Everything cleared. Got suddenly brighter. As if an omen, the weather turned from pregame thunderstorms and gloom to blue skies and sun here Sunday. The game followed suit. So, perhaps, did this season.
The Dolphins — a team, franchise and brand so staggered — needed this. So did so many fans so starved to feel pride in their fallen team again. Dolfans were still chanting, “Reg-gie, Reg-gie!” on the stadium concourses as they exited the stadium, their joy bigger than the game and overflowing.
So much went just right in this 35-13 home-opening rout of the Oakland Raiders, but what turned the spigot was crowd favorite Reggie Bush running for 172 yards including game-changing touchdowns of 23 and then 65 yards.
There was a hat-giveaway honoring the 40th anniversary of the franchise’s 17-0 season of 1972. ‘Still Perfect,’ the ballcaps read.
Well, this 2012 team is far from perfect, but it was close enough for one nurturing, faith-restoring afternoon. And Bush, as if in homage to ’72, seemed to be channeling Larry Csonka on one of his TD runs and Mercury Morris on the other.
He broke four tackles on his 23-yard score, an up-the-middle power run with echoes of ol’ Zonk busting through defenders as if they were turnstiles. Then Bush ran wide left, found the corner and turned on the jets a la vintage Merc on the 65-yarder that made that “Reg-gie!” chant bloom full-throated.
“It feels good,” Bush would say later, of the fans’ adoration. “I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t.”
Isn’t that exactly what this franchise and its fans have been missing for so long?
Bush was the face of the feel-good Sunday but hardly the only man causing it or feeling it.
A Gatorade bath drenched first-year coach Joe Philbin as the clock expired. The aim was slightly off-target. No matter. It was his first ever. His pant legs drenched, Philbin entered the postgame media room and could not contain his emotion.
You felt it in the hitch in his voice. In the moment he looked down and appeared close to tears.
“My entire family was here,” he said. “Mom and dad. My five siblings…”
Except his entire family wasn’t here. A son drowned earlier this summer in a Wisconsin river, just before Philbin took the Dolphins job. No man marks a milestone without thinking of loved ones not there to enjoy it with him.
A far different emotion enveloped rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he celebrated his first career touchdown pass, a 14-yard strike to tight end Anthony Fasano, who dove across the goalline, flung the ball in the air and was mobbed by teammates.
Twenty-nine seasons earlier, Dan Marino’s first career TD pass also happened to be to a tight end who wore No. 80, Joe Rose.
“Good storyline,” Fasano had to agree.
The special ball found its way to Tannehill.
“Somebody tracked it down,” he said. “I’ll find somewhere for it.”
Tannehill had an efficient day, clean, with no interceptions and only one tipped pass, his big problem a week earlier in the loss at Houston.
I don’t know if Tannehill will end up coming anywhere near Marino’s 420 career TD passes (third most of anybody), but I think this kid is going to be very good.