Greg Cote

Faith of Miami Dolphins, Hurricanes fans won’t last forever

They are both selling patience. Are you buying? It doesn’t matter. You don’t have a choice. The two football teams America thinks of first when it thinks of Miami — the Dolphins and Hurricanes — are peddling patience because they don’t have any more choice but to offer it than fans do to accept it.

Patience is increasingly an unpopular, tough sell in sports, a lot to ask. Fans see patience not as a virtue but as an excuse to soften losing or buy time. If instant reward is the sexy red Maserati that will thrill you, patience is the steady gray sedan that will get you there eventually maybe.

Patience is especially hard for these two teams to peddle in this market because Canes folk and Dolfans are inclined to look back at a lot of lean years and think they’ve already done their penance — that’s it past time for a new run of good ol’ days.

UM’s most recent national title came in 2001 and its last finish in the national top 10 in ’03. That’s two or three player-generations ago on the college timeline. Any remaining vestiges of The U’s claim to swagger now have cobwebs.

The Dolphins have left their fans even more forlorn, last winning a playoff game in 2000, and now counting their most recent taste of NFL relevance as decades ago (plural), not years.

And yet here we go again, right? That’s what you’re thinking.

UM and the Dolphins’ Lost Weekend just past was about more than the scoreboard. It was about fans’ hope, too. Right?

After all, the Canes’ 52-13 loss at Kansas State was their worst margin of defeat in five years and most points given up since 1998.

The Dolphins’ 30-10 loss at Houston a day later was Miami’s most lopsided season-opening defeat since 1988.

Patience, though. Please?

Heck, even President Barack Obama is asking for patience in terms of the nation’s economic recovery, saying, “America, I never said this journey would be easy.” The thing is, voters can decide in 55 days if they buy Obama’s call for patience.

UM and Dolphins fans can only trust their teams’ leaders or not, but in either case can only wait and hope.

“We’re in it for the long haul. We’ll get this fixed,” UM coach Al Golden said this week, mostly of a defense that has allowed 84 points in two games.

Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin in his postmortem: “We were looking to have a reference point to find out exactly where we are. We have a lot of work to do.”

Each team’s call for patience is justified.

The Canes are very young all over the field, babies needing time to grow. But UM can look you in the eye when asking for patience because it has the talent to suggest there will be a reward waiting. Stephen Morris, in his first full season as starting quarterback, already is better than predecessor Jacory Harris ever was. Running back Duke Johnson and cornerback Tracy Howard, both true freshmen, embody a new wave of Canes with the potential to suggest (much) better days are coming. And Golden has a history of recruiting and turnarounds to present a track record on which to hang your faith.

The Dolphins are very young at the one position that matters disproportionately in the modern NFL: quarterback. Sunday accurately reflected that there will be growing pains as Ryan Tannehill develops. Growing pains because his being a receiver-turned-quarterback makes him inexperienced even by rookie-passer standards. And growing pains because Miami’s lack of a premier No.1 receiver hampers Tannehill’s growth, fixing more of the burden on him. You’d be amazed how much better Tannehill would instantly be if he had, say, Andre Johnson at the end of those passes like Houston did Sunday.

Sending Tannehill to battle without a top receiver is the single biggest fault that leaves general manager Jeff Ireland fair game for scathing criticism.

The Dolphins and Ireland asking fans to keep the faith is a well close to bone dry, but Tannehill is the last great hope. Asking your patience will be a valid request for as long as Tannehill continues to progress and look like the long-term solution for which this franchise has ached. But if at any point Tannehill would begin to look like not the answer but just this regime’s latest draft mistake, then that patience would leave Dolfans like air does a pricked balloon.

(Meantime perhaps the Dolphins should consider giving Tannehill the boost they haven’t afforded him with top receivers. All six of his tipped passes Sunday came on quick three-step drops. Maybe deeper drops would help. Or perhaps a huddle rather than a constant hurry-up would help. These are things to consider in the short term.)

Realistically, this is a bridge season for both the Dolphins and Hurricanes, and it will be fascinating to see where it leads. What’s on the other side.

This is the learning-curve year for Tannehill, a rationale that won’t be available next season. For the Dolphins, with stockpiled draft picks and much salary-cap money to spend, 2013 will be the no-excuses season when Dolfans should expect to at last cash their patience for results.

For the Hurricanes — the NCAA willing, of course — the next year or two far more than this one should be when UM’s road back to national prominence might begin to gain purchase in the polls.

Faith in both teams’ turnaround is made fragile by years of disappointment. Both sets of fans would demand better days right now if only they had the power.

Instead, all they can do is ask, hope and decide on their own what constitutes a fair time to wait.

That’s the thing about patience.

It always starts out as noble. As reasonable, wise and virtuous.

But when patience runs out, what follows is rarely pleasant.

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