Super Bowl week, with it’s hype and hyperbole, will culminate on an unofficial national holiday Sunday when the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos play for professional football’s world championship. This is a celebration of excellence at the NFL’s highest levels. It is about greatness, grandness and glory.
And, surrounded by all that brilliance, do you know the question I answered at least a dozen times my first day of Super Bowl week, working around the NFL’s headquarters and media center?
“When are the Dolphins going to make it back to a Super Bowl?”
Yes, I am apparently the official word on when South Florida’s team is going to make a return visit to football’s biggest stage because, obviously, I have powers that allow me to know such things.
(No, I don’t).
Anyway, my answer to the question, undiplomatic or cringe-inducing as it might seem to the Dolphins, is not anytime soon.
Sorry, but this should not be breaking news to educated or veteran Dolphins fan.
They know their team may be in the same league with the Broncos and Panthers. But the Dolphins are not really in the same league with the Broncos and Panthers, if you get my meaning.
That’s not a knock. That’s a sad truth that includes and then goes beyond issues of draft decisions or talent development.
So forget for a moment that the Dolphins, having found new coach Adam Gase weeks ago, must now find a starting cornerback.
And maybe another starting cornerback if Brent Grimes doesn’t stick around.
And a starting middle linebacker.
And a starting outside linebacker.
And a starting safety to twin with Reshad Jones.
And a starting running back if Lamar Miller bolts in free agency.
And at least one, but possibly two starting guards.
Forget for a moment that the Panthers drafted Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft while the Dolphins were picking busts Dion Jordan and Jamar Taylor.
The reason the Dolphins are not here — well, Gase and executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum are going to be in town but the team isn’t — speaks to a talent deficiency. But it is not just about that deficiency.
The Broncos, for example, have been a better organization than the Dolphins in significant ways that do not include talent acquisition. Team GM and executive vice president John Elway has brought respect to the organization.
Consider that in 2012 when he was deciding where to play after his days with the Indianapolis Colts were finished, quarterback Peyton Manning showed immediate interest in the Broncos. On the other hand, when the Dolphins called Manning, he didn’t call back.
This went on for days. It vexed Dolphins management that Manning didn’t consider them worthy of a return phone call. Finally, then-general manager Jeff Ireland asked Dan Marino and Jason Taylor if they could reach out to Manning on behalf of the Dolphins to ask him to take a meeting.
Manning agreed to meet with the Dolphins as a favor to Marino. But after traveling to Denver and spending a couple of days there, Manning told the Dolphins contingent — coach Joe Philbin, Ireland, owner Stephen Ross — they had to come to him, and the meeting lasted hours rather than days.
The most clear contrast between the Dolphins and Broncos came in December and January of 2014.
Head coach John Fox had won four consecutive division titles and taken the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013. But when the Broncos lost in the divisional round of the playoffs, Elway fired Fox because he believed the team didn’t perform well enough at critical times.
Only weeks earlier, Philbin’s Dolphins had missed the playoffs for the third time in as many years and the team had once again wilted late in the season. Ross responded by not only keeping Philbin but giving him a contract extension.
In other words, Fox got fired despite his success. Philbin kept his job despite nothing but failure.
The difference between two franchises.
Those decisions planted seeds that both teams reaped this year. The Broncos, under Fox replacement Gary Kubiak, are back in the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins, sticking with Philbin, wasted the season — their 50th as a franchise.
The Carolina Panthers are also a frequent topic of conversation around the Dolphins training facility. Dolphins staffers talk about how their team visited Carolina last August for multiple days of dual practices prior to a preseason game.
And those people scratch their heads because they believed then that the Dolphins were every bit as good as the Panthers.
Indeed, the Miami Herald reported after the first day of those practices that Carolina coach Ron Rivera asked the Dolphins to dial back the intensity of their pass rush in two minute drills because Carolina hadn’t been able to accomplish some of its goals in the practice period the day before.
Dolphins people left those practices privately thinking their team was the equal of a team that eventually would reach this Super Bowl with only one loss in 18 games. And Tannenbaum gave similar thoughts public standing last month.
“I think on our best day this year, when you look at this past season — against Houston, Washington, [in the finale against New England] — we beat teams that were in the playoffs,” Tannenbaum said. “We’ve played good football and we are a good team. We obviously weren’t even close to that throughout the year, we were too inconsistent, but there are a lot of good pieces here that we can build from.
“Being 1-5 in the division is completely unacceptable. We have to be better. We have to figure out a way to win in the AFC East because being 1-5 is not ever going to get us to where we want. But with that said, there are a lot of good young players here, we’re a young team, we have as many players under 24 as any other team in this league, and that’s why I really believe that our future is bright.”
Bright? Yes, that’s possible.
But a Super Bowl on the horizon?
Not for a long time.
Who: Denver Broncos (14-4) vs. Carolina Panthers 17-1).
Where: Levi’s Stadium; Santa Clara, Calif.
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Favorite: Panthers by 5 1/2.