Miami Dolphins put focus on football
Beset by a locker room scandalthat threatened to tear them apart,the Dolphins say the scrutinyinstead has brought them together.
11/11/2013 12:01 AM
11/11/2013 12:48 AM
It might not have been intentional, but it sure is fitting.
It’s just me against the world.
That was the chorus — courtesy of the song Me Against the World by the late rapper Tupac — that blared in the Dolphins’ indoor bubble Saturday as the team stretched before the last practice of a tumultuous week.
The prepractice music is selected by members of the equipment staff, although they often ask players for recommendations and requests, so it’s unclear if the selection was deliberate or coincidental.
Intentional or not, the chorus echoes the feelings in the Dolphins’ locker room as they head to Tampa Bay for Monday’s game.
“Something like this can really just bring a team together, and I think that’s what’s happened,” defensive lineman Jared Odrick said. “When you have incidents like this, you pull together and refocus, come together for one common goal.”
The team began the week with instructions to not answer questions about allegations that Jonathan Martin was bullied by Richie Incognito and others on the team. The players remained tight-lipped on Monday, but by Wednesday they were weary of not being able to speak up amid speculation about locker room culture, attacks on their character and leadership, and assertions about their friends and teammates.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline said he felt like the team was being bullied by the media and that the players weren’t allowed to defend themselves. The players’ defense had been antagonized like a shaken can of soda, and Wednesday their opinions burst forth with outspoken effervescence.
But that was more the exception than the rule this week.
Although there was some mention of the situation involving Martin and Incognito, the locker room sounded determined on Thursday and Saturday to look beyond the commotion to get things back to normal — back to football.
By week’s end, “distraction” had become a dirty word in the locker room, inevitably eliciting an eye roll from every player asked about it. The team insists it was able to prepare for Monday’s game much like any other week.
“In life, in football, in your professional life and in your personal life, within your families, a lot of times things happen,” coach Joe Philbin said Saturday. “Sometimes you have control. Sometimes you don’t have control. The big thing is, how do you respond to those things?”
Some players even claimed that the off-field chaos made it easier to focus on the upcoming game against a Buccaneers team that, to a man, the Dolphins say is much better than its 0-8 record.
“You know that it can take away from your focus, so it does the exact opposite,” Hartline said. “You overcompensate to make sure you stay aware of the game.”
But even without distractions, the long Thursday-to-Monday preparation would have felt like a grind. With all the chaos in the training facility, many players said that this week has felt like an eternity.
Almost every player who talked to the media Saturday mentioned how excited he was to simply play a football game again.
Getting out of town can only aid in the mental compartmentalization needed to treat this like it’s just another game.
“An away game is like a business trip,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “You put on your suit and your tie. You pack your guys up, get on a plane. You go into a hostile environment where everyone wants you to lose, everybody’s booing.
“And it makes it even more fun when you go out there and have success.”
While the rest of the world is debating the intent of text messages and trying to paint generalizations about locker room culture in the NFL, the Dolphins will be focusing on Monday’s game.
If the Buccaneers get their first win Monday, the world will suddenly care about football again and will likely blame the Dolphins’ loss on that dirty word (distraction). If Miami is victorious, Odrick said he expects the true locker room culture to be revealed.
It’s the Dolphins against the world.
The Tupac song that started Saturday’s practice concludes:
Got me stuck in the game, it’s just me against the world
I’d be ashamed to lose, it’s just me against the world baby
Me against the world
That’s right, I know it seems hard sometimes but
Remember one thing, through every dark night
There’s a bright day after that
So no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out
Keep your head up and handle it
Me against the world.