What is a fan? From the word fanatic, Webster’s defines it as a person who is marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.
Wow, uncritical devotion? If that is the case, I have to resign as a Finatic for the length of this article. I am angry, I am sad, and I am frustrated. It is time for some critical devotion.
I go way back with the Dolphins. I was only 10 years old when the Inaugural Season began in 1966. My father and I sat in a half empty Orange Bowl cheering on players like George Wilson Jr. and Wahoo McDaniel. We had very low expectations and waited patiently for our first win (which we got halfway through the season against the other new NFL team, the Denver Broncos). We wallowed in below .500 play until 1970, when Don Shula took the reins and the rest was history.
Moments in time, watching a young Bob Griese run in to replace John Stofa who broke his ankle, and later watching the same when Earl Morrall replaced Griese. Griese could move the offense and it was refreshing to watch.
It was watching Larry Czonka's play that infused my love for the game. He never let anyone intimidate him, smashing mouths with one hand when a defensive player approached him.
The late 70’s had me overseas in the military, so I thankfully missed the collapse of the perfect season team when the World Football League bought our best.
I bought my first season tickets in 1983, and watching a young Marino throw magic to Duper and Clayton still seems unreal to this day. The Orange Bowl was always loud and rocking.
Over the years, it was a joy to watch Don Shula coach. Every year he would evaluate his talent and design a game plan that would enhance and showcase the players. When Czonka, Kiick and Morris were active we were a running team. When Marino came around we were heavy on the pass. I remember the Finatics always lamented about Tom Olivadotti on his porous defense, but we always had Dan to bring us back.
Since the departure of Shula, we have really been a team without an identity. Dare I say we are cursed when overrated Jimmy Johnson pushed out Marino? I was in Jacksonville when we lost a playoff game to the Jaguars 62 – 7. Does Johnson vow to avenge this loss and come back next season stronger? Not exactly, he resigned a few days after that loss and Marino was gone shortly thereafter. To this day I cannot watch the Fox pre-game show.
So we watched Wannstedt, Bates, Saban, Cameron, Sparano, Bowles, Philbin, Campbell, and now Gase. At one point we had high hopes for all of these coaches. Could they be “the one” to carry on the legacy of Shula? I am afraid that Coach Gase is barely hanging on, and the waters ahead look very stormy.
During the Dolphins-Raiders game on Sunday night, the announcers played back Gase’s comments regarding players needing to take their playbooks home and study them. A classic leadership mistake is to blame your soldiers when the battle looks lost. “Well, I called a perfect game plan, but my players could not execute”
Do you see the difference between Shula and Gase? Shula wrote a game plan that played to the roster’s talents, not the other way around. And make no mistake, this roster has talent.
The second half of the season looks bleak. This week we go up against the number one defense in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers in their house. Then it is home again at Tampa Bay, which we should win. But then it’s twice against our nemesis the Patriots and also against the surprising Bills. Add Denver at home and Kansas City away we have a big hill to climb to make the playoffs.
I believe that we have the talent to do this, which is my Finatic talking on life support. Three areas that need the most work:
- The routes that the receivers are running need a rewrite to get more separation from the opposing DBs. On the bright side it was great to see Devante Parker healthy again doing that very thing.
- The secondary needs to step it up. I think a step in the right direction will be the return of T.J. McDonald.
- Please, offensive line, get rid of the drive killing stupid penalties. You are better than that, and it all starts with you.
I think these three issues are all coachable, and Gase can coach this, but he has to be aware that it is time to step it up, not give it up. Don’t go the route of the other post-Shula coaches, embrace his spirit and rise to the occasion. You may bring back a Finatic back to life someday.