Training camps from hell, hurricanes, missing bye weeks, missing home games, AWOL stars, games in soccer stadiums, commentators playing quarterback, kickers being stars of the game, contract disputes, bigtime trades: Has any team had a stranger opening this NFL season (or in history) than the Miami Dolphins? Despite the numerous awkward and detrimental curve-balls flying at the team, the Dolphins (and their fans) are finding success early on a long arduous road stint.
It all starts with what has been dubbed by some as The Training Camp From Hell. The camp included season ending injuries to Dolphins starting QB Ryan Tannehill, starting MLB Raekwon McMillan, and CB Tony Lippet. The Dolphins addressed the quarterback issue by luring Jay Cutler out of the FOX analyst booth for $10 million. This move sent the media into a frenzy about a questionable revival of the passer’s career and the Dolphins franchise, due to his relationship with head coach Adam Gase. Regardless of the outcome, the Dolphins have a broadcaster at quarterback for the entire 2017 season. The Dolphins also failed to reach new contract terms with star receiver Jarvis Landry prior to the start of the season. This led to rumors that he would be traded, which coach Adam Gase continues to deny firmly to the media.
As if that weren’t a big enough shake-up, a category 5 hurricane followed. To recap for those who’ve made like Lawrence Timmons and gone AWOL (more on that later), hurricane Irma forced the NFL to postpone Miami’s home opener vs Tampa Bay to week 11. That was when both teams were originally scheduled for byes.
The NFL had the option to move the game to a neutral site to maintain the teams’ bye weeks. When the NFL opted to postpone instead, the Dolphins requested their week 3 game vs. the Saints, scheduled for London in place of a home game, be returned to Miami. The NFL refused. This forced an extended road stint in which the Dolphins will not return to Miami for a game until their now week 5 home opener. In that span, the Dolphins will travel roughly 16,716 miles from the west coast, to the northeast coast, and across the Atlantic ocean, with stops in Miami between.
The cancelled home opener made the week 2 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers the Dolphins season opener. The game was rife with awkwardness. Before the game, Dolphins starting linebacker and key free agent acquisition, Lawrence Timmons, went AWOL. The Dolphins filled a missing persons report when the team couldn’t find him. A TMZ report says he was found at L.A.X. Airport, attempting to board a plane to see his daughter in Pittsburgh. Miami has since suspended the linebacker indefinitely (the league allows a maximum of four games for such penalties). The incident led the Dolphins to trade with the Saints for LB Stephone Anthony
Additionally, Miami played the opener in a soccer stadium in front of Chargers fans and a sea of Dolphin fans. In the offseason, Chargers owner Dean Spanos moved the team from San Diego to Los Angeles. There they will eventually share a new stadium with the Rams. In the meantime, the Chargers are playing home games in the under-equipped StubHub Center, known for hosting the L.A. Galaxy soccer team. The center has a capacity of 27,000, which is less than many small college stadiums. During the entire first half of the game, lines backed up because the staff were unable to get fans through the gates fast enough.
A billboard greeted fans, featuring Rodger Goodell superimposed with the words “No Freaking Loyalty”. Charger Fan Joseph MacCrae paid for the Billboard to protest the Chargers move to L.A. An airplane flew over the game toting a message reading, “Worst owner in sports? Dean Spanos pay your rent”. At one point during the game a referee announced a timeout charged to “San Diego”. Miami fans attending the game nearly outnumbered Charger fans. In some ways Miami did get a make-up home game as chants of “Let’s Go Dolphins!” rang clear from the stands, and crowd noise was notable when the Chargers were on offense.
Despite Antonio Gates breaking the all time record for TDs by a tight end and the hype around Jay Cutler’s return to football, the field goal kickers were the stars of the game. Just prior to the start of the season, Miami released their successful kicker Andrew Franks in favor of Cody Parkey. Parkey went 4 for 4 on field goals in the opener, including a 54 yard game winner. In contrast, Las Angeles kicker Younghoe Koo missed a potential game winner, after failing a similar kick in week 1. As Koo missed the kick the victory cannons mistakenly fired for a Chargers win.
Despite all of this Miami is 1-0 and will now travel to New York to face the Jets as heavy favorites amidst their home game drought. The Dolfans NYC fan club reports over 1,000 tickets sold to Miami fans in anticipation of their annual “Metlife Takeover” event, and more Dolphin fans have purchased tickets individually.
So, are the Dolphins and their fans destined to be road warriors in 2017 among a storm of madness?