Sunday, October 2, 2011

Separate vacations

I married myself to the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 21, 1974.

I think I remember a few glimpses of the Larry Seiple-fake-punt, playoffs win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 1972. And I know I remember watching the overwhelming second Super Bowl victory, over the Minnesota Vikings, in the basement of our first house in Paducah in January 1974. But as late as that following summer, I had not said forever-and-ever-amen yes to the Dolphins. Sitting around with my parents (and, I think, one brother) after lunch one day before the new season, I mentioned that I thought I would root for the Los Angeles Rams as my favorite team in 1974. I liked their uniforms, too, I reasoned.

My parents explained that I didn't have to switch--that a fan of a team typically remained a fan of that same team over seasons and seasons.

Oh, thought 6-year-old me. OK.

And so, again, over the autumn and into the winter of 1974, I rolled with Bob Griese (like me, an Evansville, Ind., boy) and the Dolphins. We were back in Evansville, in fact, visiting family in advance of Christmas when that Dolphins' season ended with Ken Stabler's famous, falling heave through a "Sea of Hands" but into only two--those belonging to Raider Clarence Davis, in the end zone. We were visiting my dad's one surviving sister and her husband and kids on Evansville's east side. They're a wonderful, wonderful family--supportive of one another through good times and bad, all very close to this day and completely willing (aggressive even) to extend that love beyond their nucleus. Just banner people all the way around who do more than any of the rest of us to keep the extended family together. They are walking, talking testaments to Abundant, Inclusive, Never-tiring Love, and I just absolutely admire the people and family that they are.

To my knowledge, none of that family has a favorite sport--much less a favorite team. But they had all gathered around the TV set with me to watch the Dolphins in support of me on Dec. 21, 1974. It's really sweet when you think about it, isn't it? Four days before Christmas, and here's this whole family just rooting on their little 6-year-old nephew/cousin from out of state--cheering along with me with my team's each success, moaning along with me with each setback ... now how many tries do they get to achieve a first down?

When Stabler's desperation pass was ruled a touchdown, I initially cried foul. Of course, his knees were down, and, of course, Pete Rozelle would phone the stadium and have the official's call overturned. When this didn't happen, I wept. And I just kept on weeping. I don't think I even tried to pull myself together for our hosts. I think I just kind of kept on crying through the consoling hugs, through the gifts, through the good-byes, through the "Merry Christmases" and through a lot of the two-and-a-half-hour trip back home to Paducah. I do remember being just so angry with my parents; how could they have planned so badly as to have located us at my cousins' house on the very afternoon of the Dolphins' playoff game? I actually felt that we were somewhat responsible for the loss. I sided with the Dolphins against my own parents.

That's the kind of thing you do when you're married.

The Dolphins and I have had a lot of good times together. A lot. Miami has never again won a Super Bowl, but I'm not that guy. It would, of course, be fantastic to win another "big one." But, for my money, that win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thanksgiving 1977 was pretty big. That win over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship after the 1982 season was pretty big. That win over the Chicago Bears on NFL Monday Night Football in 1985 was pretty big. That win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC wild-card game after the 2000 season, that win over Oakland early in the 2001 season and that wildcat win over the New England Patriots in 2008 were all pretty darned big.

But the 2011 Dolphins are 0-4, and I think they're actually worse than the four losing scores indicate because I think the opposition understands that it can afford to play conservatively and still win against Miami. But, again, the results aren't exactly the problem. Things started going haywire for me and the Dolphins years ago. I'm not going to get into all the dirty laundry because it's always hard and never particularly helpful to try to detail the particularities of a marriage to someone who's not in it. Suffice it to say that I just no longer believe in their path.

I know other fans who seem to have successfully switched their allegiance to other teams, and I will admit that my eye has wandered. I have always found a lot to like about the Green Bay Packers, for example--the history, the size of town, the Midwesterness, the uniforms. More often than not, when I have identified my "second-favorite team," the Packers have been it. But the truth is that, even today, with the defending-champion Packers on a gorgeous Wisconsin autumn afternoon dismantling the Denver Broncos in HD and with Bart By God Starr himself in the stands, I still found myself unable to muster much genuine happiness for Green Bay. My interest instead was utterly consumed by's ironically lifeless animation of the Dolphins' 26-16 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

I remain--for better, but for worse for now--married to Miami.

However, with the Dolphins going into their bye week, I've decided that I'm not going with them. I suspect there's going to be a head-coaching change (at least) announced in the next couple of days. Maybe, maybe not. We'll see. But I'm not going to ride the roller-coaster of reports and their bold promises to be better that are certain to be coming out of Miami in the next indefinite number of days. There are other fans who would say this is weak and disloyal on my part, not sticking with the team when it is at one of its lowest points. And maybe they're right. Maybe they're stronger, better fans and people than I am.

But I'm not doing the Dolphins or me any good by standing so closely by. I do hope they get it together. I really do, because I do love them. And if and when they do, we'll see where things stand with us--Miami and me--then.

For now, though, I'm sleeping on the couch. Making other plans for Christmas. Rooting for them, and remembering the good times--but taking a separate vacation.


  1. Eric, I can only imagine how much pain is represented by this post. I really hope things get better for the Dolphins.

  2. The Dolphins and I had a huge fight at the end of the 2002 season and we've never been the same. When I moved to Philadelphia in 1994 I dove back into sports and my number one team was the Dolphins. Every week I would meet a friend at a sports bar where he would watch his Steelers and I would watch my Dolphins. Unless of course they were going to be carried, then I would just stay at home and watch.

    At first it was just fun to be back in the thick of things. Winning wasn't all that important to me, it was just being there together again. Of course as time wore on I began to want some success. By the close of that 2002 season, just eight years later I was ready for a split, and I've never even thought about going back. Truth is now it's been so long and my life has changed so much I'm not sure I can ever go back.

    I feel for you Eric. It's been 17 years since I split with baseball and now nine years since I split with the Dolphins. My life is a bit emptier but I still have my memories.

  3. I have rooted for Vanderbilt's football team since 1984. During that time, Vandy has exactly one victory over Tennessee, exactly one winning season, and exactly one bowl appearance. So this is a pretty hopeless cause. Obviously, I would go crazy if I tried to watch every Vandy game. So here's what I do: I always know who the coach is, and I always check the preview magazines to see what they say about Vandy. And then each Saturday I am always careful to get the Vandy score. And if it's a really big game for the Dores, I may watch them for awhile. That way, I'm still a fan, but I don't wear myself out watching a team that can't win. Until the Dolphins indicate that they are on the road to improvement, I would suggest taking a similar approach with them.

  4. Here are some of the reasons why you try your best to win right now, even if it means you might get a worse draft pick next spring: Because there's no guarantee the higher draft pick will yield the better player, because you've wrecked the whole mindset of the current players and coaches moving forward, because people are paying to watch you try to win right now, because this will undoubtedly be several guys' last chance to try to win in the NFL, because you might die, because I might die, ...

  5. Because it's just fundamentally stupid and wrong to fool around like that. Because. Because. Because.

  6. If Luck ends up with the Colts, and ends up being good, I am going to be extremely unhappy.

  7. I hate the Colts. Hate 'em.