In My Opinion

Greg Cote: If Miami Dolphins want a party atmosphere, just win

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

We use the phrase in football more than other sports, but we use it as a careless assumption, as if it were an entitlement, as if every team owned it in equal measure:

“Home-field advantage.”

The Dolphins haven’t had it to any real degree for a long time.

Now, as the franchise’s 48th home opener looms Sunday versus Atlanta, there is a sense the club is taking steps to reinvigorate what has dwindled into a dubious home-stadium atmosphere and make it more, well, advantageous.

First, let’s quantify what got us to this point.

Miami’s lapse into mediocrity the past 10 seasons has found little remedy in the home field. The Dolphins have been 36-44 at home in that span and 32-48 on the road, the smallest percentage differential in the NFL — in effect, the least home-field advantage.

Season-ticket sales and attendance have eroded. Bringing in celebrity part-owners and an “orange carpet” to artificially manufacture a party atmosphere failed badly.

Now, in lockstep with a promising season — a team aiming for its first 3-0 start since 2002 and led by a potential future star in quarterback Ryan Tannehill — the club wants the in-stadium ambience to be noticeably ramped up.

Enter the “Deep End.”

The Deep Enders, in their fourth season, are a loosely knit group of 60 to 80 superfans who dress in full face paint and regalia (think ’70s Raiders fans) and would instigate enthusiasm in others, as if by osmosis.

This season their East end-zone perch is being moved to field level. Not all of them are happy about that, but the club has convinced most of them it’s part of an increase in their profile.

“Our goal is to grow it,” Dolphins senior vice president of marketing Claudia Lezcano told us, meaning the Deep End.

The superfans will be shown more on the big screen. There will be plaza photo ops. There will be an official effort to make theirs the face of Dolfans.

The club wanted to disperse the Deep Enders as roaming “captains throughout the stadium,” as Lezcano put, but the group preferred to stay together.

The club also will be bringing back over the PA system an old conch shell sound that is an homage to the old Orange Bowl days — back when the Dolphins’ home-field advantage was palpably among the best in football.

“We want the whole stadium to be electric, not just where the Deep End is,” Lezcano said. “How do we do that?”

She asked rhetorically. But I’ll answer.

Win. Make the playoffs. And do both consistently. Understand that excitement on the field creates excitement in fans, not vice versa.

Increasing the role and visibility of the Deep Enders is fine, but it will not fill the stadium or turn up its volume like a 60-yard scoring pass or a five-game winning streak.

Superfans are the residue of a winning team, not the cause.

Those Redskins fans who famously wore hog snouts and women’s dresses — they retired, with years of mediocrity creating no groundswell to keep that tradition alive.

Perennial losing has turned the Raiders’ once-famous Darth Vader-chic crowd into a self-parody.

I was in Cleveland’s once-famed “Dawg Pound” for this season’s opener and saw it toothless, the crowd not full, the kennel too quiet.

Showing the Dolphins’ “Deep End” fans more on the big screen will offer the suggestion of excitement, but the real thing must emanate from the field.

The idea of home-field advantage is not so much a chicken/egg question as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you win, you have it.

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