Six hundred and fifty business people and community leaders have paid for a chicken and rice lunch at the Miami Dolphins kickoff luncheon but no one is complaining about the $60-a-plate price because this meal comes with something special that’s not on the menu.
This lunch comes with a heaping helping of rainbow dreams and lollipop expectations. Those clouds over there? It’s not an unsettled linebacker corps or offensive line. Those clouds are made of cotton candy.
And did anyone see the unicorn skipping merrily around the room at the InterContinental Miami hotel banquet room? Because at times it sounded as if one was harnessed to the confident talk of playoffs and success and other good tidings.
“This time of year there’s a lot of optimism around the NFL,” executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “There’s a lot of headlines for a lot of different teams. I can tell you with certainty the difference between our optimism and the other 31 is our optimism is earned.”
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The Dolphins are not only coming at this season with what they believe is a better team, they believe they’re attacking their 50th season with an optimism no other team can match.
And if there was any question about that, all one had to do was listen to speaker after speaker at this kickoff luncheon to understand the Dolphins are feeling great about the season that looms.
Tannenbaum, taking over as the team’s football czar this year, put on a slide show that likened the Dolphins facility to a football factory where winning is made.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” he said prior to showing how the offseason and new personnel and old personnel and a different approach are making a difference. “We’ve got the right people in the building and we’re excited about this year.”
General manager Dennis Hickey, modest and usually understated, introduced the team’s rookie class that he and his personnel department put together four months ago.
That class includes receiver DeVante Parker and offensive guard Jamil Douglas, and both will be vying for starting jobs this year. But that isn’t where Hickey expects this class’s contribution to stop.
“We’re expecting a lot of positive impact and positive contributions from the draft class — not only drafted but undrafted,” Hickey said.
Sun Life Stadium, to be renamed after this season, is already sporting the first part of a $400 million reconstruction project that has the place looking like a brand new facility. And fans, apparently reacting to the upgrade and the moves the team has made, are buying tickets at a rate not seen in years.
That’s why club president and CEO Tom Garfinkel predicted all the season tickets will be sold out by the end of next week and all home games will be sold out this season.
The new Sun Life, coach Joe Philbin promises, will bring back some of the home field advantage — and noise — lost when the team moved from the old Orange Bowl and to the North Dade facility.
“It’s unbelievable,” coach Joe Philbin said of the redone place. “I was blown away. It’s incredible. The fans are going to love it. The players are going to love it.”
The crowd noise, Philbin said, “is going to be huge. It’s going to be a big difference.”
The Dolphins need this season to be different. The club hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008. It hasn’t won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 2000. So children who entered kindergarten in 2001 have already graduated high school and could be starting their senior year in college without having seen a Miami playoff win.
That, players say, is not a dry spell but a full-fledged drought.
And this will be the postseason rain is in the forecast.
“We feel like this is our year to make the playoffs,” center and team leader Mike Pouncey said. “I know we say that every year but this year our football team, it’s the mind-set we have. We love the direction we’re going.”
Jarvis Landry caught 84 passes to lead the team in receptions as a rookie in 2014. He is clearly quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s go-to receiver, so there are questions whether he might eclipse the team record of 90 catches in one season.
Except Landry doesn’t seem to care about any team record except the wins and losses.
“Honestly, the focus right now is on winning,” he said. “Things like [the catch record] come. But It’s about this team. It’s about overcoming I wouldn’t say a couple of bad years but it’s about overcoming what the Dolphins standards are and redefining them.”
Defensive end Cameron Wake is probably all for redefining Miami’s past standards. He has been selected to four Pro Bowls. He has played 93 games in six seasons with the Dolphins.
But he has never been to the playoffs.
“Not being able to play in the postseason in all that time I’ve been here, now is the time …” Wake said. “This is definitely the year.”