Armando Salguero: Game offers reprieve from controversy for Miami Dolphins

11/11/2013 12:01 AM

11/21/2013 8:45 AM

What happens when the Hindenburg meets the Titanic? What happens when the Dolphins play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

This Monday night meeting between the two embattled football teams will serve as three hours of relief from the real and much bigger problems each face.

The Bucs might have issues dealing with Miami’s defensive front or running game, but that certainly is better than battling MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that inflicted them earlier this year.

It’s better than dealing with a divided locker room and unmet potential and endless copy of bad news blared on a national scale.

Playing the Dolphins might be difficult, but it’s so much easier than fighting the seemingly overwhelming problems plaguing Tampa Bay so far this season.

The Dolphins, on the other sideline, might have problems with Tampa Bay’s defensive front and getting someone open against Darrelle Revis might be difficult.

But compared to the past two weeks filled with suspensions and scandal and reports of racial epithets and sexual harassment, this stuff is cake.

And that probably explains why both of these prime-time opponents are thankful game night has arrived.

“We’re just ready to play some football and happy to do that,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we love to do. I can’t wait.”

The game, so violent and fiercely fought, is being so longingly embraced because it will temporarily change the subject.

For the Dolphins, it’s welcome relief from the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin NFL investigation. It’s a chance to be on ESPN instead of 60 Minutes. It’s a chance for Dolphins coaches to think about sacks rather than, as the British say, “getting sacked.”

The focus on the game has been building for a few days for the Dolphins. Coach Joe Philbin on Thursday told his team to think exclusively about the game. But amid that preparation, the team was besieged by controversy.

“The whole thing is kind of mind-blowing to me and it’s kind of mind-blowing to most of the guys on the team right now,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Right now we’re focused on sticking together as a team, having each other’s backs as a team and getting ready to play a football game.

“At the end of the day, we’re playing a Tampa Bay team on the road on Monday. We have to deal with this yes, but we also have to get ready to play a football game.”

The Dolphins don’t anticipate a problem. Many players said the NFL investigation isn’t a distraction until the media asks about it. The alleged problems between Incognito and Martin aren’t a problem until they’re brought up — again, by the media.

“The only time we have to deal with this is when the media comes in here and ya’ll ask us questions,” left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “Otherwise, we’re not really discussing it too much. We’re talking about Tampa Bay a majority of the time.”

In that regard the Dolphins have a major advantage over Tampa Bay. Miami’s problems are viewed by the team as external. They come from the NFL. They come from unwanted scrutiny. It’s all coming from outside.

The Buccaneers’ problems are internal. They’re under attack by a disease — a literal, not figurative one — in their practice facility. Their coach is under pressure from management because they are winless.

Players have been unhappy with one another.

The synopsis of this Tampa Bay season reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, which is ironic because it began with such promise.

When training camp opened, coach Greg Schiano showed his players a Super Bowl video. When that presentation ended, he passed around a puzzle to his players. Solving the puzzle revealed the Lombardi Trophy.

Schiano told the players they could be lifting one of those at the end of this season if they followed him. It hasn’t quite worked out.

This team had a players-only meeting before the regular season began. There were rumors the coach tampered with ballots in the voting for team captains.

The starting quarterback, Josh Freeman, missed the team photo because he overslept. He was also missing on passes, connecting on only 47 percent of his throws.

Tensions between the coach and quarterback gurgled like an active volcano. Freeman was deactivated and barred from the team sideline. Then a report saying the quarterback was in the league’s drug treatment program surfaced. Then Freeman’s camp fingered Schiano as the report’s leak. The coach denied it. And the quarterback issued a news release saying he had merely tested positive after switching medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Then came Freeman’s trade to the Vikings. Veterans in the locker room that once expected a Super Bowl run now had young, inexperienced Mike Glennon as their starting quarterback.

Bye-bye Super Bowl, playoffs, winning record and season.

It has all pointed back to Schiano. And that’s why billboards popped up around town with a simple message: “Fire Schiano.”

Last week, as the Dolphins baked under scrutiny, the Buccaneers had no controversies. They put running back Doug Martin on injured reserve, but everything was otherwise peaceful.

“You hold your breath,” Schiano said noting the calm. “I think that’s the way it is these days. That’s part of the landscape, so get used to it. When things do come up, you’ve got to deal with them and you can’t let them suck up too much of your time because there’s a limited amount of time before the game each week. But it has been nice to have a few days where there haven’t been any major issues.”

The Dolphins, obviously, haven’t had that luxury. But they insist they are not distracted.

“Again, asking me, and asking my peers and the guys that are playing football with me, [the controversy] isn’t a subject,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “To me it’s kind of silly, I’m in here trying to talk about football, and everybody wants to talk about something else.”

Well, the game has arrived. Now it’s finally about football again.

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