|Don Shula and Miami's perfect season are in sharp contrast to the current mess. (US Presswire)|
The Miami Dolphins weren't always the lonely, the second choice. They weren't always Susan Lucci. There was a time when players dreamed of being them, when Miami was the place to go. It was 40 years ago ...
The perfect season. Shula -- the greatest coaching motivator of all time. Csonka, Griese and Warfield. The No Name Defense. A dynasty that became the first team in history to appear in three straight Super Bowls. Owners of a perfect record that stands all these decades later.
Shula went to another Super Bowl and then Dan Marino made them relevant again. This is how it has gone in Miami. Until now. When a once proud organization fell under a veil of irrelevancy.
The Dolphins have become as a desirable as small pox. Players now talk openly about how they don't want to play there. Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark was asked about the Dolphins on Twitter and he wrote: "To believe I almost went there but it was easy decision not to."
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The list of Dolphins snubs has been epic and franchise-altering. The most recent was Matt Flynn, who seemed a lock for Miami, until he wasn't. Flynn blew off the Dolphins and signed with Seattle.
Before that, the big fish, Peyton Manning, didn't just eliminate the Dolphins from his list of suitors. He eliminated them first. Insult, injury, etc.
Jeff Fisher said vaya con dios to the mammals of the sea, making adding him to an exclusive and lengthy club: The List of Coaches Who Told the Dolphins No. Stephen Ross chased Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was still the head coach. Not cool. Harbaugh said no and went on to the NFC title game. Before that it was Nick Saban, while coach of the Dolphins, who promised he wasn't going to coach the University of Alabama, until he bolted to coach the University of Alabama.
"It tells you how far the Dolphins brand has fallen, how much the bar has been lowered in recent years," wrote Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde this week, "that few people even noticed Manning thought more of teams like Arizona and Tennessee, for heaven's sake."
But it's not about a lowered bar as much as it is the lack of one. The Dolphins are neither good nor bad. Relevant or irrelevant. This franchise, once royalty, is now pedestrian. In today's NFL, where buzz matters, the Dolphins are just a lump of goo.
How did this happen? It's easy to blame Ross or Jeff Ireland, the general manager, who famously asked the most infamous question of Dez Bryant. But it's not just them. The Dolphins never replaced two legends in Shula and Marino. It's pretty much that simple (not to mention that Bill Parcells set back the franchise with some of his questionable moves).
The franchise never discovered a semblance of another Shula. It's impossible to find a duplicate just like there's not another Bill Walsh, but you can at least enter the orbit. After Shula came Jimmy Johnson (who was 2-3 in the playoffs), Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates, Saban, Cam Cameron, Sparano, Todd Bowles and Joe Philbin.
Marino would replace Griese as the next great franchise thrower, but since then not even a hint of greatness. Steve Young replaced Joe Montana, Eli Manning followed Phil Simms, Aaron Rodgers came after Brett Favre.
These things are cyclical, and the Dolphins will rise again. Just remember the early years of this franchise before Shula when the team was a putrid joke and was more known for firing Flipper, the team mascot, than winning.
In the Dolphins' opening four seasons the team went 15-39-2. In 1969, the Dolphins won three games and sold 17,478 season tickets for a 75,000 seat Orange Bowl stadium. As an example of their disorganization at the time, after a 33-0 exhibition loss to Kansas City, a game played in a rainstorm, the Dolphins returned to their dressing room. Their uniforms were soaked. When someone tried to open the door, it was locked. They were shut out of their own locker room and forced to stand in the rain another 15 minutes while one of the janitors looked for the key.
These Dolphins aren't those inept Dolphins, but in some ways these Dolphins are worse. These Dolphins are just ... there.
These Dolphins are ignored.