The Season Of Lost Hope begins Sunday in Houston, where the Dolphins represent the single biggest underdog in a sport that prides itself on parity. A point spread that started as one touchdown this week has swollen to almost two now, America betting more and more, on this national sports holiday of celebration and excitement, that the Dolphins will stink.
You rarely see a betting line move that violently over a week without injury, but even the most delusional Miami fan would have a hard time identifying what, exactly, this team is going to do well or consistently. And here’s another one-two punch to the groin: There are precious few players Dolphins fans can trust, and there are just as few America can even name.
The team’s identity? Faceless. Yes, this sounds overly negative on what is supposed to be a happy day, but negative is how you inevitably look when you don’t know where to look to find the positive.
Consider this: The Dolphins, struggling to sell tickets, desperate to stay relevant, allowed HBO’s voyeurs into their world this preseason. Hard Knocks was a riveting look inside an always-arrogant-but-now-humbled organization, with unusual access and intimacy, cameras in every crevice of the organization. There were so many memorable moments: Vontae Davis wanting to call his grandma while being informed he was being traded; Chad Johnson promising to get arrested before doing so; quarterback Ryan Tannehill not knowing which NFL teams were in which divisions. But, for every tiny thing Dolphins fans got to see, this larger thing seems to have been overlooked:
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Where was the good stuff?
You know, the positive?
All those cameras, all that time, and all we get that feels good is that Reggie Bush works really hard and that some no-name receiver might make the squad at the team’s weakest position (alas, Chris Hogan didn’t)? A dirty little secret about the best reality TV in sports: The Marlins had editing control over Showtime’s “all-access” The Franchise. NFL Films isn’t going to air anything about the Dolphins on the “all-access” Hard Knocks that isn’t OK with the NFL. So it is alarming, in this made-for-TV NFL commercial, how little about this look inside felt optimistic or hopeful. The show was illuminating, yes, but that point spread didn’t swell this week because of how good anything looked in all those preseason lights.
We got to see lineman John Jerry called “a catastrophe on tape,” receiver Roberto Wallace nicknamed “Ankle Weights” by the coaching staff and the entire team called a [bleeping] embarrassment by Joe Philbin during a preseason game. We got to hear offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tell rookie Michael Egnew that he would cut him if he were general manager, and the general manager say he didn’t have any No. 1, 2 or 3 receivers. Shoot, we even got to hear an unknown guy’s story about being lost at sea — not unlike the organization, it could be said. But the lack of hope would make any in-need-of-soothing Dolphins fan feel like wanting to call Vontae Davis’ grandma.
Inside the violence, football, at its core, is very simple. It is a promise made, one man to another inside that huddle, that an individual job will get done. “Do your job” is a Saints slogan on T-shirts and posters and even on a menacing Sean Payton billboard lording over practice even as the suspended Payton can’t, you know, do his own job. And here’s the question that makes Sunday feel like the start of something harrowing for the Dolphins: Whom — anywhere on this team, from the huddle to the front office — do you really trust to get his job done?
It certainly isn’t the owner, the general manager or the first-year coach — the latter of whom bought himself precious little on Hard Knocks with a restless fan base by having less head-coaching personality than any of his assistants. You trust Jake Long and Cameron Wake to get their jobs done. Maybe Bush and Karlos Dansby, too. Maybe. Is that it? Really? Throw the kicker and punter in there, just to feel better.
Which feels worse? That you have only four starters you really trust to do their job well on a team that starts 22? Or that the general manager you don’t trust to do his job well traded one-third of the six players you might have trusted to do theirs well (Brandon Marshall and Davis)?
Think about that number. Maybe a hopeful Dolphins fan throws a defensive tackle in there or the center drafted higher than any center ever — you read that right; in the golden age of passing, the Dolphins draft a center higher than anyone ever has — but maybe a pessimistic Dolphins fans yanks out Bush and Dansby. Either way, after years and years of management changes and rebuilding, in a league that tilts the rules so that the bad get better, it is simply unfathomable that there are maybe four bleeping Dolphins you trust.
That lack of trust is not a small thing. It breeds the hopelessness that surrounds the organization in a way it never has. Fans want to hope. Sports traffic in hope. But it feels like Miami fans have reached some sort of breaking point after having so many hopes betrayed. Whether it is the inability to get Peyton Manning or Jim Harbaugh or Jeff Fisher, or the retaining of Jeff Ireland, or the trading of Marshall or Davis, something here has snapped.
Even the start of that abominable 1-15 season, and all the goofy Cam Cameron fodder, didn’t start with the lack of trust and hope that this one does … or with the Dolphins being the biggest Week 1 underdog in the entire sport.
So this entire Season Of Lost Hope revolves around nothing more than this:
Praying that, despite the lack of help, Tannehill grows into one of the Dolphins you eventually trust.