After the Miami Miracle was complete and the celebration had moved behind the scenes, into the locker room, the party began.
There was obviously no champagne on hand so players started dousing each other with water. They formed a circle around running back Kenyan Drake, who had scored the improbable, amazing, miraculous winning touchdown against the New England Patriots minutes before and celebrated as if they’d just won the pennant.
And why not? This day was worthy of a toast, if you’re the Dolphins.
How else to mark a terrific surprise 34-33 victory against the team that has done more damage than anyone to the AFC East this century? How else to mark the first time in Dolphins history that they score the winning touchdown in regulation with no time left on the clock?
When the team hit the locker room, these Dolphins did what could best be described as a group hug for Drake, the man who caught a lateral from DeVante Parker, who caught a lateral from Kenny Stills, who caught a pass from Ryan Tannehill that final play.
And Drake turned the last pitch into a 69-yard play. And his team mobbed him in northwest corner of the end zone. And in the locker room there was simply more love for Drake from his teammates.
And owner Stephen Ross.
Coach Adam Gase, who typically needs to wind down after games, headed almost immediately to his post-game presser where he gave a composed and methodical evaluation of the craziness we had all just witnessed.
“I’ve seen a couple of these,” Gase said without a ton of emotion. “I’ve been lucky enough to be on this side of the ball. I’ve been on the other side of the ball before. But as a head coach, this is first time for sure.”
Cool customer Gase ended his presser after a few minutes and then the real Adam emerged. He went into the locker room, turned his ever-present baseball cap backward, and as his face turned red with emotion (and perhaps relief) Gase went through the entire locker room hugging and slapping and shaking hands with every single player.
Most stood up to greet their coach. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, drained and nursing a right ankle injury he suffered in the second quarter, couldn’t get to his feet. He had basically melted into his locker stall and didn’t move as Gase, slouched over, talked and talked. And talked.
”We definitely make it exciting down here in South Florida. Give the fans their money’s worth, for sure,” defensive end Cameron Wake said.
Across the locker room, a group of offensive linemen were chanting, “Ted, Ted, Ted,” because it was left guard Ted Larsen who was seen running 40 yards down the field delivering the block that sprung Drake and guaranteed the 69-yard touchdown.
Larsen has struggled at times this year both on the field and dealing with multiple stingers off it. This was the biggest block he might have delivered in a season big blocks have been rare for Larsen.
But this one was awesome.
Although, afterward, a modest Larsen claimed he’s had better blocks.
After Drake’s touchdown, about the time he was being mobbed by teammates in the end zone, the obvious disappointment of the Patriots was everywhere to be seen.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, the last line of defense on the play and the last man to miss a tackle on Drake, simply stood there at the 5 yard line. Hand on hips. At once a statue and observer.
The only reason the tight end was on the field is because he’s 6-6. He was supposed to knock down a Hail Mary attempt. The Patriots put Gronkowski in the game at the expense of safety Devin McCourty, who was subbed out. So, yes, the Patriots put in a tight end and took out perhaps their fastest and surest tackler in the secondary.
Except the Dolphins didn’t try a Hail Mary pass from their own 31 yard line. They called a play named “Boise,” which they practice several times a year -- amazingly, they practiced it Friday, Tannehill said.
Anyway, Patriots coach Bill Belichick missed on this one. He was apparently expecting one thing and got something totally different that put Gronkowski in a poor position to make a play.
“Every time we practice it, it’s for the Hail Mary,” Gronkowski said. “You’ve got to be ready for anything. It’s football. Just the way it ended, I mean, it sucked. I mean, I’ve never really been a part of anything like that. I feel like it’s going to test our character big time, how we bounce back from something like that, and I’ve just got to make that tackle.”
The fact Gronkowski was in the game was something of a joke for the Dolphins. In fact, this whole episode was reason for glee on the Dolphins side because Gronk trying to tackle any of Miami’s runners is a mismatch.
The Gronkowski was asked to tackle perhaps the fastest player currently on the Dolphins offense -- Drake runs a 4.3 in the 40 -- was a massive advantage for Miami.
And when did Drake realize this?
”Until I got in the end zone … I mean honestly, I’m sitting before you all and I still don’t believe it,” Drake said. “I just saw it was Gronk in front of me and I was just like ‘Look, I’ve got somewhere to be.’ So I had to get in the end zone.”
Tannehill, usually all business when he meets with the media, limped into his press conference and then, unexpectedly, opened with some humor.
“Yeah, we had them right where we wanted them,” Tannehill said amid laughter in the room. “We came out got exactly what we were looking for, like, “Hey, this is the perfect look.’ So as soon as we lined up, I knew we had it.
“I’m not really surprised with how things turned out.”
Funny Ryan is cool. Businesslike Ryan keeps Funny Ryan hidden. I like funny Ryan more.
And there was more from Funny Ryan. His description of the play also made light of Gronkowski.
“The play kind of got messed up,” Tannehill said. “I saw Kenyan there, I said [about Parker] “pitch it! pitch it! He pitches it, Kenyan came back inside. I had a great view of the whole thing.
“Then I saw him and Gronk about 10 yards away. I said, ‘Gronk’s on the field? We got this!’ So, yeah, it was pretty amazing. I was following behind and I actually just turned around and collapsed just with the emotion of the whole thing.”
Back in the locker room former Patriots player Brandon Bolden, who scored two touchdowns, was surrounded by reporters.
Former Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was not. He was walking around apparently looking for someone to celebrate with some more.
Soon Hard Rock Stadium was dark and the locker room was empty. But out on the field Gase gathered with his wife and kids and seemed to walk around to decompress.
On Monday the Miami Miracle will become history as well as historic.