Miami Dolphins

Inside the NFL’s ‘Hunger Games:’ Two players. One job, one locker and one hotel room

Miami Dolphins kickers fighting for position

Miami Dolphins Kicker Jason Sanders talks inside the locker room on his relationship with Greg Joseph at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University on Monday, August 27, 2018, in Davie.
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Miami Dolphins Kicker Jason Sanders talks inside the locker room on his relationship with Greg Joseph at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University on Monday, August 27, 2018, in Davie.

Picture this:

You have been building your whole life for this moment — an interview for that dream job that could make or break your career.

Think back to all the schooling. The internships. The countless hours studying at home instead of hitting the bars with your friends.

All that sacrifice pays off with a phone call from human resources. Come tell us why you would be a good fit, they say.

But on the night before the big day, a curve ball: You get stuck in a 200-square foot hotel room with the opening’s other candidate, a total stranger who is just as motivated to land the gig as you are.

That sort of arrangement simply doesn’t happen in the real world.

But in the NFL, it’s an annual right of passage. And it’s not just one night of bunking up together, but the better part of four months.

So for the dozens of Dolphins players — not to mention hundreds more around the league — hoping to make their first NFL roster, Thursday’s preseason finale is not just a final chance to lock down a spot.

It is their last night of having to see their competition most every waking moment.

Not that Jason Sanders or Greg Joseph, rookies battling to be the Dolphins’ opening-day kicker, would complain about it.

They share a room and a locker.

But both have been good-natured about the awkward living arrangement since they reported to the team hotel in May.

“Since we got here in OTAs, we’ve been pretty friendly together,” Sanders said this week, ahead of the Dolphins’ exhibition finale against the Falcons on Thursday. “When we’re in the hotel, it’s just sitting there. It’s not like I’m telling I want this channel on instead of that channel. We’re friends.”

Added Joseph: “No conflicts. He doesn’t go through my stuff. I don’t go through his. It’s a very respectful relationship.”

They say it so convincingly, you kind of believe them.

Sanders, the seventh-round pick out of New Mexico, was the first to report in May. Upon checking in, he quickly discovered that he would room with Joseph, who went to school up the road at Florida Atlantic.

When Joseph showed up a short time later, he tried to smooth over any awkwardness right away.

“I told him, when I walked in the room in the first day, I said, ‘What’s up, I’m Greg.’ We talked a little bit,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, if I do anything in the room to get on your nerves, let me know. We’ll handle it there and then.’”

Credit their maturity. Others might not handle things with such grace, particularly given the pressure cooker that is professional football. Both are vying to replace Cody Parkey as the Dolphins’ kicker, and know their stock rises or falls with every make or miss.

So it is human nature to root not only for your own success but for the other to fail, and that tension could turn small conflicts into all-out wars. Think Survivor for jocks. But during interviews this week, neither gave off that vibe.

They both play Fortnite. They both like the thermostat set at 67.5 degrees. Each keeps his stuff on the right side of the room.

Even choice of television channel is a collective decision.

“We just like the same shows,” Sanders said. “If I have Netflix on, he’ll watch it. If he has the TV on, I’ll watch.”

Added Joseph: “We both respect each other’s space. We talk in there. It’s not like it’s a deathly awkward silence. At the end of the day, we get along. We both understand the best man will get the job.”

With one game left, it appears as though Sanders has the edge. He has been better in practices open to reporters, and has made 6 of 7 attempts in the preseason, missing only from 53 yards.

Still, he has to occasionally pinch himself. He was not one of the top names coming out, and the Dolphins not only gave him a shot, but used a draft pick to secure him.

“A couple of months ago, you wouldn’t think you’d be in this position,” Sanders said, “and then it all adds up.”

Each knows the math. Come Monday, one will be gone.

And both will finally get some privacy once again.

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