When you look at today's Miami Dolphins, they are a team in complete disarray. They had a pair of head coaches - Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban - turn their backs on the team (though Wannstedt was far better about it than Saban - he gave the team and his players advance notice that he was stepping down; Saban just abandoned them), they had an extremely talented but equally eccentric running back named Ricky Williams go through a ridiculous retirement and unretirement fiasco with the team, they could have had Drew Brees at quarterback but blew their chance because they couldn't treat him like a human being, they've fielded a revolving door of some of the shittiest quarterbacks in the NFL, and the team has been performing so inconsistently that Dolphins fans have to take every individual victory, every winning streak, and every potential optimistic sign with a grain of salt.
It's tough to remember nowadays that the Dolphins are probably the historical powerhouse of the AFC East. Sure the Patriots have a history of great teams, the Jets were the first AFC team to win the Super Bowl, and the Bills dominated the league from about 1987 to 2000, but it's the Dolphins who were probably the most consistently great team there. I'm currently willing to write off their current doldrums as a bump on the road.
The Miami Dolphins were an expansion team awarded to Miami by the American Football League in 1965, when they were still at war with the National Football League. How the AFL managed to pull off an expansion is something I don't know, because the AFL at the time was still seen as the talentless hack to the glamor of the NFL. The overall record of the Dolphins for their first four seasons was 15-39-2, but then they hired a coach by the name of Don Shula. Shula was a disciple of the legendary Paul Brown, and he believed in a lot of discipline and hard work. What a difference he made, too; in 1971, 1972, and 1973, the Dolphins became the first of only two teams who have ever made it to three straight Super Bowls. They lost the first one to the Dallas Cowboys, but won the next two to make up for it. In 1972, the Dolphins became the only team in the modern NFL to put together a perfect season, winning every regular season game and the Super Bowl.
Although the Dolphins didn't win any playoff games for the rest of the 70's after winning the Super Bowl in 1973, they generally were a very good team. They set an NFL record that decade by defeating their biggest division foe, the Buffalo Bills, 20 straight times. The also fielded some strong marquee names like Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris on offense and a great defense nicknamed the No-Name Defense because the offense got so much publicity. They managed to contend despite a raid by the World Football League which robbed them of Warfield, Kiick, and Csonka.
The Dolphins did well in the early 80's too, even making a visit to the Super Bowl in 1982 only to lose to the Washington Redskins. Then in 1983, the Dolphins drafted the second great part of their history, one which marked a radical shift in their playing philosophy. They pulled Dan Marino out of the University of Pittsburgh and made him the focus of their offense. Although Marino - one of my all-time favorite football players - set virtually every significant passing record for both the Dolphins and the league, the focus on him actually cost the Dolphins, as they tried to get by with average-at-best ground support and defense. Marino set a record by heaving 48 touchdown passes in a single season, which was only broken in 2006 when Peyton Manning threw 49, and broken again a year later when Tom Brady threw 50. Marino also set a single-season passing yardage record which he held until last Monday, when Drew Brees broke it. Marino was the first quarterback to ever throw for 5000 yards in a season, and Brees is now the second.
Miami is very proud of what Marino accomplished. They have a section of their website devoted to him. It's a crime that Marino only ever got to the Super Bowl once, in 1984, a shootout he lost to Joe Montana. He had a few close scrapes afterward, most notably in 1985, when the Dolphins became the one team to beat the Chicago Bears in a season in which the Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl. The Bears were hoping for a rematch on the league's biggest stage, and the Dolphins got to the AFC Championship that year but were robbed of the opportunity to face the Bears again by a good but basic Patriots team. Miami came close again in 1992, but lost the AFC Championship to Buffalo. Marino never got that close again, and after a 62-7 disaster against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1999 playoffs, he retired.
Florida has three NFL teams - the Dolphins, the Jaguars, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Dolphins are the unquestioned standout of the three. They're the oldest by at least twelve years, the most successful, and the one with the most loyal and knowledgeable fans. Their rivalries date way back to the beginnings of the AFL. Their biggest rivalry for most of their history has been against the Buffalo Bills. Miami has a substantial 55-36-1 lead in the overall series, but Buffalo's postseason record against the Dolphins is 3-1. This rivalry was very significant to the league during the 80's and 90's, and they played against each other on Monday Night Football nine times during the period. But lately, this rivalry has tapered; Miami is more concerned about the New York Jets now, while Buffalo has the New England Patriots atop their public enemies list.
The Dolphins are thriving despite being located in one of the most college-football-oriented places in the United States. In a state where the people care more about the fortunes of the Hurricanes, Gators, and Seminoles than the Jaguars (who are likely to be moved soon) and Buccaneers, the Dolphins are noticed and cared about.
You can't help but notice how Miami's uniforms stand out - how many teams wear aqua and coral? Basically, they're shades of green and orange, respectively. They feature an official logo of a leaping dolphin wearing a football helmet. Their owners include several high-profile celebrities, including Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Buffet, and Venus and Serena Williams. They're also nicknamed the Fish, which is of course incorrect but stuck around because it's catchy and gave rise to the popular Buffalo slogan "Squish the Fish!"
Every time people think Miami is going to return to its winning ways these days, there's another sign that argues otherwise. Remembering Miami's great days seems to be the only way Fish fans can keep sane now. From being one of the great AFL power teams, today's Dolphins seemed locked into a long-term search for an identity.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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The team made its first Super Bowl appearance following the 1971 season in Super Bowl VI, but lost to the Dallas Cowboys. In 1972, the Dolphins completed the NFL's first and only perfect season culminating in a Super Bowl win, winning all 14 regular season games, two playoff games and Super Bowl VII. The achievement became the fourth pro football team to accomplish the feat along with the 1937 Los Angeles Bulldogs (16-0-0, AFL), the 1948 Calgary Stampeders (14-0-0, CFL) and the 1948 Cleveland Browns (15-0-0, AAFC).
The 1972 Dolphins held the fourth perfect regular season in NFL history, but the other three teams were beaten in the NFL Championship game. ...