Friday, October 31, 2008

Jets' Streak In Jeopardy

For the first time in 6 years, the 2007 NFL season featured a team that won but a single game. Unfortunately, that team happened to be my team, the Miami Dolphins. But this post isn't about the Dolphins. First I need to update the list I previously created of every single one-loss NFL team of the modern era. In parenthesis are the teams that lost to the one-loss teams.

1960: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1961: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1962: Oakland Raiders (Boston Patriots)
1962: Los Angeles Rams (San Francisco 49’ers)
1966: New York Giants (Washington Redskins)
1967: Atlanta Falcons (Minnesota Vikings)
1968: Buffalo Bills (New York Jets)
1969: Chicago Bears (Pittsburgh Steelers)
1969: Pittsburgh Steelers (Detroit Lions)
1971: Buffalo Bills (New England Patriots)
1972: Houston Oilers (New York Jets)
1973: Houston Oilers (Baltimore Colts)
1980: New Orleans Saints (New York Jets)
1982: Houston Oilers (Seattle Seahawks)
1989: Dallas Cowboys (Washington Redskins)
1990: New England Patriots (Indianapolis Colts)
1991: Indianapolis Colts (New York Jets)
1996: New York Jets (Arizona Cardinals)
2000: San Diego Chargers (Kansas City Chiefs)
2001: Carolina Panthers (Minnesota Vikings)
2007: Miami Dolphins (Baltimore Ravens)

The teams in parenthesis are the teams I'm interested on here; one in particular. Note that the New York Jets appear four times having been the lone victim of four of the worst teams in NFL history. And those four losses happened in 1968, 1972, 1980 and 1991. That's right, once in each of the last four decades! But the Jets' streak is now in real danger of ending. Heading into Week 9 of the 2009 season, just three teams have a chance of finishing the season with one loss. The Kansas City Chiefs have won only game so far, but the Jets weren't the team they beat. (They lost to the Jets in fact). The Detroit Lions haven't won a game but they don't get to play the Jets this year. And the winless Cincinatti Bengals. Oh the Bengals. This was it. This was the chance. And of course the Jets blew it! They played in Week 6 and wouldn't you know it, the Jets had to go and beat them. Damn it! So to extend their streak into a fifth decade the Jets must be somebody's only win in 2009. Or else it's all over. Please, please don't let it end.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Greatest Upset in Miami Dolphins History

On September 21, 2008, the Miami Dolphins traveled to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots. Miami had lost 20 of their last 21 regular season games. New England had won 21 straight. Understandably, the oddsmakers made Miami a double-digit underdog. Final score: Miami 38 New England 13. A complete beatdown. I later read somebody online call it the Greatest Upset in Dolphins History. Now, normally I hate the knee-jerk reactions of fans unsteeped in sports history and, especially, the loud-mouth sports “journalists” who can’t wait to anoint a game, a team, a player, anything as the greatest ever before the dust settles and we can impartially weight what we’ve just seen. But the more I think about, the more I’m convinced Miami indeed pulled off the biggest upset in team history when they crushed the Pats.

The simple truth is Miami’s rarely pulled off any big upsets in their 42-plus year history. What other candidates exist? Well, we can quickly dispense with any big postseason upsets; Miami’s never had any (sad but true). They’ve never been a big home underdog in a playoff game. And they’ve won exactly three postseason road games ever: beating Kansas City in the 1971 divisional round, Pittsburgh in the 1972 AFC title game and Seattle in a 1999 wild card game. The first of those might be considered a surprise since KC was the established power at the time, but both teams were 10-3-1, and Miami the team on the rise, so the win was a mild upset at best. Certainly nobody was surprised by the time the game ended; you couldn’t have a more evenly played game (double overtime). Now I’ve read that the 1972 Dolphins were actually a slight underdog heading into Super Bowl VII. Even if that were true however, nobody could possibly have been shocked when the undefeated team came out on top that day.

A regular season upset needs to be pretty memorable if anybody’s going to remember it after the thrill of victory wears off. I can only recall exactly one huge and memorable upset sprung by the Dolphins in the regular season. One of the most famous games in NFL history in fact. In week 13 of the 1985 season, the Dolphins shocked the 12-0 Chicago Bears 38-24 on Monday Night. Da Bears were big favorites, winning their previous three games by a combined 104-3 score, but on that night they were no match for Dan Marino’s offense (IMO Marino’s finest moment). Miami halted the Bears’ march to an undefeated season but honestly nobody should have been that shocked. The 1985 Dolphins were defending conference champions, they were at home on Monday Night, and they were 8-4 at the time. Compare that team to the 2008 Dolphins--a winless joke (at the time). And they had to beat the defending conference champs on the road. The point spreads reflected the different circumstances. If I remember correctly, Miami was about an eight-point dog to the Bears while the 2008 squad were double digit underdogs.

There just aren’t any other contenders for the honor. 2008, Week Three: Miami 38 New England 13. The Greatest Upset in Miami Dolphins History.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How The Miami Dolphins Hit Rock Bottom

As you might suspect from some of my posts, I’m fascinated by how successful football teams are put together, like the most successful team ever: the 1972 Dolphins. Yet somehow, I'm almost equally fascinated by how truly terrible football teams are put together. And this decade’s Miami Dolphins have been one truly terrible football team. I’ve tackled the topic several times—the bad drafts, the bad trades, the bad free agent signings. I’ve leveled blame against Dave Wannstedt, Rick Spielman, and Nick Saban among others. But there’s one person who I haven’t talked about much because, until recently, I hadn’t realized just how much of the blame he deserves.

When Wayne Huizenga became the Miami Dolphins’ new owner back in 1990, he appeared to be a welcome change from previous owner Joe Robbie. Miami achieved great success under Robbie, but Robbie was a well-known cheapskate and, though he was shrewd enough to steal away Don Shula from the Colts to coach the Fins, the two men had a terrible personal relationship. After Huizenga entered the picture he upgraded the Dolphins’ facilities and I don’t know that he and Shula ever had words with each other (at least not until 1995). Miami stopped having ugly contract holdouts and when the free agency era dawned the Dolphins weren’t shy about splurging. Despite Huizenga’s freer-spending ways though Miami never reached the same heights they had when Robbie ran the show. Yeah the team consistently won but Super Bowl appearances were becoming a distant memory. Tiring of the embarrassing postseason losses to Buffalo, Huizenga forced Shula out and replaced him with Jimmy Johnson. When a burnt-out Johnson quit four years later, Huizenga inserted Johnson’s right-hand man, Dave Wannstedt.

Huizenga preferred to put all the power over the football side of things in the hands of one person. In turn Shula, Johnson, and then Wannstedt each called all the shots. Unfortunately, Wannstedt lacked both Shula’s coaching ability and Johnson’s personnel acumen. As the fortunes of the team crumbled Huizenga changed his philosophy of giving a single man the reins of power. Mike Tanier lays it all out beautifully in his essay on the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 Football Prospectus. As Miami began to crumble under Wannstedt’s “leadership”, the team underwent a succession of disastrous front-office moves as Huizenga frantically sought undo past errors and restore the team to greatness. Or at least goodness. First Rick Spielman was brought in to assist Wannstedt with personnel decisions. That didn’t work. Huizenga then brought in Dan Marino (?!?!) to oversee football operations but luckily for his reputation and his sanity Dan realized his enormous mistake and ran back to his CBS and HBO gigs before it was too late. Huizenga then promoted Spielman over Wannstedt. Then he fired Wannstedt. Then he brought in Nick Saban to coach while keeping Spielman. Then he fired Spielman and brought in Randy Mueller as the personnel guru to work with Saban. When Saban quit, Huizenga hired Cam Cameron to coach the team but he kept on Mueller. Finally, Huizenga brought in Bill Parcells to be his chief football guy and had Parcells just blow up the whole team. Parcells canned Mueller and Cameron and brought in his own coach and GM, men who’ve worked with him before and who answer to Parcells.

As Tanier points out, from the time Huizenga first brought in Rick Spielman, the team kept changing coaches and general managers but never at the same time. Every time somebody new came in he had to work with someone already there, somebody already partly responsible for the mess the team was in. Huizenga made it impossible for the team to start rebuilding as each new person he brought in was tasked with winning right away and each new person had their own idea of just how to make that happen. Unlike the long and successful Shula era no one person was ever fully in charge (except maybe Nick Satan for a year). What a disaster; a disaster lasting years. How did I miss this pattern? I’ve concentrated most of my fire over the years on the bad decisions by Wannstedt and the others but clearly, not only did Wayne H. hire a series of fools, he created a situation where nobody could possibly succeed regardless of their abilities. It’s Huizenga who deserves most of the blame! I think deep down I was rationalizing all the false starts and disappointments on the grounds that Huizenga was at least trying (the Dan Snyder syndrome). That at least he was willing to spend big bucks without morphing into your classic interfering owner a la Jerry Jones or George Steinbrenner. Huizenga was content to let his football people make all the personnel decisions. Huizenga’s only role was just to hire GM’s and coaches (and write the checks) but he screwed up those choices every single time and, while putting one incompetent in charge is never good, Huizenga kept compounding his mistakes by forcing multiple incompetents with different agendas to work together at the same time. The result: 1-15 in 2007, a play away from the worst single-season team performance in NFL history.

Hopefully, the hiring of Parcells and the imminent departure of Huizenga from the ranks of NFL owners at long last brings this pathetic era to a close.