“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
These are the words of Ellis Redding in The Shawshank Redemption, but they might as well be a reflection of what it’s like to love the Miami Dolphins.
Shawshank, based on a novella written by Stephen King that focuses on two characters marooned in federal prison, finds ways to make hope seem like an unsavory, wicked thing just before (spoiler alert!) revealing that in the end, hope is what always kept the protagonists moving through a dreary existence. Aside from life in a federal penitentiary, there are few first-world problems as mind-boggling and draining as hoping against hope that the Dolphins will be contenders next season.
Because we do it every… single… year.
You get on Twitter and see articles written by Barry Jackson, Omar Kelly, Joe Schad, and the rest of the local writers all commenting on the state of the professional football franchise in South Florida. And if you scroll to the comments section, you see the words of people who have been season ticket holders their whole lives.
And what are they saying?
Instead, they’re threatening to stay away from home games next season if the team doesn’t turn it around, re-sign Emmanuel Ogbah, tag Mike Gesicki, or get that gosh-darn Tua figure a halfway decent O-line in front of him.
As a 22-year-old winding down something like my tenth season of legitimate Dolphins fanhood, I’m realizing something.
I’m realizing why I talk to so many forty, fifty, sixty-year-olds who say that they used to be fans of the Miami Dolphins.
They grew up when the team was winning, when perfect Marino passes made every Sunday fun and exciting when no deficit was too steep to overcome.
But they grow old without the magic of Marino, without the gleam of a winning franchise that every season offers hope simply because of the logo on the helmet or the coach on the sidelines. They grow old and their love of the Dolphins grows stale, simply because there is so little to love in a perpetually-mediocre franchise.
I have never known the Dolphins to be a winning team. Friends and strangers alike look at me with some combination of scorn and wonder when I, a boy from Montana, thousands of miles away from Miami, say proudly (or, admit) that I’m a Dolphins fan.
Why would he do that to himself?
Hard to say, really.
When the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill in 2012 out of Texas A&M, I believed. Tannehill was my guy. Big, strong, athletic (have you heard that he started his career at College station as a wide receiver??), and seemingly made of steel until Calais Campbell fell headlong into his knee in 2016.
When the Dolphins drafted Tua in 2020 out of Alabama, I believed. And I still do.
But watching Tannehill stick it to my team last Sunday, trouncing Miami 34-3 as a prophetic rain fell in Nashville, hurt that belief. The man who was supposed to take us to the postseason, all those years, turned around and flatlined playoff hopes that were already on life support in Miami. It hurt more than I like to admit to people who aren’t terribly invested in this franchise, or in sports in general.
Us fans, we pin dreams on these games, on these players and coaches. And no, it isn’t fair or rational. Much better to get along with your day and not worry about something that’s simply out of our control.
But there’s something… there’s something about a seven-game winning streak, about a fourth-down stand by Christian Wilkins, about a perfect RPO pass from Tua, about a bone-crushing hit from Elandon Roberts or a one-handed snag by Mike Gesicki, that just keeps us coming back. Even though we knew, even if we didn’t want to admit it, that at 1-7 this team was never who we hoped they’d be.
For every Jaylen Waddle, there is a Will Fuller. And this is the life of a Dolphins fan.
My roommate pointed out to me that if there’s one thing to be said about Miami, it’s that the team is above average at being mediocre. We lose seven in a row, win seven in a row, and where does that land us?
Right-back around .500, all this franchise has really known since the days of Marino.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) January 4, 2022
So now that hopes of the playoffs have slipped from Coach Flores’ grasp just like the ball did from Tua’s hands-on Sunday, the Dolphins again find themselves with a somewhat meaningless game to close the season.
But you know what?
There will still be fans in the stadium, albeit fewer than the last home game.
There will still be people watching at home, donning jerseys they’ve painstakingly selected, gambling that the name on the back will remain a Miami Dolphin beyond 2021.
And there will still be other people wondering, why do they do that to themselves?
Well, because we were never Patriot fans. Or Steelers fans. Or Ravens or Packers or Saints fans.
We’ve always been Dolphins fans, and quitting now would be, frankly, chickenshit.
So let hope, the most dangerous thing of all, carry us into the 2022 season as the intrepid and indomitable cry of “there’s always next season!” rings in the ears of others. Expect more, demand accountability from those who hold this once-great franchise back, and don’t buy the false bravado when Miami inevitably wins the offseason like they do every year.
But above all else, don’t forget what makes us as Dolphins fans unique. We’re patient, we’ve seen a little bit of everything, and we’re probably not quite right in the head for doing this to ourselves each season. We may never know why we remain fans of the fish. At least, not until the winning ways of the great Don Shula return to Miami.
And I don’t know if Tua can take the next step and be a legit franchise QB with healthier weapons and an offensive line that isn’t parted like the red sea with simple rush games upfront. I don’t know if General Manager Chris Grier will finally swallow his pride and pay up for a quality talent at running back. And I don’t know if the front office will get free agency right this year or if Brian Flores will actually get this team to the playoffs next season.
I have my thoughts, of course, but I don’t really know. No one does.
But I do have hope. And if Shawshank taught me anything, it’s that sometimes hope – and perhaps a rock hammer – is all you need to keep enduring. Miami didn’t make the big dance this year, but there’s optimism. Our defense is solid, our offense has several promising pieces, and we have both cap space, and draft picks to burn. And I know you’ve heard this story before because I have too, but just think…
One day, Miami will be home to a Super Bowl-winning franchise again. And as for us fans?
We’ll be the ones who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.