It is straight-up midseason and the Miami Dolphins are straight-up average: 4-4. Except it feels so much worse because halftime arrives on a 1-4 skid after the apparent mirage of that 3-0 start, and the past two games have been especially depressing for Dolfans trying against odds to keep playoff hope (or any hope) alive.
I know Dolfans. I live with them. I have grown up among them. They are my friends, acquaintances and neighbors. Their frustration is palpable. The past couple of down decades they have survived seasons with defense mechanisms up. The fatalistic attitude. The resignation. The black humor. The other shoe is forever about to drop.
The lament of fans generally distills to something like, “It isn’t easy being a Dolfan.” Because this is not an easy team to love.
It is stuck, this franchise.
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Stuck with a starting quarterback who might or not be good enough, a waffling, incomplete sentence now in its seventh season.
Stuck with a team mediocre enough to not make the playoffs but just good enough to avoid getting a really high draft pick.
Stuck on a roller-coaster ride of being sporadically good enough to build up your hope, but consistently bad enough to let you down.
As a social experiment Friday I asked Miami Dolphins fans to describe — in a word, a phrase or a short sentence — what it’s like to be a Dolfan. Hundreds responded. You can see the responses yourself on Twitter @gregcote with the hashtag #Dolfan. Here are some that were suitable for print:
“Unhealthy ... Annually brokenhearted ... Expecting to be disappointed ... Groundhog day ... False hope ... I love them year in year out. They never come through ... Hopelessness and frustration ... Emotional diarrhea ... Football purgatory.”
“Excruciating ... Soul crushing ... Stuck in limbo ... Charlie Brown trying to kick a football with Lucy holding it ... Dispiriting ... I am worried my kids will grow up fans of another team ... Like being in an unhealthy relationship you can’t quit.”
“Why dio I still care? ... Exhausting ... It’s like having a kid who is constantly a [bleep]-up but you have to love them anyway ... Scar tissue ... Why do I do this to myself? ... I hate myself for compulsively watching every game that will ultimately cause me misery.”
Special bonus to Dolphins fan Michael Yavnieli, who answered with the word “Sisyphean,” referring to a task that can never be completed. The allusion is to the Greek god Sisyphus, who as punishment was forced to roll a giant boulder uphill only for it to roll back down when it nears the top.
The Dolphins started out 3-0 (supposedly; did that really happen?) and then lost two in a row. They teased again with a nice home win over Chicago. And here is what has happened in the two losses since:
The Fins defense against Detroit gave up 248 yards rushing (7.1 per carry) and 217 passing (9.9 per attempt).
The defense against Houston Thursday night allowed 188 yards rushing (5.4 per) and 239 passing (11.9 per attempt). Deshaun Watson had more touchdown passes (5) than incompletions (4).
That is a meltdown that should have defensive coordinator Matt Burke desperate to save his job. Is it schematic? Personnel? Coaching? Injuries?
“We’ve got to get better fast,” is about all head coach Adam Gase could say. “I’m going to reevaluate everything.”
Is there a magic salve for the defense? Might the return from injury of Ryan Tannehill matter?
A 4-4 record at midseason does not, by itself, convey hopelessness.
But these are the Miami Dolphins, after all, and the years of scars have taught Dolfans all too well:
Something good happening from here or ending well should never be assumed.