The Dolphins have really screwed everything up since dominating in the '70s
The Good, Bad, Ugly and Bizarre of the Dolphins, from a perfect season to a weird bullying scandal
Back in May the NFL writers and editors at CBSSports.com gathered together to discuss the key figures and moments of every NFL franchise in the Super Bowl era. Before long we were discussing every team's best and worst moments, along with their most-hated players and coaches, as well as some of the more bizarre things each team has been involved in. That spirited discussion produced this series -- the Good, Bad, Ugly and, sometimes, Bizarre moments for every team. We continue with the Miami Dolphins.
Don Shula and the 1972 Miami Dolphins
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are best known for something they don't even actually do: pop champagne every year when the last undefeated NFL team finally loses a game. It's true (well, false) and Snopes proved it several years ago.
Aside from the obvious desire to avoid an obnoxious octogenarian post-bubbly headache, many members of this team just don't care that much. Don Shula was outright rooting for the Carolina Panthers -- with Don's son Mike on their coaching staff -- in their pursuit of perfection during the 2015 season.
That's the problem with aging -- reality is obfuscated by time one way or another. For the Dolphins, everyone has become less concerned with what they did in 1972 and more worried about how they act now. They're a mascot for perfection without being given the respect perfection really deserves (part of this problem is people not being, you know, alive for the team's run).
Shula's Dolphins deserve more credit for their dominance. They were outstanding on offense, despite an early-season injury to future Hall of Famer Bob Griese, thanks to 38-year-old Earl Morall -- who got an All-Pro nod with 150 passing attempts! -- stepping in and handling the passing game until Griese was healthy enough to return late.
It's always a tad bit easier managing an offense when you have a stout running game and the '72 Fins had it in spades. Both Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka ran for more than 1,000 yards and both averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
Miami ranked as the No. 1 offense in the NFL, scoring a league-high 385 points. More impressive was its "No Name Defense," a group of non-stars who dominated throughout the year, giving up just 171 points (12.2 per game) with just a single first-round pick (Bill Stanfill) and just one player who would go on to be a Pro Football Hall of Fame member (Nick Buoniconti).
The point differential didn't carry over to the playoffs -- the Dolphins won their three playoff games by a total of 17 points -- but, breaking news, the NFL playoffs are hard. (People should really remember this more often.)
This included a 14-7 win over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII.
These Dolphins weren't a fluke either, with Shula's 1973 team going 12-2 and winning the Super Bowl again. No one bothers mentioning that team, though. Perfection has that effect.
No Super Bowls with Dan Marino
There's a subset to the idiotic "quarterback wins" debate (whereby we ascribe a win or a loss specifically to a quarterback even though they, you know, play one position): "Super Bowl wins." Yes, rings do matter. The point of professional football is to win the Super Bowl.
But Dan Marino -- one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game -- is left out of the "greatest quarterback to ever play the game" conversation because he has no Super Bowl rings and it's not really fair. I mean, it's fair -- Joe Montana and Tom Brady are the beginning and end of the discussion right now.
It just stinks Marino can't get love for the discussion. This is a guy who led the league in passing and set the all-time passing-yards record (5,084 yards, since broken) in 1984. This was his second season and at a time when only two other quarterbacks in the entire league topped 4,000 yards. By contrast, 12 quarterbacks topped 4,000 yards in 2015. He also threw for 48 touchdowns (then-record that led the league) and helped the Dolphins reach the Super Bowl where they lost to the 49ers.
Marino would never get back.
He would post plenty of gaudy statistics, though. Marino led the league in passing yards per game four times, led the league in passing yards total five times, led the league in passing touchdowns three times and went to the playoffs 10 times.
A significant issue for Marino throughout his career was the lack of talent around him. He played quarterback for the Dolphins for 17 years and here is a list of the 1,000-yard rushers the Dolphins had during that time.
That's not a typo: one player during the entirety of Marino's career ran for 1,000 yards. John Elway was an all-time great quarterback drafted in 1983 like Marino -- he didn't win any Super Bowls until Terrell Davis showed up. Marino's defense wasn't ever consistently great either. Only five times in his 17-year career (1983, 1984, 1990, 1995 and 1998) did the Dolphins have a defense ranking top-10 in points allowed.
Run the ball and stop the run. The axioms remain true today to a degree but they were requirements in the '80s and (much of the) '90s if you wanted to win championships. It was just a different era.
Marino had flair too. Who else can you name that has the huevos to pull of a fake spike? Just a 33-year-old man annihilating a rival to save the 1994 season on a massive stage.
And Marino knew how to connect with a wider audience than just football. His performance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? Sublime.
All of this is to point out the Dolphins had an all-time great quarterback on their roster playing at a high level and staying relatively healthy (despite taking a beating) for 17 years. SEVENTEEN YEARS. In an era where passing wasn't encouraged and defenses could destroy quarterbacks. If Marino played now he would likely average 5,000 yards a year over a decade stretch and single-handedly take the Fins to multiple Super Bowls.
Time and talent conspired against him, and Miami failing to win a title with one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks is a flat-out shame.
Nick Saban's entire tenure
There is a stigma involved with college coaches jumping to the NFL and Nick Saban, for all his LSU/Alabama titles and generally complete dominance over college football, is a big part of it. Saban left LSU just a year removed from winning a championship with the Tigers to take the Dolphins job and finally bring the storied franchise back to an elite level.
Like many coaches in the same mold, Saban brought an intense style of coaching to Miami, attempting to whip his players into shape and present a certain type of intensity. Heath Evans, now with NFL Network, was with the Dolphins in 2005 when Saban arrived.
He described a training camp situation where Jeno James started vomiting and convulsing after two-a-days in the Miami heat. He's lying on the ground and here comes Saban and ...
Nick Saban literally just starts walking in, steps over Jeno James convulsing, doesn't say a word, doesn't try to help, goes upstairs, I don't know what he does. But then obviously they get Jeno trauma-offed to the hospital.
According to Evans, Saban would call a meeting later that night and explain why it happened.
Saban calls a team meeting about 10:30 that night, comes down and says, 'You know, the captain of the ship can never show fear or indecision, we've always gotta have an answer, and so I had to go upstairs, that's why I walked over Geno like that, I had to collect my thoughts and decide what's best for our team.'
So that's a nice little microcosm of maybe why Saban's players didn't love him. Eighteen-year-old kids are a lot more likely to take to aggressive dictatorial management than professional football players. (This is not unusual in any sport.)
The biggest turning point in Saban's tenure -- which resulted in him going 15-17 -- was the ultimate "What if" free-agency mystery.
With two questionable quarterbacks on the market in Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper, the Dolphins decided not to pay Brees what he wanted in a contract and instead traded a second-round pick to the Vikings for an unhappy Culpepper.
Culpepper would start four games, throw two touchdowns and pass for 929 yards for the Dolphins in his only year in Miami. Brees would, you know, resurrect football in New Orleans and bring a championship-starved city a Super Bowl victory. No big deal.
Saban recently acknowledged how big a factor the mistake was in his decision to bolt the NFL after just two years.
"If we'd had Drew Brees, I might still be in Miami," Saban said in 2015.
That bolting was the ugliest part of the whole process. Amid the only losing season of his head-coaching career, Saban was embroiled in rumors surrounding the Alabama job.
Saban refused to discuss the possibility of leaving for the Crimson Tide, until he was finally pressed to deny his interest.
About two weeks later ...
Nothing like flat lying to everyone's face to really charm the pants off an entire fanbase and all the people who cover the team. (Coaches lie all the time but this was a doozy.)
At least Saban is willing to admit what happened was pretty freaking terrible.
"I think the biggest thing was probably not handling the way I left very well, and that's always been a thing with me that I've never really ever felt good about," Saban said before Alabama's 2012 championship game in South Florida. "I learned a lot. Sometimes you wish you would've done things differently. I think I'm a better person because of that circumstance and situation, I learned a lot from it and I'll just leave it at that."
It's much easier to admit a mistake when you didn't make a mistake in the first place -- Saban's won four national championships (and counting) with Alabama. Maybe he never wanted the job in the first place.
The Richie Incognito bullying scandal
The NFL's got its share of off-the-wall weird scandals over the past decade or so, but the bullying scandal that erupted in Miami during the 2013 season might be the weirdest. Hazing doesn't qualify as a necessarily evil, but it occurs between males (and females) at various levels of life and certainly in the alpha-male dominated world of sports. The NFL is not exempt.
But things got weird with Incogito and former Stanford lineman Jonathan Martin when the two played for the Dolphins.
Dubbed "Bullygate" (because somehow the most powerful country in the free world doesn't have enough creative minds to come up with a new scandal tag), a massive scandal involving the Dolphins locker room erupted over the course of four months thanks to Joe Philbin, since removed from his position as coach, essentially letting the inmates run the asylum.
Martin randomly left the Dolphins in late October, with reports emerging a week later it was because of a last-straw hazing situation from Incognito, who was quickly suspended. It evolved into a PR battle between the two sides and then evolved into a situation where the NFL called Ted Wells for a lengthy investigation. (Hey, this sounds familiar!)
Incognito used a slur directed toward Martin -- and owner Stephen Ross later blamed the situation on racism -- but there were conflicting reports on how Martin really felt about Incognito's behavior toward him.
People didn't have to look far to find a history of Incognito conducting business in a very MEAT kind of manner, including holding offensive line meetings at strip clubs.
Thousands of text messages emerged revealing a bizarre and complicated relationship between the two men. Here's what we wrote at the time:
The texts do not show a heavy tone of bullying in the purest sense of the word. I'm sorry, they don't. There's too much interaction on Martin's behalf to meet up and hang out with Incognito. They appear -- based strictly what you read in them -- to show a pair of friends.
With the Wells Report dragging on (again: sounds familiar!) and Incognito eventually agreed to a paid suspension that wrapped up his season and attempted to put it on the back-burner so the Dolphins could chase another magical 8-8 record.
Finally, on Valentine's Day 2015, the Wells Report emerged, determining Incognito and other Dolphins players "engaged in a pattern of harassment directed" towards Martin. The report determined Martin contemplated suicide at one point during his time working with Incognito and endured significantly inappropriate racist text messages.
So all of this happens and, in the end Martin flames out after a shot with the 49ers while Incognito ends up making the Pro Bowl with the Bills and getting another contract. The end result was somehow more confusing than the path there. And no less disturbing.
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More Good, Bad, Ugly and the Bizarre
Where's your favorite NFL team? Check the schedule below
- June 17: Dallas Cowboys
- 20: New York Giants
- 21: Philadelphia Eagles
- 22: Washington Redskins
- June 23: Denver Broncos
- 24: Oakland Raiders
- 27: Kansas City Chiefs
- 28: San Diego Chargers
- June 29: Chicago Bears
- 30: Detroit Lions
- July 1: Green Bay Packers
- 4: Minnesota Vikings
- July 5: Houston Texans
- 6: Tennessee Titans
- 7: Jacksonville Jaguars
- 8: Indianapolis Colts
- July 11: Carolina Panthers
- 12: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- 13: Atlanta Falcons
- 14: New Orleans Saints
- July 15: Pittsburgh Steelers
- 18: Baltimore Ravens
- 19: Cincinnati Bengals
- 20: Cleveland Browns
- July 21: Arizona Cardinals
- 22: Los Angeles Rams
- 25: Seattle Seahawks
- 26: San Francisco 49ers
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