How far are the Miami Dolphins from winning a Super Bowl?
It seems a ridiculous question coming off a 6-10 season, but there is a history of losing teams making the jump to NFL champion in the space of just one year.
New England did it in 2001. The Patriots were 5-11 the previous season and there was
nothing much to recommend them except that they never got shut out. Miami suffered that indignity twice in 2017, and it very nearly happened a third time.
The 1999 St. Louis Rams won a Super Bowl after going 4-12 the previous season and sticking Dick Vermeil with the worst record of his 15-year NFL coaching career.
San Francisco won it all in 1981, just one year removed from a 6-10 clunker that was similar in some ways to what the Dolphins are going through. Bill Walsh, for instance, was in his second year as an NFL head coach and he had no more luck igniting his creative offensive ideas with Steve DeBerg at quarterback than Adam Gase did with Jay Cutler.
So what happened to transform those losers into Super Bowl champs so quickly? Obviously there was improvement throughout the rosters, but the most glaring similarity was a significant upgrade at quarterback.
Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Joe Montana all were first trusted to handle full-time starting roles in those breakthrough seasons. They got their teams through some tight spots and continued to do so for years thereafter.
So about those Dolphins. Can’t see Ryan Tannehill or even some first-round draft pick suddenly giving Gase all that he needs at quarterback. It’s not impossible, though.
The Philadelphia Eagles were 7-9 a year ago and it’s not impossible that they might become Super Bowl champs on Sunday, even with a supposed downgrade at quarterback.
Dan Mullen made a very public promise the other day. The Florida Gators are going to win a national championship in football with him as head coach, just like the two they won when he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2008.
At halftime of Florida’s Saturday afternoon basketball win over Baylor, Mullen took the microphone to brag about the school’s standards for excellence, highlighted by the reigning
national championship baseball team, and then, with voice rising and arms flailing, he added “On the football field, that standard is not just SEC but national championships. That’s what we promise we’re going to bring back to you here in the Swamp in Gainesville and put the Gators back on top as the most dominating team in the United States of America.”
Now it’s recruiting season and all, a time when the sales pitch never stops and the salesmen sometimes get carried away, but there’s really no reason for Mullen to hold back.
The Florida fan base was spoiled long ago by the bold promises Steve Spurrier made, and the success he had in keeping so many of them.
At his introductory press conference on Dec. 31, 1989, Spurrier said there was no reason that Florida shouldn’t take control of the Georgia series, which had been pretty much of a disaster in the previous two decades. That came true, and so did the previously unimaginable reality of Florida winning its first SEC title, and then stringing a bunch of them together.
Just prior to his first game as Gators coach, Spurrier wrote a letter to be published in the student newspaper, saying “We trail FSU and Miami heading in the 1990’s. We have the resources to catch and pass them and that is our target.” That also happened when the Gators won the 1996 national title.
At SEC media days, Florida was predicted by sportswriters to finish seventh in the league in 1990. In addition, there were no offensive players from Florida selected to the preseason All-SEC team. Spurrier guaranteed that would change by season’s end, and it did, with Shane Matthews as the highlight. Fifth on Florida’s quarterback depth chart in the summer, Matthews earned SEC Player of the Year honors that year and the next as the operator of Spurrier’s outlandish Fun ‘N Gun offense.
Of course, Spurrier said a lot of other things during his 12 seasons at Florida and infuriated a lot of people in the process. These are just a few memories of what he did and how he acted before coaching his first Gator game.
That’s where we find Mullen now. He doesn’t have his quarterback problem solved right off the bat any more than Spurrier did when he took this job. He doesn’t have a lot of momentum from the previous season, either, with the Gators coming off a 4-7 faceplant. Might as well say what people want to hear, though.
In short, like always, Florida has the resources to catch and pass everybody, and if Mullen doesn’t do it or at least come close, he won’t make it to end of that six-year contract.
It’s the same rock that Willie Taggart is pushing up the hill at FSU, and Jimbo Fisher is pushing at Texas A&M, and the one that Mark Richt continues to push at Miami. Oh, and let’s not forget Josh Heupel at UCF. That sounds like a sin of omission to many these days.
More power to any coach with the courage and the credibility to try.
And one day, when Nick Saban retires at Alabama, it will be a lot easier for all of them to reach that ultimate standard.
I won’t bother rattling off the names of the minor-leaguers Miami got back in the trades that jettisoned Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.
If you’re a major seamhead, those names are already familiar and so are their prospects of ever making the Marlins’ roster. And if you’re not a major seamhead, who cares?
Every now and again, however, there is proof that the scouts really do know what they are doing, and that getting the best you can out of dump-off trades like these is worth the extra research.
Consider Trevor Hoffman, voted this week into baseball’s Hall of Fame as one of the most reliable closers ever.
San Diego fans couldn’t have been too excited about hearing Hoffman included in a 1993 trade that was coming their way. They were focused instead on the Padres’ frustrating fire sale, which sent Gary Sheffield to Miami and unloaded other high-priced talent, too.
There certainly was no complaint from me over losing Hoffman or the two minor-league pitching prospects that left with him for San Diego. The skinny right-hander was a rookie with the Marlins, learning what he could by watching 45-save star Bryan Harvey and understanding that he probably wouldn’t be in the majors at all if not for being with the Marlins in their inaugural expansion season.
Two wins, two losses and two saves, that’s what Hoffman contributed to the Marlins. He was off to a good start, but nothing that would indicate Cooperstown as his eventual destination.
Sheffield, meanwhile, was a proven slugger and a National League batting champion when he came over for the first of six productive seasons in Miami. He was a big hit, leading the Marlins to a World Series title in 1997 and ending up with 509 career home runs, but he’s not yet in the Hall of Fame and probably never will be. He got just 11.1 percent of the vote this week, too far from the 75 percent requirement to imagine it possible.
So what’s the lesson? Nothing, except that baseball is ridiculous sometimes.
Maybe Derek Jeter has a new superstar hidden somewhere within the package of no-names he has picked up by trade. That would be cool, but only if the Marlins bother to pay him and keep him rather than working some other giveaway deal in the future.
The other former Marlins in the Hall of Fame are Pudge Rodriguez (who played here one season but made it count with a World Series title) plus Tim Raines and Andre Dawson (each stopped by in their 40’s to wrap up long careers) and Mike Piazza (who whistled through Miami for 18 at-bats in 1998).
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t going all that great at the moment.
Ten losses in the last 13 games, and a reportedly angry team meeting the other day that hardly washed out all the toxins. If LeBron James wasn’t a Cav and if Cleveland wasn’t bound for the NBA Finals in spite of it all, this could be some pretty serious stuff.
As it is, everybody just watches LeBron a little closer to see how he will react. Will he want different players added to his entourage? Is he fed up with head coach Ty Lue, who continues to juggle lineups at this late stage? Is he willing to take some of the blame for Cleveland being no better than No. 3 in the Eastern Conference’s overall standings and just barely ahead of Miami?
“Just get me to the playoffs,” is LeBron’s answer to those questions and just about every other when doubts arise during the regular season.
The man is still a monster at 33, and knows it. Who else would congratulate himself on social media for joining the elite 30,000-point club? Who else would say something scripted and sanctimonious like “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” instead of just announcing his free-agent choice of teams?
So if LeBron really is so brilliant in basketball strategy and mental preparedness and roster analysis and leadership skills, why not just cut to the chase?
Let King James try his hand at being the Cavs’ player-coach. There hasn’t been one of those in the NBA since Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics 39 seasons ago, but several Hall of Famers have done it.
Bill Russell won two NBA titles as player-coach of the Celtics. The Cincinnati Royals asked Bob Cousy to do it all and the result was a 36-46 season that was tiresome for everyone involved. Richie Guerin and Lenny Wilkens worked more than 300 games each as player-coaches. Bob Pettit tried it for about a week.
LeBron already runs the huddle when he doesn’t like how a play is set up in the final seconds of a big game. He has final say on all kinds of major decisions in Cleveland, whether it’s official or not.
It would be fun to see him stand before the cameras and do more than roll his eyes when asked about what is wrong with the team.
It would be fine to see him rally the troops and not just rise above them.
I think he probably would be pretty good at this. LeBron has been good about everything else in a game he was born to boss around.
He’s a trendsetter at heart, always looking to put more power in the hands of players, at contract time and at crunch time. What better way than to coach his own team, and to make a two-pronged success of it?
It’s the difference between being His Highness and His Oneness, and LeBron is exactly the type who would revel in that distinction.
It’s not the way he would have wanted it, but it’s kind of cool that Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is headed to the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, Nick Foles.
In a storyline that you’ll hear much more about in the two weeks before the Eagles face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, Pederson himself was a career backup in the NFL and bounced around in the World League of American Football, too.
He started 17 NFL games in his 10-year career with Green Bay, Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland but is best remembered for a game he didn’t start.
It was Pederson who came off the bench in 1993 to help Don Shula to his 325th career victory, the one that moved the coach past George Halas and into first-place all time.
The game was in Philadelphia, as if there aren’t enough circular connections to this thing, and the Dolphins already were without Dan Marino because of a torn Achilles. Scott Mitchell had been doing a credible job in his stead for a couple of weeks but then Mitchell, too, was knocked from the Eagles game early in the second half with a separated throwing shoulder.
In came Pederson, whose name Shula sometimes had trouble remembering during the crazy scramble to find viable depth and the race to get the new guy ready for an emergency. Pederson had never thrown a pass in an NFL game and he showed some early nerves, fumbling the ball away at the 1-yard line on the first scoring opportunity that he got.
“He (Shula) just told me to keep my head up,” Pederson said. “He told me to just do the things I knew how to do. Kept giving me support and encouragement.”
In the end the Dolphins had just enough to get by, winning 19-14 on a couple of field-goal drives as Pederson (3-for-6 passing for 34 yards) tried simply to make the basic plays that were required of him.
He wasn’t with the team much longer as Shula, who was carried off the field that day at Philadelphia, turned back to 39-year-old Steve DeBerg and eventually to Mitchell to finish out a 9-7 season. The Dolphins were 7-2 on that magical afternoon, however, and Shula, in his wildest scramble since having to start halfback Tom Matte at quarterback in his Baltimore Colts days, had not given up hope.
“I would love to see this football team continue to win and go all the way to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “We have to continue to believe in ourselves.”
That’s how Pederson is working this Eagles’ postseason run now in the absence of starting quarterback Carson Wentz, and so far it’s working. Foles, by the way, is far more competent than Pederson was and came make all the plays, as demonstrated in a 38-7 NFC title game win over Minnesota on Sunday.
If we’re going by the power of high-level draft analysis alone, former first-rounder Blake Bortles is the best bet among the quarterbacks who have reached the NFL’s final four.
Nick Foles was a third-rounder. Tom Brady was a sixth-round afterthought and Case Keenum didn’t get drafted at all.
Or maybe we could measure the players’ values using measurements, like they do at the combine. In that case Foles towers over the rest at 6-feet-6. Bortles is 6-5, Brady is 6-4 and Keenum is 6-2.
Ok, ok, before this gets any weirder, let’s cut to the chase.
Brady has won more playoff games (26) than any quarterback in NFL history.
That’s more than Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman combined.
Or John Elway and Roger Staubach combined.
Or Dan Marino, Steve Young and Jim Kelly combined.
Now you don’t need me telling you that Brady has been around for a while or that he’s won a lot, but the other three quarterbacks in the conference championship round have appeared in a combined total of five playoff games.
That’s not exactly apples and apples when it comes to big-game savvy, or even apples and oranges. It’s apples and rotten rutabagas.
Of course, there has to be a first time for everyone so there’s no choice but to stay tuned.
Check out this string of Super Bowl winners from the 1999 season to 2001 if inspiration is needed.
For openers, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the Super Bowl MVP, winning it all in his first season as a starter and repeating for a million questioners the story of his days as an Arena Football League player.
Next came Trent Dilfer, who never got Tampa Bay over the top in five seasons there but won a Super Bowl in his first season at Baltimore, buoyed by a ravenous Ravens defense.
Finally, the topper, a team that won the Super Bowl as a two-touchdown underdog and with a 24-year-old quarterback who had never started a playoff game before that season.
Some kid named Brady, and he did it with just 145 passing yards on Super Sunday.
Time for our weekly round of speculation on Tiger Woods and the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. It’s a match that, to me at least, looks less likely to happen now that the early part of his schedule is beginning to come together.
No official word from either side just yet but by Jan. 4 of last year Tiger had already committed to play the PGA Tour event in his home county. He ended up withdrawing because of a round of back spasms that ruined his 2017 season before it ever really got started, but at least the publicly-stated intention was there.
Right now it’s a full week deeper into the 2018 calendar year and Tiger has only committed to play the Farmers Insurance Open near San Diego Jan. 25-28 and the Genesis Open in Los Angeles Feb. 15-18, with two weeks off in between.
There’s a potential problem there since the Feb. 22-25 Honda immediately follows the Genesis. That would require 72-hole tournament play on consecutive weeks, a real stretch for a 42-year-old athlete still testing his physical limits.
It also would mean a cross-country flight from California to South Florida between the events. Tiger was going to give that a try last year, scheduling the Genesis and the Honda back-to-back, but was forced to withdraw from both and eventually had spinal fusion surgery in April, 2017.
Tiger hasn’t had an official PGA Tour start since the 2017 Farmers, where he missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 72. He played well and looked strong at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
It’s a minute-to-minute mystery, both for the Honda and for the 14-time major champion. He wrote in a Dec. 29 blog on his personal website, “I would love to play a full schedule in 2018. What that entails, including back-to-back events, I don’t know. I just have to continue to work on my body and game and see where I pan out.”
Nothing to do but wait. If Tiger plows through the San Diego event without any problems, he might just feel spunky enough to flesh out his schedule more with a return to PGA National. If not, he’ll need to relook everything, again.
The Honda will have another strong field either way, with Rickie Fowler as the defending champion.
A Tiger commitment sure would make a difference, however, for fans who are on the fence about buying a weekly pass in advance.
The only certainty is that he’ll want to be sharp for the Masters, where he hasn’t played since a tie for 17th in 2015.
If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.
That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.
Is this any way to run a major college program?
Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.
Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.
What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.
Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.
More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.
If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.
After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.
Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.
Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?
The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.
It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.
Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.
Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.
Is it possible to be shocked when Alabama wins a national championship?
I would have said no before Monday night. That 26-23 overtime win over Georgia was almost too much to process, even for Nick Saban, who when it was over actually sputtered “I’ve never been happier in my life.”
Think of what just happened here. The Tide won with Saban grasping for straws this time, not mechanically processing and dominating one situation after another.
When his young star quarterback got off to a lousy start, Saban switched to an even younger one, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and came climbing out of a couple of 13-point holes. Oh, and the hero is a lefty from Hawaii wearing lucky No. 13. You know, the usual.
When Alabama’s kicker missed two standard-range field goals, including what should have been the game-winner in regulation, Saban forfeited his usual bonus of stellar special-teams play but overcame that, too.
Finally, when a disastrous sack opened Alabama’s overtime possession, Saban hoped that new playcaller Brian Daboll, a former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, could come up with something remotely positive to get his balky kicker in position to force a second extra period.
Who could have dreamed that the game would end on the next play, a 41-yard touchdown bomb, and that Georgia’s night would turn out so horribly wrong after the Bulldogs had done so many things right?
It’s not like Saban has never been shocked and disappointed in a similar manner. Clemson beat Alabama in last year’s national title game with one second remaining. Also, at the end of the 2014 season, the top-ranked Tide drew No. 4 Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff and lost 42-35.
This year, though, it was Alabama’s time to squeeze into the last playoff spot. That got a lot of people grumbling, and not only because the Tide didn’t even win their division, or because the title game was an all-SEC affair. The biggest annoyance was that everybody kind of figured Saban would win it all again, like always.
Well, Alabama did win it, but not like always. This was a crazy demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.
Put it all together and you’ve got five national titles in nine years for Saban at Alabama. Miami fans don’t need that kind of dynasty to be explained to them. The Hurricanes won four titles in nine years, plus five in the space of 19, and ESPN made an epic 30-for-30 documentary about it.
What if I were to tell you that Saban isn’t slowing down at the age of 66, and that after winning six national titles, including one with LSU in 2003, he’s still adapting and finding new ways to crush the competition?
That’s not a documentary. It’s a horror movie, played on an endless loop.