The disappointment and mistrust are ingrained now. They have become part of the fabric of being a Dolfan, and, more broadly, of being an NFL fan who regards the Miami Dolphins more dispassionately from afar.
You don’t expect this football franchise to do right, or to be good. You just don’t.
And we are seeing now, in this spring/summer that bridges the past season to the next one, how difficult it can be to change perceptions that have hardened like wounds that become calluses or scars.
Should a man found to have cheated on his wife for most of the past decade expect to be quickly forgiven and trusted again?
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Just as that husband can’t make all the past hurt go away with a dozen roses and an I’m sorry, neither can the Dolphins make the populace swoon with one upbeat offseason. We have seen this movie before, right? We have seen the bounce of a coaching change or a big free agent signing or a positive draft cause a brief groundswell that ultimately fails to budge the ship run aground in mediocrity.
Don Shula had two losing seasons in 26 years in Miami.
The Dolphins have had one winning season in the past 10 years.
The franchise whose standard is perfection, the franchise of relentless competitiveness and stature, has shrunk over time like a cheap T-shirt after a wash and dry. Now the once-mighty Dolphins are also-rans on the NFL landscape. They are just another team fighting for attention, for credibility.
It is against this backdrop that nobody should have been surprised this week when the latest Las Vegas betting odds (via Bovada) put Miami’s projected 2016 wins total at seven. That’s 7-9. That’s no playoffs. That’s more of the same rut.
That despite a promising and largely applauded new head coach hire in Adam Gase and a retooled staff.
That despite free agency gains that included adding proven defensive lineman Mario Williams.
That despite a mostly acclaimed draft fronted by premier offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil falling into Miami’s lap.
The offseason has burned-too-often Dolfans feeling cautiously optimistic, which is as far as they will go without the proof that only comes starting in September. Even cautious optimism is a brave step for a fandom more apt to lapse into doomsday humor and expect the worst. Plenty of Dolfans I know hesitate to share their secretly held high hopes for fear the latest letdown is surely coming.
In that sense draft night mirrored the perfect dichotomy of being a Dolphins fans.
On the one hand, the experts were applauding Tunsil as the steal of the draft, a major coup for Miami.
On the other hand, the same young man was an Internet laughingstock with his bong gas mask — leaving Dolphins officials in the unusual position of having to justify and defend a selection that had the draftniks swooning.
Nothing is easy about being a Dolphins fan. Even when your team makes an apparent great and lauded No. 1 pick, it doesn’t happen to be in a position of urgent need. And he’s wearing a gas mask!
There are always yeah-buts around here. Hedges against outright feel-good. You like the overall roster moves? (Yeah, but they lost Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon and Brent Grimes. … Yeah, but will Ryan Tannehill ever be great?)
For 10 years there has mostly been a something-will-go-wrong cloud over this franchise, which helps explain why that betting over/under is set at seven wins. Public perception sets betting odds, and Joe Public still sees Miami as the AFC East caboose.
Projected win totals are 10 1/2 for the Patriots and eight each for the Bills and Jets. In fact Miami’s seven is tied for fourth from the bottom, better than only the 49ers, Titans and Browns.
Considering the Fins’ 6-10 season last year, Vegas does see improvement. Not much, though. Not enough.
The Dolphins, franchise and team, must prove it is different this time. Do not ask for trust and faith. You must earn back those things that have disappeared by degrees in the 15 seasons since Miami last won a playoff game.
They must literally win back that goodwill.
Until they do, I won’t give them my faith or trust or benefit of doubt, and I won’t believe until they show me I must.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.