A sweet noise was heard as Miami Dolphins fans emptied out of the home stadium Sunday. It arose spontaneously, like joy does. It evoked nostalgia, like an old familiar song. It was the sound of optimism, a capella.
Lets go, Dol-phins! a chorus of thousands sang as fans wound merrily down the spiral concourses. Lets go, Dol-phins!
This was one of those feel-good days to be a Dolfan draped in aqua or orange, one of those days too few and far between for most of a decade-plus now. It was a day when that corny old, frightfully outdated fight song cause when you say Miami, youre talkin Super Bowl! was sung a bit more full-throated than usual, the lyrics not sounding as mocking or ironic as they did when all hope seemed lost.
Sunday felt good because the current team won again and now has a 3-3 record that might easily be 5-1, led by a rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who makes you believe the team finally has a worthy successor, 13 years later, to the hallowed No. 13 himself, Dan Marino.
But Sunday also felt good because Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were there to remind that the good old days are not all decades distant. Some of them are just one generation past on the player timeline. Taylor and Thomas Dolphins won a playoff game three straight years, 1998 to 2000, before the lean times hit.
They are the 23rd and 24th inductees onto the clubs stadium Honor Roll but the first from what Id call the modern era. Both arrived as the Marino epoch ebbed and predominantly played their careers post-Marino.
So much of this clubs heritage is consumed by distant days, especially by the 1972-73 Super Bowl-champion years, heydays known but not experienced by many fans. Taylor and Thomas were on the field just yesterday, or so it seems. They remind us that the Dolphins and greatness are not hopelessly separated, but within reach.
I think that, after Marino, who stands apart, Taylor and Thomas as a tandem may be as popular as any players in the clubs 47 years. Success alone cant explain that. All of those Pro Bowls and game-turning defensive plays are only part of it.
BEATING THE ODDS
Taylor and especially Thomas were the underdogs who made it, Taylor the third-round pick from small-school Akron, and Thomas the fifth-rounder from Texas Tech, drawl-mumbling like Elvis and built like a fire hydrant.
You know what drove Thomas? Fear. Fear of being embarrassed. Being shown up. Thats why he worked, practiced and studied film harder than anybody. How long did it take him to finally overcome that fear?
I never did, he told me once.
Thomas, tackling machine, reliable as sunrise, had a terrific career as a middle linebacker. Only Ray Lewis and maybe Brian Urlacher surpassed him at his position.
Taylor achieved stardom, won an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and finished with 139 ½ sacks, even more than Lawrence Taylor. He has a fighting chance to make it someday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and would get my vote.
In Sundays ceremony both men thanked the greatest fans in the NFL, and some of we curmudgeons in the press box snickered a little at the idea Miami fans would be so described our cynicism seemingly confirmed by the fact the crowd of not quite 53,000 made for a stadium about one-fourth empty.