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Progression, Or Lack Thereof: Analyzing the Dolphins and Lions

In thirty years life brings a lot of regrets. The first day of kindergarten. The sight of a massive unibrow in the mirror from the day I turned 14. The three years I spent driving a Saturn. But none of these depressing moments prepared me for the 2007 Miami Dolphins season. My nearest and dearest can confirm that I am passionate about a handful of things: family, religion and culture (that does not imply that I’m some Islamist from Afghanistan), grape soda–and of course, my beloved Miami Dolphins.

On December 30, 2007, after the 16th and final game of the worst season in Dolphins history, regardless of the degree of animosity I might hold towards someone, the one evil I could never wish on them is to witness their favorite team suffering a one-win season. Lions fans reading this are thinking I have some nerve with all my whining, especially after the holocaust of a season they endured in 2008, but don’t get your panties in a bunch guys. You will eventually have the last laugh. Promise.

Now we all know what it’s like come January and February when the NFL season is coming to an end. We’re dreading the fact that we have to wait a whopping nine months before our team finally takes the field again. Women that have children love to tell men “If only you knew what it’s like to go through the nine months of pain and hardship during pregnancy…!” Although I’ve never been pregnant, and most likely won’t ever be, as an avid fan that follows his football team religiously I can claim that the nine months of pain and hardship that I go through during the NFL offseason is at least comparable. Disclaimer: this was not to take away from maternity or children. I love kids and I’ve never missed a single Mother’s Day.

Let’s try to tackle the issues that shaped the Dolphins season that year. By the way, you’ll notice this article takes a harsh tone towards my Fins. I apologize for that, but I’m pissed.

As in ever year, in 2007 I suffered through those nine offseason months only to witness a complete miscarriage of a season. Before I had even adjusted to watching football every Sunday, my Fins had already gone through 3 quarterbacks and zero wins. Quite baffling.

I’ll start by addressing the incredible draft class. To this day, it still leaves me scratching my head through the spiking glue. The front office, lead by general manager Randy Mueller and head coach Cam Cameron, made quite a few boneheaded decisions that day. They passed on top prospect Brady Quinn (may have been a blessing in disguise) and instead opted for Ohio State speedster Ted Ginn (ok, maybe not). Eventually the Dolphins decided to draft their future franchise quarterback in the second round, selecting John Beck. Does that name ring a bell, Redskins fans?

Oh, and here’s a factoid: of all the Dolphins’ picks from the 2007 draft, only one player remains on the current roster, punter Brandon Fields.

Cue Charles Barkley: “That’s just turrible, Kenny.”

Heading into the season, the Dolphins didn’t look too great on paper. They didn’t exactly seem “one win” bad, but it was far from a star-studded cast. One of their biggest acquisitions in the offseason was senior citizen quarterback Trent Green from Kansas City. Ronnie Brown was forced to carry the full load at running back since Ricky Williams was out taking yoga classes as part of his rehabilitation process to detach himself from his bong.

The Fins also added Pro Bowl linebacker/motormouth Joey Porter from Pittsburgh to anchor a defense made up of an aging front line and very inexperienced secondary. Porter spewed so many rants to the media during his stint in Miami like he had an incentive on his contract for them. Defensively the Fins were virtually invisible. Everyone was old and frail, especially on the D-line, where the average player age was well over 30. They would have been outplayed in a co-ed flag football league that didn’t allow downfield blocking. They surrendered over 400 points, which is an average of over 27 points per game, while the offense favored only 16 points per game.

Cue Barkley again: “Kenny tell ’em they crazy.”

All these factors led to the downward spiral that became the Dolphins’ 2007 season. Although many were sure he still had some juice, Trent Green was knocking on forty’s door and proved that in week five against Houston when he was knocked out of the game after the umpteenth concussion of his career. That triggered the Cleo Lemon (Google him) – not John Beck – era in Miami.

Beck eventually got the nod after Lemon failed to lead the Dolphins to a win. However, that decision backfired as Beck’s tenure in Miami lasted only 4 games, all losses. Lemon was reinstated as the starting quarterback and eventually led the Dolphins to their single win of the season, a dramatic overtime thriller against Baltimore in week 15. I don’t know what moment was more joyful in my life, that win or the first time I tasted the honey roasted barbecue sauce at Chick-Fil-A. In any case, the Dolphins would close out the final two games of the season with losses.

And that was it: 1-15. I hadn’t been ridiculed so much since the days I was called “Paula Abdul” in the 3rd grade. You know, because my name is Abdullah. Never mind.

I remember I used to laugh at fans on TV that would wear paper bags over their heads when their teams sucked. My laughs quickly became sobs after seeing my own fellow Dolphin fans wearing them. I wanted to cry harder after seeing a fan who drew cute little palm trees around the huge “0-13” written on the front.

It sucks when your team is the laughingstock of the NFL, when analysts can’t even conduct a full discussion to address your team because they’ve already written them off. Who can blame them? Apart from the 0-14 Bucs in 1976, no team had ever gone winless in a season, so being 1-15 team was pretty much as low as you could get.

Thank GOD for the 2008 Detroit Lions.

The Dolphins quickly became a story of the past. In 2008 the Dolphins had engineered the biggest turnaround in NFL history, finishing 10 games better than the previous year and winning the division. But the Detroit Lions had finally realized every team’s biggest fear: finishing an entire 16-game season without a win. It couldn’t have come at a better time for Dolphins fans.

So how bad were these Lions? They were bad. They were Keanu Reeves bad. If the 2007 Dolphins season was a miscarriage, then the 2008 Lions season was an abortion.

I’m totally not winning over any Lions fans.

I mentioned the Dolphins looked bad on paper, but the names on the roster were at least familiar to some extent. With the Lions, well, you might as well install the Google toolbar on your browser because most of the names will send you hunting (with the exception of Calvin Johnson, of course).

The draft picks: there were nine of them. Can’t recognize a single name besides running back Kevin Smith (does that count?).

The offense: the Lions featured one of the worst quarterback rotations I had ever seen. After losing “star” quarterback Jon Kitna to injury, Yankee 3rd baseman Drew Henson was activated to the roster. Alongside Henson was Dan Orlovsky (no he is not an NHL goalie) and Drew Stanton (Google toolbar).

The Lions were so desperate to figure out their quarterback situation that they ended up forcing Daunte Culpepper (most likely rediscovered at a Popeye’s in the outskirts of Tallahassee) out of retirement. Rusty and overweight, Culpepper lasted only four games with the Lions before leaving with a shoulder injury.

Despite all my negativity, I want to express some appreciation for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who recently has been appropriately coined “Megatron.” Because the Lions were so awful in 2008, many fans overlook the 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns this guy racked up in a winless season. For me, it proves Johnson is one of the best–no, eff it–the best wide receiver in the NFL today.

Yeah I’m not so bad after all, right, Detroit?

Actually, I am. A few more tidbits to sum up these cubs: the defense surrendered 32 points per contest, lost each game by an average of more than two touchdowns, and were ranked number 1 on the NFL Network’s Top 10 Worst Teams of All-Time. That is all.

Let’s come back to real time.

Today’s Lions find themselves in a completely different realm since that atrocious 2008 season. They have been buzzing in every football conversation, featured in almost every highlight reel, and most importantly, they sit undefeated at the top of the NFC North alongside rival and defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay.

As for those precious Miami Dolphins of mine? They find themselves pedaling in reverse again, back in that all too familiar funnel of misery, puzzlement and confusion. Back in the cellar of the AFC East. Back to being winless. So how has Detroit been able to pull itself to the top of the NFL while the Dolphins continue to spin in circles?

Following their 2007 campaign, the Dolphins brought in football mastermind Bill Parcells to clean house and resurrect a depleted franchise back to winning form. Randy Mueller, Cam Cameron and other members of the front office were dismissed almost immediately upon Parcells’ arrival. Subsequently, Parcells brought in a few of his own buddies from Dallas to take over Mueller and Cameron’s positions, appointing his former scout Jeff Ireland as the new GM, and giving his former assistant coach, Tony Sparano, the head coaching job.

The shuffling of the front office and various offseason transactions, which included the top overall draft pick Jake Long and the trade for quarterback Chad Pennington, helped the Dolphins complete their Cinderella season of 2008, where they finished 11-5 and won the AFC East.

But much has changed since. Initially, it seemed to many like The Tuna had worked his magic yet again in reviving a lowly franchise. He walked in on a team in complete turmoil, conducted an overhaul of virtually the whole entire organization and bam! People are sporting aqua-colored “Worst to First” t-shirts just one year later. All seemed well on the Miami front.

Then the reality of it all sunk in. When Parcells initially came on board, he was inked a contract that guaranteed him full pay and gave him the freedom to walk away. Sure enough, just over two years into his four-year contract, Parcells peaced out.

What some people didn’t realize was that Parcells joined the Dolphins in a different position than when he was in New England, New York and Dallas: as executive director of football operations, not as a head coach. Consequently, instead of building the Dolphins franchise around players, like he did as a head coach with his previous teams, Parcells was merely building a franchise in his image by hiring men like Ireland and Sparano whom he had instilled the same egotistical, stubborn and arrogant attributes.

Thanks to Ireland, the Fins have become a joke. Who can forget the fiasco he caused when he asked Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on draft day if his mother was a hooker? Who can forget when he publicly lobbied for Jim Harbaugh to replace Sparano as coach, while Sparano still had the job! It was mortifying to hear as a fan. Owner Stephen Ross has essentially sucked out every ounce of true passion for football from South Florida, where very little of it existed to begin with. Dolphins games have merely become a pastime for fans, at least for the ones that show up.

Instead of concerning himself with the quality of players and personnel, Ross is too concerned with how many washed up celebrities own a share of the franchise, and whether or not the Orange Carpet is laid out properly so they can make their grand “Walk of Fame” (that’s really what it’s called) into the stadium prior to every game. It’s football Mr. Ross. The Dolphins are here to compete for a Super Bowl championship, not a Grammy.

Chad Henne has shown the potential to be an elite NFL quarterback throughout his short career, but fails to show consistency. Reggie Bush was brought in from New Orleans and appointed to do exactly what he has shown he cannot do since he’s been in the NFL: be a 20+ carry back. Brandon ‘The Beast’ Marshall has proven he can catch 100 balls in a season no matter who throws it to him, and no matter who stabs him. Ironically, he cannot prove the same in Miami, and it’s not his fault.

So what gives? Why does the coaching staff refuse to use their playmakers accordingly and exploit their talents? All this has led to a winless start to the 2011 season and has forced coach Sparano into the hot seat.

As for the Lions of ’08? Well they have done everything right in the process of bouncing back from that dismal 0-16 season, and to be honest, I’m damn happy for them. They didn’t quite follow up their forgettable season in as spectacular a fashion as the Dolphins did. In fact, they were almost as horrible, winning only two games. But it has been nothing but progress for the Lions since.

It all began with head coach Jim Schwartz, who was brought in immediately following the ’08 season. Schwartz has been around football for over 20 years and has worked with the likes of Bill Belichick, Brian Billick and Jeff Fisher, a pretty elite group of guys if you ask me. Schwartz and the Lions’ front office have nailed every draft since 2008. Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Jahvid Best, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley lead a very young talented group of guys that Schwartz has balling right now.

Stafford has been a work-in-progress and the results are finally showing. Speedy Jahvid Best has worked his way to earning the starting job at the running back position and has maximized that role. Suh immediately showed his colors on defense, tallying 10 sacks in his rookie season and has already become one of the most feared defensive linemen in the league. And of course we have all become witnesses to the immense power and domination of mighty Megatron, who is on pace to grab 30 touchdowns this year.

When it comes to the Dolphins, fan support is key. Unlike the sorry excuse for a fan base that dwells in South Florida, Detroit has ranked as a top 5 sports town according to several different polls, despite the fact the Lions have never won crap.

The Fins need to get over this “how can the fans have a blast” idea and start worrying about football. Build a winning team and I guarantee you fans will show up. Just ask Dan Marino. I’m sure he never had a problem with the Orange Bowl not selling out in the mid-80s. When the Dolphins started losing games and the fans start losing interest, the organization didn’t look towards the betterment of the players and personnel, but instead to luring celebrities to a pre-game concert so seats in Sun Life stadium aren’t vacant.

In a nutshell, these are the standard “do’s” (Lions) and “don’ts” (Dolphins) when a franchise hits rock bottom. The Lions have followed the playbook. As for the Dolphins, let’s just hope the next celebrity Stephen Ross brings on board is Jesus, because they need a miracle.

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