I had a feeling it had been a while but had no idea just how long. Call it something else for South Florida football fans to appreciate this week of Thanksgiving.
Don Shula was still roaming jut-jawed along the Dolphins sideline, and Dan Marino was in the prolific heart of his career. Across town, new Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson was bearing in on the school’s third national championship.
It was that season, 1989, when Miami’s two flagship football teams last both had at least a three-game winning streak entering the national holiday that turkeys hate.
Go back even further, to 1985, for the last time the big two had a longer combined streak entering Thanksgiving than the eight victories in a row currently co-fashioned by the Fins (five) and Canes (three).
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The dual fire is all the more remarkable because, for both teams, it arose from ashes.
Pro Miami was 1-4, Dolfans beginning to join in another sad chorus of “Same Ol’ Dolphins.” Now, at 6-4 and at home this coming Sunday vs. the awful 49ers, Miami has become a viable playoff contender.
College Miami had been sunk by four consecutive losses in October. Now the Canes are 7-4 and big favorites at home in this coming Saturday’s regular-season finale vs. Duke. Bowl prospects are growing again.
The refresh button has been hit on the sense of optimism and new direction that began each team’s season. I’d also add Miami’s third-biggest football team, Florida International University, to the conversation because, as the Dolphins and UM began saving their seasons, FIU won big, too — and it had nothing to do with a scoreboard.
The sense of renewal is rooted in all three teams’ coaching hires.
Adam Gase has delivered youth and enthusiasm to the Dolphins, and a sense of fight and belief that helped keep the ship intact and headed right even at 1-4.
Mark Richt brought to UM not only an alum but the most proven coaching hire the school had ever made. (And Richt in turn brought in new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who has made a palpably big difference.)
And FIU, in new coach Butch Davis, hired last week to take over in 2017, gets needed stature and heft, not only a “big name” coach but one with major-college experience, one who is a strong recruiter.
Didn’t take these winning streaks to verify that Gase and Richt were strong hires, but it helps. Likewise, an FIU fan needn’t wait for Davis’ debut next September to be excited about his arrival.
It is the Dolphins, though, who top the marquee, and not just in football but across all Miami sports right now.
The downsized Heat, with the departure of Dwyane Wade and dissolution of the Big 3 era, created an opening that the Dolphins, with these five wins in a row, have burst through.
I know. The Dolphins needed a small miracle to extend that streak Sunday, with two late touchdowns winning in Los Angeles, 14-10. See, but that’s part of the point. Winning teams, resourceful teams, teams that don’t quit, do that. They pull victories from defeats.
“It was a long time ago when you knew guys just had that fight,” Cam Wake said of his team after it beat the Rams. “You know, you can feel it.”
Jarvis Landry couldn’t help but get a jab in at the media and bandwagon-jumping fans who wrote off this team at 1-4: “From everybody that doubted us early on and people who will still doubt us in the future: We thank you. It motivates us, especially in times like [Sunday] when we got to stick together as brothers and come from behind and take one.”
Gase remarked how impressed he was watching the sideline interplay Sunday, defensive players continually encouraging a struggling offense.
You wouldn’t have said it a month ago of the Dolphins or Hurricanes (or FIU) — or of Miami in general — but as the weather cools and the teams heat up, it’s beginning to look a lot like a football town again.