Dolphins fans, Hurricanes fans and the cross section of South Floridians who are both don’t know what to do with themselves. Something strange is going on. We find ourselves at the intersection of Optimism & Happiness, someplace our two flagship football teams haven’t been, together, for a while.
That is why it has fallen eerily quiet down here. Have you noticed?
Fans of both teams who have spent the past decade-plus making a regional pastime of complaining and avidly honing the art suddenly have nothing to gripe about. Sports radio call-in lines have gone silent. My email inbox has grown cobwebs.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and Canes defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio have emerged from their safe rooms and shed their Kevlar vests, no longer afraid to be seen, no longer public enemies.
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With some fans quiet for the lack of complaint, others are mute with caution, wary of expecting the best when results mostly have been the enemy of hope ever since UM last won a national championship in 2001 and the Dolphins last won even a single playoff game in 2000.
How to act? Do we croon “happy days are here again” with joy unfettered? Do we offer a curmudgeonly, hard-bitten “whoa, now?” It’s been so long, we need a handbook.
This week the Dolphins and Canes both are 2-0 and preparing for home games.
That’s modest, no cause for confetti. But do you know rare even that is?
Hard to believe but in 48 shared seasons since 1966 this is only the fourth time that has happened, and the first time since 1999. And never before have both teams won at home the same weekend to each go 3-0.
UM is all but assured that Saturday against small-school Savannah State. The Dolphins’ task will be taller Sunday against the Falcons — but Miami is a two-point home favorite, according to most early betting lines.
The Dolphins would not have been favored in this game one year ago.
Neither team has been renowned lately for fast starts, with the Canes’ last 3-0 breakout coming in 2004 and the Dolphins’ in 2002.
I know. This feels premature, right? “Don’t get carried away,” you are thinking.
Well, forget that.
Get carried away!
Be excited while the excitement is at hand, Canes crowd and Dolfans. You all have waited long enough.
UM boomed to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll after beating Florida (dipping to 16th on Monday after a bye week).
And the Dolphins’ big win at Indianapolis on Sunday had coach Joe Philbin telling his jubilant players, “We got a hell of a team in the making!” Philbin is no orator and is usually stoic; his Packers players used to call him “the pilgrim.” He is typically reserved, rarely quotable. What he told his team Sunday showed uncommon, raw enthusiasm.
His words apply to both the Dolphins and Canes right now — “We got a hell of a team in the making!” — and they are mirrored in the way fans are feeling.
Find an unscientific but interesting barometer of joyfulness in my Herald blog, where I invite fans to vote in Dolfan and Canes “satisfaction meter” polls every game.
When last I checked Monday, overall Dolfan satisfaction was running at 98.7 percent — with 72.2 percent calling themselves “very” satisfied. For UM fans it was 96.6 percent overall and 71.3 percent “very.” (Understand, you don’t get those kinds of numbers in a blog poll. I could ask, “Do you wish for world peace?” and not get 98.7 percent.)
The optimism is refreshing. It’s OK for fans to get swept up, to anticipate a big season rather than assume everything will crumble again.
Hope is free, and it feels good.
“Mustn’t look ahead,” you say?
Forget that, too!
Coaches and players can never admit to looking ahead. For media and fans, though, it’s fine to indulge — that’s human nature.
No laws against it. Plus, isn’t anticipation half the fun? So let’s look ahead.
Unabashedly, we’re going to see the glass for each team’s outlook not only half full, but maybe carrying champagne, OK?
Collegians first, then pros.
Fast start for UM
Savannah State next and then woeful USF should see UM 4-0 before the first Atlantic Coast Conference game, Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets are pretty good, but Canes have beaten them four in a row, and the game is here.
The only remaining game where Miami will be a clear underdog is Nov. 2 at eighth-ranked Florida State.
Don’t get me wrong here. The optimism isn’t blinding us. I’m not saying, “look out, Alabama” and I do not assume unless they prove it that the Hurricanes are better than the third-best team in the ACC after Clemson and FSU.
But with a break or two including some fairness from the NCAA, this has a chance to be a big season for the Canes. I’m talking ACC title-game big, top-10 big and major-bowl big.
I didn’t have a lot of company in predicting Miami would make the playoffs this season, but I now think that more than ever. Again, don’t get this wrong. I’m not saying the Dolphins are close to Denver’s echelon or a championship contender.
What I am saying is Miami looks like the best team in the AFC East right now; yes, better than New England. The Patriots rallied to edge Buffalo 23-21 then unimpressively survived the Jets 13-10, with Tom Brady yelling at his receivers over dropped passes the snapshot from that one.
Even when the Pats get fully healthy, they still have lost a lot of weapons and have defensive issues. They convey a club fighting to stave off decline and stay out front of a Dolphins team gaining on them fast.
And the player at the forefront of that ascension: quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His progress is palpable.
“His play-speed is better,” Philbin described it Monday. “More experience. Seeing things on the field quicker.”
Enjoy this feeling while it lasts, Dolphins and Canes fans — and resist the calloused urge to assume it won’t.
Meantime, if the complainer in you is feeling cheated by all this football success and you miss having calamity and failure to gripe about … well, there’s always FIU.