The NFL’s coach of the week and Miami’s man of the minute has arrived. Dan Campbell machos as much as marches into the interview room Monday at Dolphins camp, setting his feet wide behind the lectern as if bracing himself to repel an oncoming attack. He is all but dripping testosterone. Veins bulge from his forearms. He leads the league in calf muscles. His goatee is ready to pick a fight.
Campbell earned a Gatorade bath and a game ball for his Sunday debut as the team’s interim head coach after Miami won easily at Tennessee, 38-10. With impressive restraint his players eschewed carrying him off the field on their shoulders, which might have been seen as showy. Likewise I might suggest holding off at least another week on the bronze statue.
Happy day is here again.
Let’s keep the word singular for now.
The plural must be earned.
What did Sunday mean? What is the victory’s larger effect?
“We’re able to hope again,” Campbell answered. “After that win you can start to believe.”
I wasn’t certain if with “we” and “you” the coach was referring to his players or to Dolfans. The message applies to both, but the key word in it is clear. Start. You can start to believe, fans, but you have been burned and let down too often to not demand more proof. Around here, one does not jump on the bandwagon. One steps warily onto it, never quite trusting where it is headed, or who’s driving.
Sunday was a great day for hope, yes, and yet the little realist on your shoulder is whispering how the Titans aren’t very good and had a rookie quarterback and had lost seven straight home games.
The realist is telling you Miami must now beat visiting Houston this coming Sunday and then keep winning against an escalating schedule to keep the improving and the proving going on. After the Texans it’s three straight road games at New England, Buffalo and Philadelphia, then Dallas here in what could be Tony Romo’s comeback game, then at the Jets.
The Dolphins will need every bit of the team that showed up Sunday in Nashville to keep that proof coming and actually make a run at the playoffs.
Campbell’s newly awakened “sleeping giant” can afford no naps, no narcolepsy.
The coach knows it.
“The challenge for these guys is not to start patting each other on the back,” he said. “We’ve been notorious around here for that. We get a big win and then there’s a lull.”
Being cautious and demanding sustained proof is not me raining on any parade.
It’s me telling you the parade isn’t here yet.
Sunday’s game put out flyers that it’s coming, but it is still a ways away. You have to cock your ear to discern the calliope music you think you faintly hear.
Stevie Wonder had a big mid-’70s hit called You Haven’t Done Nothin’ — a song so good we’ll forgive him the double negative in the title.
Sunday was not nothing for the Dolphins, but it wasn’t enough, either. It was big, by itself, but it must prove to have been the start of something big.
A franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2000 season and has appeared in only two since has invited the calloused skepticism. It has forfeited its right to benefit of doubt and must earn that back.
The hope that Jimmy Johnson and then Nick Saban brought with them here amounted to nothing. The playoff tease of 2008 amounted to nothing. The “Wildcat” offensive wrinkle that was all the rage in 2010 amounted to nothing. That 3-0 start in 2013 amounted to nothing.
Now — exhilarating as Sunday’s 38-10 win is — the arrival of Ndamukong Suh and all of the other upgrades have amounted to a 2-3 record moving forward in what suddenly feels like the NFL’s toughest division, an AFC East in which the Patriots, Jets and Bills are a combined 12-4.
No Dolfan should be so hardened or cynical that he or she cannot enjoy what Sunday felt like and store that hope in the tank like high-octane fuel.
Around here, though, belief comes harder than hope.
Even the most encouraged Dolphins fans have the right to hook a thumb back at Sunday’s performance and make a simple demand of their team:
More of that, please.
A lot more.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.