Greg Cote

Confessions, frustrations of a lifelong Dolphins fan who grew up to cover the team

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Adam Gase in the fourth quarter as they play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Dec. 4, 2016.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Adam Gase in the fourth quarter as they play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Dec. 4, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

I write about and care about the Miami Dolphins unlike any other team. A fan's sensibility intrudes on the professional detachment, and it isn't something I try to deny or to change. It is a part of my DNA.

Growing up in South Florida I was an adult when the Heat came along. Had a family of my own by the time the Marlins and Panthers were born.

The Dolphins helped raise me.

You are reading the words of the 11-year-old boy sitting in a half-empty Orange Bowl that night in 1966 when it all became real on Joe Auer's franchise-christening 95-yard touchdown return with the first opening kickoff.

You are feeling the thoughts of the teenager who jumped up and danced with his father in a pogoing embrace in a living room in Hollywood on Christmas Day 1971 when Garo Yepremian's field goal ended "The Longest Game" and minted the Dolphins' first playoff win.

As a boy I had a Dolphins pennant on my bedroom wall. (Do they even make wall pennants anymore?) I collected the set of Royal Castle player cards. Gene Mingo. Norm Evans. Wahoo McDaniel. All those early guys lost in time.

This is the kid, the fan, who happened to grow up to be a Miami Herald sports columnist.

We're both waiting, that kid and I, and have been for a long time, for the Dolphins to make us proud again. To matter again. To reignite the passion. To make the words of that silly fight song sound less ancient, less mocking.

"And when you say Miami, you're talkin' Super Bowl!"

Don Shula has now been retired from the Dolphins for nearly as long as he coached the team.

Dan Marino, effective this coming season, has now been retired longer than he was quarterback.

Time is flying, and the Dolphins are stuck in place.

It frustrates the fan who never left me, which cannot help but inform the words about the team I write and say. Thank goodness the guidelines of sports journalism have bent over the years. The idea now isn't to be dispassionate; passion is good. The goal is simply to be fair.

And so I think like a journalist when it comes to the Dolphins, but I still feel like the fan I was first.

How long has this franchise, my team, been riding the fumes of Shula's early successes? We forgive that he spent his last 22 seasons wanting nothing more than to win a third Super Bowl but failing to do so. Shula is our granite-jawed deity, still.

How long has this franchise been riding the ebbing glow of the Marino era? We forgive that he spent his last 15 seasons wanting nothing more than to get back to a second Super Bowl but falling forever short. Marino is our shining star, still.

I fought tears watching Shula reluctantly say goodbye after the 1995 season, and again watching Marino limp off a field in Jacksonville after that 1999 season playoff humiliation in what would be his final game.

Both farewells felt like reminders of mortality, like childhood disappearing when you weren't looking. Both farewells felt palpably like the good old days slipping away.

My team has spent most of the past 20 years being a broken shell of itself, trying out 10 different head coaches (including interims) since Shula, trying tout 18 different starting quarterbacks post-Marino.

The Dolphins were last nationally relevant in the span of 1997 to 2001 that included five consecutive playoff appearances and the club's most recent postseason victory. Their record since: 115 wins, 141 losses, two playoff appearances, zero postseason wins.

When we refer to the Dolphins as stuck in mediocrity that might be flattery. Cleveland and Buffalo are the only teams with fewer than two playoff games and no playoff wins during the past 17 seasons.

Is this the company the Dolphins keep now? Has the only NFL franchise to have earned association with the word "perfect" become among the dregs of the league?

Meanwhile 24 different franchises have played in a Super Bowl since Miami last did in 1984 — 17 of them multiple times.

This team's management forever asks for Dolfans' patience, with no reward evident.

Now, coming off a 6-10 season, the 2018 betting over/under on Miami wins is about the same. The team sits 30th (of 32) in ESPN's Power Rankings.

I get accused of being too hard on the Dolphins but, if so, it is tough love. I try to give voice to the frustration fans feel because I feel it, too, as the kid who collected the Royal Castle cards and grew up waiting for a new wave of glory days. And waiting.

So, yes, I wonder why a team of limited talent gave up on Jay Ajayi, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jarvis Landry.

I wonder if Ryan Tannehill's accomplishments, health and promise justify the faith coach Adam Gase keeps professing.

And I wonder why, last month, for the 13th time in 19 drafts since Marino retired, Miami failed to select a quarterback.

The 11-year-old boy at that first Dolphins game with his dad has grown up and grown old, now a grandfather himself, still waiting for his team to be something special again.

There is a question you hear occasionally among fans. When said among the young, it is played for laughs. At a certain age, it isn't so funny. You do the math.

"Do you think the Dolphins will win another Super Bowl in your lifetime?"

It has been a long time searching for reasons to believe the answer might be yes.

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