It will happen someday. Honestly. It truly will. South Florida football fans will enter a new year happy.
It might take a Christmas miracle, or more likely just an unwavering faith in the law of averages. That, and more patience than you thought humanly possible.
And so another season of Miami football ends with the same autopsy we have heard too many times before. Cause of death: Acute mediocrity.
College or pro, our name is woe.
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The Dolphins on Sunday had the same chance the Miami Hurricanes had the day before and failed just as spectacularly. Just as annoyingly. Just as depressingly. Both teams had in their grasp the chance to buoy beleaguered fan bases and sail into their offseasons at least with a modicum of tailwind. Modest optimism was out there, a dying ember waiting to be stoked.
Instead: A 37-24 Dolphins home loss to the hated, stinkin’ New York Jets, one day after UM lost to South Carolina in a minor bowl game sponsored by a company that makes duck calls. The defeats mean the Dolphins end the year with three losses in the last four games and an 8-8 record — a sixth consecutive non-winning season — and the Canes ended with four losses in a row to finish 6-7, a wounded duck of a record if ever there was one.
Two teams favored to win and finish with the consolation of winning records.
Two upset losers slinking into the offseason with tails low as beat dogs.
“We could have gone out there and ended the season the right way,” went the lament of Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey in Sunday’s losing locker room. “We had every opportunity to do it …”
Could have, would have, should have.
Might have, almost did … didn’t.
I can’t say the Dolphins’ season was worse than UM’s, but how it ended sure was.
The Jets were 3-12, so bad that coach Rex Ryan had stated publicly he expected to be fired. Their young quarterback, Geno Smith, was seen as climbing a greased pole not just to keep his starting job but also to keep his faltering NFL career.
So what do the Dolphins do? They turn Ryan into a genius for a day, and make Smith seem the second coming of Joe Montana. Smith had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. That’s turning a doodle into the Mona Lisa.
Miami gave up 396 yards passing including 221 to Eric Decker. Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan was so dreadful, every pass thrown his way was Finnegan’s Rainbow for the Jets.
It was speculated that Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s job was in some jeopardy coming into this game. If so, there might as well be a fresh For Sale sign in his yard by today.
Worst of all, perhaps, the Dolphins had a 10-point lead at 24-14 in the third quarter and blew it. Jets fans, who lead the league in noxious, were rendered quiet, until Miami turned them full-throated.
“What’s frustrating is being so close and not closing out the season or games or plays,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Like today, it was anybody’s game …”
Miami had taken that 10-point lead on a club-record 97-yard run by ex-Cane Lamar Miller. That’s another thing that made Sunday so sad. It should have been a happy story, positive headlines, even with the failure to make the playoffs. Should have been a story about the club’s first winning season since 2008. Or Miller’s record run. Or the fact Ryan Tannehill became the first Dolphins quarterback not named Dan Marino to have a 4,000-yard season.
Instead, the story was a blown lead and an embarrassing loss. Instead, the headlines are about an epically bad pass defense and an offensive line beat up for seven sacks.
Instead, we get the ridiculous postgame locker room tableau of receiver Mike Wallace being interviewed but teammate Brandon Gibson answering for him because Wallace is pouting after a catch-less game.
Wallace was targeted only once in the first half and seen raging against his receivers coach as Tannehill sought to intervene. Wallace was benched for the entire second half.
“Coach’s decision,” explained a terse Joe Philbin.
Teammate Jared Odrick described Wallace as “very emotional. Wears his heart on his sleeve. He lets you know what he’s thinking.”
Wallace’s tirade probably doesn’t happen, even in the midst of a zero-catch game, unless the context is a blown-lead home loss to a bad team turning a winning season to 8-8.
Just one week earlier Philbin had been given job security, at least for next season, by club owner Stephen Ross.
I wondered only half-kiddingly if Ross wondered during the second-half collapse if it was too late to change his mind.
Losses like this make you wonder about a lot of things. Such as: How can a supposedly superior team playing at home give up pass plays of 74, 50, 36 and 33 yards to a bad quarterback. And give up an 87-yard kickoff return. And allow a 38-yard completion on a fake punt.
“If you look at our roster, we’re very talented,” Pouncey said.
The first sign you see as you enter the Dolphins stadium locker room bears the team’s logo and the declaration: CHAMPIONS PLAY HERE.
That was true of the Dolphins, once, and of the Hurricanes, too.
Both were champions in Miami and lifted our city. But it hasn’t been true of the Canes for well over a decade now, or of the Dolphins for what seems an eternity.
Someday, that sign will be true again, not just nostalgia or wishful thinking.