When the losing is this bad, the mocking follows. And that can be worse. It kicks you when you’re way down. It laughs at your pain. Belittles your pride.
The Miami Dolphins are getting it already, two games in.
The booing, the paper bags over heads, the Tanking Army among your owns fans delighting in the defeat — that isn’t even the worst of it.
Becoming a national joke is.
Sunday on Fox Sports’ NFL show, Cooper Manning (inexplicably) has a segment. This week the older brother of Peyton and Eli was doing a bit with two Ravens players. Cooper mentioned that Seahawks and Dolphins weren’t real animals, the setup line. One of the Ravens then said, “Dolphins are real.”
“Their team isn’t!” Cooper delivered the punchline as funny music ended the segment.
But, wait. The ignominy may be temporary. At least that’s the plan. And it became clearer Monday night as ther Dolphins reportedly agreed to trade disgruntled defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh for a 2020 first-round draft pick. That gives Miami five (!) first-round picks in the next two drafts.
Soon -- for now -- the Dolphins’ epic terribleness will reach the late-night monologues and be fodder. I happen to buddies with someone connected to the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff gearing for the Sept. 28 startup of its new season. I asked whether the Dolphins’ woes might make the Weekend Update segment.
“On the radar,” he texted back. “Just need them to keep being awful.”
Never on a football field, a basketball court, a baseball diamond or a sheet of ice has South Florida seen a professional sports team this bad. The use of the phrase “professional” team feels dubious, although, technically, this is one. The Dolphins have lost 59-10 and 43-0 — the worst start by any team in the NFL’s 100 seasons — and yet, with no remorse evident, players get paid, anyway.
Beleaguered rookie coach Brian Flores, handed a depleted team with an eye on the future, not now, can only put his head down and shoulder on.
“We come in, we make corrections and we move on,” he said Monday afternoon at camp. Then, as if firing a preemptive strike against reports of unrest and some players wanting out: “We don’t point fingers,” he volunteered. “We don’t make excuses. There’s a room full of guys who aren’t doing that.”
As for the weight of this on the coach personally?
“I learned resilience at a very early age,” he said.
It’s going to come in handy, that. At least in the short term.
When I say Flores’ Fins are our worst team ever, that covers 137 combined seasons of Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers, and a fair share of losing.
Narrowing down the ‘19 Dolphins’ competition for Miami’s Worst Ever:
Close enough to still recall the stench, the 2007 Dolphins, quarterbacked by the perfectly named Cleo Lemon, finished 1-15, and were 0-13 before finally avoiding ultimate, winless ignominy. Oh but that team was (relatively) competitive, losing eight times by 10 points or fewer and never once losing by more than 27.
The 1967 Dolphins, excused by being a second-year expansion team, hold the club record for greatest negative season points differential at minus-188. But that team won four games and never once lost by as bad a margin as we have seen in the current team’s first two games.
Tougher to compare with other sports, but not too tough to deter us from trying.
The Miami Heat was understandably awful its first two seasons (1988-90), but since then has been truly bad only once — going 15-67 in 2007-08. Yet that team was an aberration in a long run of winning, including an NBA title just two years earlier. And it had Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Shawn Marion, so there was something to watch every night even amid the losing.
The Marlins’ worst season by a lot was the 54-108 of 1998, but we all knew why. It was the controversial, faith-damaging fire sale that followed the ‘97 World Series championship. (The current ebbing Marlins season could challenge those 108 losses, but, like today’s Dolphins, these Fish are in a clear start-over rebuild. Even so, Miami has played 53 one-run or extra-inning games this season. There has not been the continuum of embarrassment we have seen in the first two Dolphins games).
The Florida Panthers have consistently not won (only five playoff berths in their history and two in the past 18 years), but have not suffered the one memorably abysmal season that stands out. The mathematical nadir would go to 2001-02 squad with a .366 points percentage, but 17 one-goal losses did not mirror what these ‘19 Dolphins have shown thus far.
It takes something extraordinary for teams to gain broad attention outside of the usual sports media, and when it happens it’s often for the wrong reasons.
The Dolphins’ 2013 Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin “Bullygate” scandal drew the morning news shows and network anchors to training camp.
There already are signs that the tanking aspect and resulting epic awfulness of the 2019 team could pique the morbid national interest beyond sports the more it continues. Just Monday, NPR’s acclaimed and very serious “All Things Considered” program invited me on as a guest to discuss the Dolphins, hardly their usual fare.
I’m on record as supporting what the Dolphins are doing and why. The tanking. Trading talent for draft picks positions Miami very well in 2020-21 to finally get good, fast, and ideally to sustain success. That hasn’t happened through the past 20 years of wheel-spinning.
Monday night’s Minkah Fitzpatrick deal to gain yet another first-round pick only underlined the method to the madness: Awfulness now, but with a plan.
Nobody said it would be easy, and these first two games suggest it could be unimaginably hard, short term. Because losing big hurts, but being a national punchline is worse.
Five first-round picks in the next two drafts, though.
There is a light ahead.