At the instant rookie Ryan Tannehill was declared the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for 2012, it was as if balloons and confetti fell from heaven across South Florida. Listen and you could hear the buoyant brass of an approaching parade. Spontaneously, Dolfans began a joyful chorus of Happy Days Are Here Again.
The word for that feeling is hope.
The other word for that feeling is desperation.
We as a community and fandom have waited so long and wanted so hard for the Dolphins to at last be major players in the NFL again — to be relevant — that even unproven promise is worth saddling and riding. After all, sometimes even riding blind to destinations unknown is better than going nowhere, right?
It’s funny, though, the reaction I have heard since Tannehill’s ascension in speaking with friends and reading readers’ emails.
Tempering the optimism is an undercurrent of caution — a wariness and a weariness — not so much because of doubts about Tannehill, but more because a decade-plus of mostly disappointment and false hope have left Dolfans burned and scarred, the skin calloused, and the outlook, too.
“I’m afraid to hope for too much,” as reader Nicholas Friedman of Miami wrote in a surprisingly typical email. “Too many years of letdowns…”
“If you are a fan of this team you are always waiting for the next shoe to drop,” wrote a fan who goes by Pjx1Fin72. “It would not surprise me if Tannehill gets hit by a truck before opening day…”
Whatever-can-go-wrong-will is the unfortunate mantra of many fans. It is something of a defense mechanism, of course. The lower the expectations the shorter the fall when the collapse comes.
We all want to believe that Tannehill will be great if only because he is the club’s first quarterback selected in the NFL Draft’s first round since Dan Marino in 1983. But when it comes to the Dolphins, we have become the Show-Me state.
This franchise has done so much to lose the faith of its fans that the anointment of Tannehill only means for now that the process of re-earning that faith is under way.
Miami has withered to also-ran status in the league, 39 seasons removed from the last Super Bowl win, 28 years since even the last SB appearance. The playoff victory drought dates to Dec. 30, 2000.
The franchise’s two towering icons? Don Shula is 82 now. Dan Marino is a spokesman for the AARP.
So Tannehill’s task is big and broad as the symbolic (and literal) new leader and face of the franchise.
It isn’t enough that he find a way to end the Patriots’ long stranglehold on the AFC East under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady — and do so with a supporting cast that seems pretty marginal.
This rookie must do more than just find a way to win, because this club needs more than just a strong quarterback. It needs a hero, a superstar, a savior — someone with the talent but also the charisma to heal all those scars and all that cynicism.
The law of averages alone might suggest Tannehill will be up to the task.
This has become The Team That Luck Forgot. The Dolphins are due a damned break. Due for something good to happen; no, something great. Dolfans seek tangible evidence that, post-Marino, the club has not fallen under a dooming curse, after all.