An angel sits on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. Both are talking to you, Dolphins fan, vying for your ear and your soul. One is sowing darkness, the other light. One despair, the other hope. You hear the devil first, because while good tends to whisper, bad shouts.
Besides, the devil has fresher ammunition at the ready, because if this franchise hasn’t quite gone to hell as it sets out on its 49th season, it has fallen uncomfortably in that direction.
So the pessimism bombards you. (This is the devil speaking, remember. Play along.)
Sixteen different NFL franchises have won a Super Bowl since Miami last did in 1974, and 24 different teams have at least been in a Super Bowl since the Dolphins last were in 1985.
What Don Shula and Dan Marino built has tumbled off the national football radar and broken. The Dolphins have become a diminished, regional team.
Joe Philbin is the eighth head coach in the 18 seasons since Shula, and Ryan Tannehill is the 17th different starting quarterback in the 14 seasons since Marino.
And what to show for it? One playoff appearance since league realignment in 2002, and no postseason victory since 2000.
“Quit torturing us!” you shout.
The devil answers with a crocodile smile.
You, as if waving garlic at a vampire, begin singing the Dolphin fight song — “… and when you say Miami, you’re talkin’ Super Bowl!” — but immediately realize you’re crooning about ghosts 41 years past and quietly shut up.
The devil continues.
The Dolphins’ greatest crime the past decade-plus is being uninteresting, the darkness in your ear points out. Just about the only national news this team makes is negative or embarrassing. Think about it …
Bill Parcells rides off in his golf cart, his work unfinished.
Nick Saban seems promising, then lies and leaves.
Cam Cameron. (Need I say more?)
Orange carpets — a stab at sizzle to divert attention from the lack of steak.
Jeff Ireland’s most notable accomplishment is asking Dez Bryant if his mom is a prostitute.
The club goes after and fails to land Jim Harbaugh and Peyton Manning and Jeff Fisher.
More recently, the entire 2013 season gets swallowed by Richie Incognito and a Bullygate scandal that implodes the offensive line and locker room.
Now, as the new season dawns, bullying participant Mike Pouncey is out following surgery, Don Jones was reprimanded for an antigay post on Twitter, and Dion Jordan and Reshad Jones both are serving league suspensions for failed drug tests.
What has been the highlight of Stephen Ross’ five years as owner?
(To break the silence in lieu of an answer, the devil mentions it’s a rhetorical question.)
“Enough negativity,” a voice sings.
Yes, much of what has happened and not happened the past decade makes Dolfans‘ pessimism understandable and justified. But isn’t optimism a state of mind? It wants in. Let it in!
Besides, you ever hear of the doggone law of averages? For the love of Shula you people are due!
The tide eventually turns for every team — well, except Buffalo, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 — and it is turning for Miami.
The question is, do you believe? Can you believe, or has hope been beaten out of you?
The angel is beginning to raise the decibels, to gesticulate and to pound the lectern. (There is an angel smack in the middle of every evangelist, after all.)
Tannehill is going to be a very good quarterback. Plenty good enough. Here, and succeeding, for a long time. Start there.
(I asked friend Peter King, of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports, how he sees Tannehill. He said, “They’re still finding out if he’s the man. I think he is.”)
Philbin — though even an angel might admit he is outwardly dull and no orator — has not yet indicated he won’t be a good coach for the long haul.
Too soon to judge new general manager Dennis Hickey, but “he isn’t Ireland” is a decent start.
Hickey bull’s-eyed Miami’s main need with a huge free agent get in left tackle Branden Albert, the main cog on an improved offensive line.
Drafting Jarvis Landry to go with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson gives Miami a four-deep wideout corps comparable to some of the best in the league in Bill Lazor’s promising new offense.
Emerging Charles Clay is a tight end/H-back who could be a big star in this league.
Adding Knowshon Moreno, who last year was one of only six runners with 1,000-plus yards and at least 50 catches, provides a good-looking complement to Lamar Miller.
Earl Mitchell, Cortland Finnegan and Louis Delmas all are additions that should help the defense.
Cameron Wake is a premier sacker, and Olivier Vernon and Jordan could be.
Brent Grimes, though not as loud as some at the diva position, is as good a cover-corner as about anybody in the NFL.
The respected website Pro Football Focus in its new rankings says Miami’s defense is top 10 overall (eighth) and in both edge-rush (fifth) and interior line (ninth).
You could argue that no team in the AFC, after Denver and New England, is appreciably better than Miami.
In fact the Dolphins last season beat the Colts, Bengals, Chargers and Steelers — four of the conference teams some would rate as better.
“Whoa now,” Dolfans surely are saying. “You’re beginning to talk like this is a playoff team!”
There is a pause, and a gust of wind. Windows bang open and light fills the room.
“You know, I am,” the angel says. “I sure am.”