A victory within the first couple of weeks of the season could be enough to keep some Dolphins fans dreaming big.
But if Sunday’s turnout for the team’s home opener against the Oakland Raiders was an indication, many in the team’s fan base have lowered their expectations.
“This is a year for them to grow,” said Marielena Cabrera-Adan, whose family has had season tickets since the early 1970s. “I would love to see them win a lot of games, but that takes time. They have a bunch of rookies starting now and I expect them to be better as the year progresses.”
Coming off a lopsided loss to Houston to open the season, the Dolphins announced the paid attendance as 54,245 — the lowest for a home opener since 1991. However, those that did show up were treated to an impressive performance that led to a 35-13 victory against the Raiders — the first by the Dolphins in their home opener since 2005.
Last year’s first home game against the Patriots, which was also the first game of the season, drew a crowd of 66,860. And only one home game last season (Houston in Week 2) drew fewer fans than Sunday’s turnout.
“I think it’s obvious when you look around that attendance is down,” said Maina Gatonye, who attended Sunday’s game with his girlfriend, Mary Chapman. “We’ve been coming to the games for six or seven years and it takes us about 45 minutes to get here. Today, we got here in 15.”
Fans held customary tailgates in the parking lots even if many were not filled to capacity less than an hour prior to kickoff.
“If you’re a true fan, you support your team through and through no matter the record,” Cheryl Barker said.
Barker and her husband, Clay, live in Fort Lauderdale and have been Dolphins fans since the early 1970s. They said they would still support the team and come to games even if the team struggles, but expressed their frustration with the direction of the team in recent years.
“We’re native Floridians and been coming to games since 1972,” Clay Barker said. “The Dolphins are like our family. But I don’t understand some of the moves they’ve been making. Our owner [Stephen Ross] needs to realize what’s going on with this team on the field.”
Added Gatonye: “Ask me again after about week 8. I think for a lot of people to keep coming there’s pressure on the team to put a good product on the field.”
Even before rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill scored his first touchdown on the game’s first drive, and later threw his first career touchdown pass, longtime fans said they see potential.
“I don’t know how well they will do this year, but there’s definitely potential with Tannehill at quarterback,” said Barbara Bolwell, of Hollywood, and a season-ticket holder for two years. “He needs help though. They need to build around him.”
Added Cabrera-Adan: “He’s making rookie mistakes now, but I like what I see out of him. The only rookie quarterback that really has looked good so far is [Robert Griffin III]. Even [Andrew] Luck didn’t look so good last week. I like that they gave him the chance to start, and let him establish himself by next year.”
Whether the Dolphins are more like the team that was handled by Houston last week or like the team that outscored the Raiders 28-3 in the second half Sunday remains to be seen.
For now, most fans are hoping for even a few wins — as long as there is a long-term payoff.
“I would love for them to win a few games this year, but I understand that it’s part of the process,” Cabrera-Adan said. “I think they’re going in the right direction though. Give them a couple of years, and I think you’ll see a good team on the field.”