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We Are Better Than This
Not surprisingly, Iíve havenít seen in article from JL, Jeff, Euph, or Killah since the Patriots had our "choker" label permanently laminated. I barely have enough in me to press the keys right now, but Iíll swallow hard and come up big, something the Dolphins didnít do Sunday and havenít done in quite some time. For me, there are 3 categories of emotion after a Dolphins loss: 1) Iíll be fine (Chiefs game). 2) Give me a few hours (loss @ Buffalo). 3) Call me in the morning (Vikings loss). As of yesterday at 4:15, I was in stage 5. I wonít go into graphic detail over the magnitude and horror of this stage, but it has something to do with chairs being thrown and anonymous strangers cursed out on the street. OK, not literally, but you get the picture.
Itís lonely being a Dolfan here in St. Louis, as it has since the St. Louis Rams came into existence in Ď95. For those non-Dolfans dodging my spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and trying to translate my gibberish of government conspiracies, I tell them to picture this: I have a team that I became such a fan of that I adopted the entire sport into my life, so much, in fact, that I went to college with the dream of evolving into a sports writer. Every year since 1995 (when I became a serious fan), this team has teased me.. making the playoffs, but missing that one essential piece of the puzzle to make a championship run. Finally, in 2002, Iím able to turn on my TV and see a team that pails in comparison to no one in terms of talent. We had it all: passing, running, run D, pass D, special teams. The offseason and draft goes exactly how I wanted, seemingly to the very last detail. We win our first three and 5 of our first 6. We have a bump in the road when our QB goes down, but we get right back on track when he returns, or so we thought after a 23-17 win over the eventual #1 seed Raiders. 9-5. Two games left. On the road, where weíve choked away the division for 5 consecutive years, depending on if you count our Ď00 victory where we beat a 5-10 team with :08 left. You see the thunder in the corner of your eye, but you keep your head at the 12:00 position, hoping destiny will change. It doesnít. We lose both. Not by bad luck. Not by injuries. No excuses. When I accept that my team isnít good enough to win the big one, usually occurring in about Week 15 of every year, itís painful, but stress free. Knowing you have the talent but not the victories simply drives any sports fan mad.
Today begins a new portion of Dolphins football: the 2003 offseason. Itís nothing like watching a game winning TD drive or an INT returned for a TD, but itís a low-key type of excitement. This is where the depression begins. When the Dolphins had a problem in the past, it was visible and, to the average Dolfan, easily correctable. When I scour the 2003 free agents and draft class for needs, Iíll see very little that will help our football team. Iíll see that only the Anthony Simmonsí and David Bostonís of the free agent crop would be significant, team-altering changes. And worst of all, Iíll see a 2002 Dolphins squad that had it all and gave it away like an unwanted sweater to the Salvation Army. The truth is next yearís squad could start off 10-0, destroying everyone in their path, and the sports fans of America will still have their eyes on us in December; watching, waiting for the Miami Dolphins to make those crucial mistakes that end our season and give new life to anotherís. The problem? It continues. We knew it was coming just like our lovable Jet-(INSERT 4 LETTER WORD HERE)-broadcaster did. We start off fast and fade into the land of mediocrity because thatís what we do.
Of course, Iím always looking on the positive side of the things. I do not and will not set myself up for disappointment by naively predicting greatness, but I wonít quit playing the "All we need to do.." game. My philosophy on losing is that if you learn from the losses and come back that much stronger and focused the next game, the loss was a blessing in disguise. If a 15-1 team drops a 34-31 OT loss in Week 8, Iím suspicious of fans harboring they were 3 points away from perfection. Why? Because if that game was 34-31 in the other direction, thereís no guarantee the team would remain focused for next weekís 35-10 win. Football, like other sports, is a psychological battle.. a battle that we continue to lose in December. This December swoon, unlike in years past, cost us a playoff berth.
I am now taking my philosophy on a year-to-year basis. Let the Sam Madisonís and Zach Thomasí sit on the couch for 3 months and watch the roadtrips to Buffalo, Minnesota, New England. Go ahead guys, watch yourselves fold like we did. Watch, in amazement, the sight of giving away the division not once, but twice. After that, pop in a tape of the Jets 42-17 romp over the Packers that gave them the division crown with a 9-7 record. And once the mashed potatoes and chairs thrown, the curse words are said, and the anger passes by, come back for mini-camp ready to shock the world. Not in pre-season or the newspapers; not in the first 10 games of the season, but at a time when post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches are our favorite meal and holiday shopping makes us irritable. Thatís right.. December, the time when the pretenders fold and the contenders bubble to the surface.
Maybe winning the AFC East title and exiting in the second round would have been too rewarding for a team that should have been an AFC powerhouse. We know weíre better than 9-7, as do the millions of football fanatics worldwide. We also know that the team finds ways to win in September and guns to shoot themselves in the foot when November turns to December. Guess what: the players know it too. They know it and will be reminded of it until they do something about it. Fans, coaches, and players will be pointing, laughing, and like that horrible Ď00 playoff commerical, saying "Show me something!" Berate me if you want, but Iíll continue to look on the positive side: if the sleeping December beast is woken in Ď03, weíll look at this collapse as nothing more than a bad memory that proved to be beneficial in the long run.