Dolphins Watch

February 4, 2011 5:52 PM

Dolphins' super drought continues

SUPE 19.bmpA local newspaper unveiled its all-time Dolphins Super Bowl list, and what's striking is how many of those players came from the back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams in 1972 and '73. Very few players from the Fins' two Super Bowl appearances in the 1980s -- both losses -- made the list.

It got me to thinking about how long ago the team's glory days truly were, and the fact is, come next year, it will have been 27 years since the Dolphins' last Super Bowl appearance.

Think about how much has changed since then: the advent of satellite TV, the Internet, the IPod, personal video game systems, and the transition to DVDs, just to name a very few.

I was only nine years old at the time, and hardly a football fan. But, I remember my mother took me aside for a few minutes that night to watch a little bit of the game. It was my first exposure to an NFL game, and the first Super Bowl I ever laid eyes on.

I remember very little of it, but I remember her wanting me to watch because of Dan Marino, who she probably had heard of only because of his record-shattering '84 season.

For whatever reason she decided to drag me away from my toys to watch those precious few minutes, I am grateful. Because little did I know, I would not see the Dolphins in a Super Bowl again.

I officially became a fan two years later, in the midst of a four-year streak where Marino, Shula and the Fins failed to make the playoffs. Could you imagine such a thing, with two of the towering NFL figures of their time?

Anyways, it's been heartache since then. I actually went to the 1992 AFC Championship Game against Buffalo as a high school senior, only the second game I ever attended in my life, and the Dolphins were terrible in a 29-10 loss to the hated Bills.

Two things stick out from that game: Marco Coleman having a chance to recover a fumble, and trying to scoop it up and run with it rather than fall on the ball, leading to a Buffalo recovery that could have been an early game-changer. The second was when Mark Clayton appeared to let a Marino pass go right through his hands in the end zone for what would have been an early TD.

From then on, the Bills dominated, with Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis catching a multitude of screen passes against the beleaguered Tom Olivadotti-coached defense.

I didn't attend the previous week's shutout victory over San Diego, but that was the only home playoff game I would miss since high school. (Of course, it's a far less impressive streak when you realize the Fins have hosted just four playoff games since '92).

The fact is, I thought that by this time, in my mid-30s, the Dolphins would already have won another two or three championships. After all, they reached five Super Bowls in the first 19 years of the Super Bowl's existence, the most of any team in the NFL. And they had Shula, who still holds the record with six Super Bowls coached (he famously lost Super Bowl III to the Jets).

But Shula never could find the right formula to get the Dolphins back to the mountaintop, and he was nudged out following another playoff loss to Buffalo in 1995.

I thought the Dolphins would surely make it when Jimmy Johnson took over, thinking of the parallel with Denver and Mike Shanahan's arrival, and what it did for John Elway's career.

But, it never happened. Johnson stripped Marino of his ability to audibilize, and he never surrounded Marino with the type of offensive skill players Shula had. He did rebuild the defense by drafting Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, but it was never a dominant unit that could carry the team to a title.

I knew the dream was over for Marino for good when Johnson resigned in the wake of the 62-7 debacle in Jacksonville, and his hand-picked successor, Dave Wannstedt, let Marino twist in the wind as he waited to be asked to return.

Marino saw the writing on the wall, and he declined offers from Pittsburgh and Minnesota to retire himself in 1999.

Since then, the franchise has been run by a variety of incompetents, with the worst decision being Wayne Huizenga's acceptance of Wannstedt as head coach, closely followed by bringing in Rick Spielman as general manager.

Together, the two embarked on a "Regin of Error" that sunk one of the greatest franchises in the Super Bowl era to the level of an Arizona or Detroit, two teams whose fan bases rejoice when they simply reach the playoffs.

There have been draft mistakes and free agent bungles galore since then, and what I realy fear in the wake of another embarrassing fiasco with Tony Sparano this offseason is that these are still not the men the Dolphins need to lead them back to Super Bowl heights.

Since Miami made that last appearance in 1985, the 49ers have won three Super Bowls with two different quarterbacks, Elway became one of the greatest ever with back-to-back wins, and we've seen the Dallas and New England dynasties emerge and decline.

An incredible 22 different franchises have reached the big game since the Dolphins last did it, with first timers like Chicago, San Diego, Tennessee, Baltimore (a franchise that was born in 1997 after moving from Cleveland), Atlanta, Buffalo, New England, Tampa Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina (an expansion team that entered the league in 1995) and the grandaddy of them all, Arizona.

Only Detroit, Cleveland and expansion teams Jacksonville and Houston have never reached a Super Bowl, and only the Jets, Chiefs and Vikings have waited longer than Miami to return to the big game.

It's soul-crushing stuff if you're a fan, and despite the Dolphins being my absolute favorite team in any sport, college or pro, they remain the only one of my favorites not to win a championship (I exclude the Florida Panthers because I'm not a big hockey fan, and the Portuguese and American national soccer teams because of how difficult it is to win a World Cup).

The odds are long Sparano will be the man to lead the team back, and as Super Bowl week draws to a close, we've read the usual stories down here about how tough the Dolphins played both finalists (winning in Green Bay and losing to Pittsburgh on a contoversial fumble at home). But it doesn't change the fact this team is still not close to where it should be by now, and Bill Parcells ultimately failed in his stint down here.

He was just another false prophet, like Jiimmy and Nick Saban before him, and as the years click by, I'm starting to wonder if I'll see this team reach the big game by the time I reach 50. By then, I may be too old to celebrate.

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