shores. “Or else we’re in for a long year, I’m afraid.”
“Another one!” added his wife, unnecessarily.
Reasons to believe.
Dolphins fans are starving for some of those — looking for them like men overboard look for life preservers — as Miami’s preseason wraps up Wednesday night in Dallas. Then it’s on to the regular season, ready or not, with the “not” appearing more likely at the moment.
Reasons to believe.
The rookie Tannehill should be a big one. His being named starting quarterback provided a bump in enthusiasm. The thing is, even if you believe this kid will be great someday or at least very good (and I do), a conspiracy of his inexperience and a poor surrounding cast offering too little help are here to suggest his rookie season could be a lumpy and bumpy one.