We didn’t invent football in Miami, but for a long while it felt like we were the face of it as much as any city was. Hurricanes fans and Dolfans had much to be proud of because, college or pro, Miami won. The Dolphins invented perfection, the Canes invented swagger, Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar shared the cover of Sports Illustrated, and it was exciting. We’d step into Saturdays and Sundays preening.
What the heck happened to us!? Where did it all go?
Better question: How do we get it back?
Frustration and impatience reach a boil now after each team (and its fans) suffered particularly disheartening weekend losses.
You see it and hear it as Canes fans fill radio airwaves and online forums with venom for UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.
And you saw it Monday as non-committal comments by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and a willing media combined to manufacture a quarterback controversy (even if one doesn’t yet actually exist).
This was fun. At Dolphins camp the media demanded that Philbin confirm Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback and Philbin chose instead to say what he’d said after Sunday’s game: That everything is under review, that they’d pick the best 46 players, et cetera.
This is NOT the same as saying Tannehill’s job is in peril, although Your Friend the Media sniffed blood and sort of started running with it like that. Even though offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, asked if he had had any doubts Tannehill would start Sunday in London, said, simply, “No.”
It would be radical and convey premature desperation to bench Tannehill three games in. Lazor chided the media for “questions based on panic,” saying, “There’s no panic.”
Likewise Philbin did not sound like a man about to make a QB change when he said he doesn’t view the offensive problems as “a one-man issue,” adding Monday, “I think it’s a little bit early to draw conclusions as to where [Tannehill] is in his third year.”
The media heat on Tannehill and the fan heat on UM’s D’Onofrio both are very much in the context of what has befallen each franchise over many years. This doesn’t spring from one or two games. The malaise the Dolphins and Canes share is a Petri dish for unrest.
Seems most every year we get teased that each team’s elusive return to glory may finally be at hand, but just as fans prepare to strike up a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” something happens to change the tune to a groaning refrain of “here we go again.”
It has been well over 10 years since the Dolphins or UM mattered nationally. Dominance has lapsed to irrelevance.
Five Super Bowl appearances, back-to-back victories and the towering twin epochs of Don Shula and Marino have yielded to 14 consecutive seasons since the last that included an NFL playoff victory.
Five national NCAA championships bunched in a 19-year run, the last in 2001, have slipped to eight consecutive Canes seasons with at least four losses, seemingly headed to a ninth in a row.
It isn’t a great time to be a football fan in Miami as Tuesday officially commences autumn.
I don’t dare omit Florida International University from its place on the Miami Misery Express. The Golden Panthers have lost 24 of the past 29 games, including a 34-3 thumping from Louisville Saturday. But FIU has not the football history and pedigree nor the broad passionate following to be in that company.
It is the Dolphins and Hurricanes who have seen us to the mountaintop, and who are finding the climb back up so arduous. It is the Fins and Canes whose expansive, beyond-Miami followings are filled with fans reaching for torches and pitchforks.
The Dolphins opened the season with a bracing victory over New England but have rendered that mirage-like with consecutive 19-pointlosses. Philbin is now 16-19 in his third season, while Tannehill, also in pivotal Year 3, is losing support and heard booing in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City.
Clearly, Tannehill must reverse a career arc that lends itself to the nickname, “Ryan Downhill.” But clearly, too, Lazor must find a way to allow Tannehill to flourish. There was also off-the-record-sniping at the game defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called Sunday. So consider Philbin coaching for his job as much as Tannehill is playing to validate his future, with increasing doubts dogging both.
“We have to circle the wagons,” Philbin said.
Mostly, they have to hope those wagons are filled with enough good players and coaches.
(Meanwhile, what did poor London do to deserve this week’s Miami-Oakland game? I thought Great Britain was an ally!)
Over on the college side, the problem for the 2-2 Canes is defense and the inability of coach Al Golden to start racking up signature, marquee wins. With the NCAA cloud past, he moves forward in his fourth season with fewer excuses.
The UM offense is in very good hands with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya and super-runner Duke Johnson. It’s everything else that’s the issue.
The defense allowed a surreal 343 rushing yards in the 41-31 loss at Nebraska. For the love of Cortez Kennedy! Used to be UM’s defense didn’t yield that in a month. If there is TV up in heaven, Jerome Brown was throwing a shoe at the set Saturday night.
Golden on Monday was asked how he responds to the fan criticism of D’Onofrio and said: “We don’t read it. We don’t listen to it. We don’t look at it.”
See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.
Ignoring the evil, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Golden’s 3-7 UM record vs. ranked opponents owes to the shortcomings on defense. He is 0-6 on the road against ranked teams because those six opponents have scored 249 points, a 41.5 average. The next ranked foe is No. 1 Florida State, here Nov. 15. The thing is, the entire rest of the schedule could be a challenge. UM’s remaining eight opponents are presently a combined 22-6, none with a losing record. Saturday’s visitor, Duke, is not the Duke of old; the Blue Devils are 4-0.
Neither the Canes facing once-hapless Duke nor the Dolphins playing the woeful Raiders may consider the next games anything but a desperate fight to survive.
That is the state of Miami football in 2014, with the Dolphins’ and Canes’ glory days now the distant past and a speck on the horizon for Joe Philbin and Al Golden to somehow reach again.