The game moved like a tortoise. But Jakeem Grant didn’t. Kenny Stills didn’t. Reshad Jones didn’t.
The game was the longest in NFL history, with two lightning delays stretching a 1 p.m. start to a finish just past 7.
“Today slash tonight,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill called the season opener.
Incredibly, preposterously, for the Dolphins, it was worth the wait. So, too, for the 65,184 fans who had dwindled to maybe 7,000 by the end, none of them suffering from astraphobia, apparently, and all of them reveling in a 27-20 Miami victory over Tennessee – and maybe reveling in their own tenacity as well. Hey, we handle the elements here in South Florida. We throw hurricane parties. Call Sunday a lightning party.
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Two separate mandated meteorological delays totaling four hours made the afternoon-into-evening interminable. It was the suddenly big-play Dolphins who made it memorable.
All in the second half came Grant’s 102-yard bullet of a kickoff-return touchdown, second-longest in club history. Then Stills’ breakaway 75-yard scoring pass from Tannehill. And then Jones’ 54-yard interception return that set up the insurance field goal for the final score. (Lightning struck twice. Then three times...).
Big plays? We didn’t even mention top draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick’s goal-line stop that led to a 98-yard scoring drive – Miami’s longest in almost 30 years, since Sept. 24, 1989 – festooned by big doses of new Dolphin Frank Gore, the Old Cane. With every touch of his the crowd repped The U with “Yooooouuuuu.”
“That was nice,” Gore said.
Miami has never seen a more bizarre home football doubleheader than what Saturday and Sunday just delivered. UM winning by a record 77-0 over a glorified high school team on Saturday – that was the normal game. That was before the Fins season opener on Sunday felt like it lasted longer than the Ming Dynasty.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase began the game clean-shaven and afterward had the full, flowing beard of 19th Century president Rutherford B. Hayes. (OK that’s slight hyperbole for dramatic effect. But you get the idea).
The Dolphins are associated with “The Longest Game,” the famed 1971 playoff vs. Kansas City. But this literally was the longest game. Ever. Or at least the longest since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.
Many Jewish Dolfans skedaddled during the second lightning delay in order to be home by sundown to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. So, yes: This game last so long, it seeped into the next year!
The stadium lights went on late in the third quarter.
That was just before the second lightning delay, during which a small boy ran onto the otherwise empty field, nimbly eluding a huffing phalanx of overweight security personnel.
I’m not saying, “Radar, schmadar.” I’m not a Luddite when it comes to meteorology, or safety. I get lightning delays. But two totaling four hours felt a little like this was excessive caution. Just sayin’.
Gase’s Dolphins took it in stride.
Because they have experience with crazy. With bonkers.
“I won’t be surprised by anything,” as Gase put it. “I think we’ve almost covered everything.”
Gase in just his short Dolphins term has seen a season delayed by a hurricane, seen an assistant coach bounced for snorting cocaine at his desk and seen a starting linebacker go AWOL on the eve of a season, among other oddball challenges.
What’s a little looonnnggg lightning delay or two!?
“Really proud the way we overcame adversity,” Tannehill said. “Not only in the delays but in the game itself.”
Tannehill overall was sharp as he launched his comeback season from knee injuries that shelved him all last year. He hit 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two TDs. Some of the adversity came from him, too, though, in a pair of interceptions.
Tannehill saw more good than bad. So did Gase. So did I.
Some of the good in these better-than-advertised 2018 Dolphins is increased team speed. Those big plays by Grant and Stills were two examples.
Grant was following advice earlier in the week from special teams mate Senorise Perry.
“Man, I’m telling you. All week, Senorise was telling me, ‘Follow me! Follow me! Follow me!’ said Grant. “And I’m like, ‘All right, man. I’m going to follow you.’ So I followed him and it just opened up, just parted the Red Sea, like Moses did. I didn’t have to do anything but run.”
It wasn’t a perfect start for the Dolphins Sunday. It sure wasn’t a quick one.
But after more than seven hours poured into this game, what you saw and heard described this afternoon-into-evening perfectly.
It was those few thousand damp fans who’d stuck it out and stayed, cheering giddily, partying, .letting their team know it had been worth the wait.