Coaches-under-pressure Joe Philbin and Al Golden both will keep their jobs following the season at hand, perhaps against odds, and that is because their Dolphins and Hurricanes each will enjoy faith-restoring success for one simple reason — times two.
Quarterback. Miami’s two major football teams are blessed to have good, young, rising stars taking snaps — exclamation points, not question marks, at the most important position.
I claim no sudden prescience, but the feeling is strong:
Ryan Tannehill, fully blossomed in his fourth pro season, will lead the Dolphins to their first NFL playoff berth since 2008. And, across town, Brad Kaaya, in his sophomore year, will help UM surprise its doubters and make a hard run at the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Do not underestimate the power of one man, at that position, to lift a team and a city.
The mind’s eye recalls the Sports Illustrated cover dated Sept. 5, 1984, and headlined “A Pair Of Aces.” Pictured were Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar.
Whoa now. Pause. Take a deep breath.
I am not comparing Tannehill now to Marino then. Danny Boy was a generational talent coming off a sensational Pro Bowl rookie year and was about to set an NFL record with 5,084 passing yards in ’84 — a mark that would stand for 27 years.
Nor am I comparing Kaaya with UM’s earlier B.K. Kosar had just led the Canes to a historic first national championship, and would go on to throw for 3,642 yards in ’84 — a school record to this day, 31 years later.
Here is what I am saying:
The Dolphins and Canes might be in their best-combined shape at QB, right now, than they have been since that SI cover ushered in the ’84 season.
If not then maybe it was 1986. That was the last season the Dolphins and Canes returned a quarterback duo (Marino and Vinny Testaverde) that passed for more combined yards than the 7,243 that Tannehill and Kaaya totaled last year.
You could make a case for Marino and Steve Walsh in 1988 or Marino and Gino Torretta in ’92, which was the last time the Fins had a Pro Bowl QB the same season UM had an All-American or even all-conference QB.
Since then, the two Miamis have not both been great simultaneously at the one essential position. As an example, during the 2000-02 reign of UM’s most recernt All-America quarterback, Ken Dorsey, the Dolphins had begun the post-Marino era with journeyman Jay Fiedler.
Now, though, Tannehill and Kaaya share not only the same stadium but also a potential for concurrent huge seasons.\
Tannehill, 27, better every season, threw for 4,045 yards and 27 TDs last season with a 92.8 rating. If you are wondering, Marino topped all three of those totals in a season only once in 17 years, in his record-breaking 1984. In three preseason games this month, Tannehill is 33 for 41 for 303 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions. And that’s without starting left tackle Branden Albert and No. 1 draft pick receiver DeVante Parker, who both should soon be ready.
Tannehill is better than ever in all three of the areas by which Philbin says he measures a quarterback: “Decision-making, accuracy and playmaking ability.”
The player himself, taking on a distinctly greater leadership role, answered in perfect QB-speak when asked about his potential breakout season.
“We we want to win a championship,” he said. “Personal stats don’t really matter.”
(I look around the NFL today and count only six or seven teams with QB situations clearly more enviable than Miami’s when you factor age and future, accomplishment and potential. In the AFC East, the Jets’ and Bills’ situations are comparatively a shambles. The Patriots’ Tom Brady is still better but he’s also 38. Would you trade Tannehill and the balance of his career for what’s left of Brady? Me, no.)
Kaaya, who turns 20 on Thursday, won ACC Rookie of the Year honors and set UM freshman records last year, throwing for 3,198 yards, with 26 TDs and a 145.9 college rating. Only 11 schools of the 128 in the NCAA’s top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision had a starting passer with better numbers in all three categories last year.
Some of you might see a tinge too rose-colored on this column, but what I see, without apology, is two quarterbacks in one city ready to lift two recently forlorn fan bases and leave each cheering.
Dolphins and Canes fans had better hope I’m right.
But not as much as Philbin and Golden had better hope that.