Miami Dolphins fans,
You have been called out on multiple occasions. You have been consistently named the worst fanbase in the NFL by studies like this one and placed near the bottom of rankings like this one. It would be surprising if most of you don’t take this personally, and it will be interesting to see how you respond.
The way fans respond to a game like the Dolphins’ first preseason game against the Giants will be indicative of the difference between a reliable, passionate, supporting fanbase and fair-weather spectators. Impatient fans will see yet another poor performance from the starting offense, stemming from yet another poor performance from the offensive line. They will feel a lingering sense of doom as they contemplate all zero of the first downs produced by the starting line-up, a conversion rate that stood well into the playtime of the second string. In contrast, passionate fans will see flashes of promise. They will see a 27-10 victory. They will see three forced turnovers. They will see Bobby McCain’s pass deflection and Brent Grimes-like interception. They will see aggressive D-line play from the second string, especially Julius Warmsley. They will see the electric potential in rookie Jakeem Grant.
This same contrast can be applied to the fans’ perception of the upcoming season. Fans could focus on the fact that Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs or been over .500 for 7 years. They could focus on the fact that there are lingering questions at quarterback. They could focus on the fact that the offensive line has ranked in the bottom 3 in sacks allowed for the past 3 seasons. They could focus on the loss of key players like Brent Grimes, Olivier Vernon, or Lamar Miller. They could focus on the absolutely brutal schedule that begins with visits to Seattle and New England, before continuing on a stretch filled with games against playoff teams. Or, they could be too excited by several promising changes to be dragged down by all of that.
The changes to the Miami Dolphins franchise that will be on display during the 2016 NFL season should make a solid fanbase, at best, electrically excited, and at worst, undeniably curious.
One exciting change doesn’t even depend on the performance of the team. Steven Ross’s $400 million renovation and expansion of stadium amenities will be completed and ready for fans to enjoy this season. This will be the first season in Miami Dolphins history that shade and shielding from the rain is provided for fans. At the same time the new cover will not eliminate the iconic sunny Florida weather that’s been essential to the franchise identity throughout its history. The cover is open over the field and open at the top of the stands. This should make for comfortable, yet sunny, outdoor games. This is not to mention other improvements, including, but not limited to: new seats, new video boards, and stands closer to the field.
If the stadium isn’t enough to energize a decent fanbase, new player personnel should be intriguing. Personnel decisions have been handed to first time GM Chris Grier, and some big moves have been made already. Yes, fans may have reason to be concerned over the loss of certain players, but there is also reason to be excited over no shortage of additions. Free agents are key. Former 1st overall pick Mario Williams brings his 96 career sacks, Arian Foster brings his 6,472 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns, Kiko Alonso prior to battling injuries was touted as one of the best up and coming linebackers in the league, Byron Maxwell came as a virtual bonus to the Alonso deal, and Andre Branch is a former 2nd round pick that adds depth to the defensive line. There are also several promising rookies coming out of the draft class. Laremy Tunsil is touted league-wide as a steal for the Dolphins. Jakeem Grant clearly showed Darren Sproles-like flashes in the preseason game against the Giants, and Xavien Howard brings size to the corner position that the Dolphins have lacked in recent years.
A big part of the reason it’s common in the NFL to see the axing of coaches like two time Super Bowl champion Tom Coughlin, is that fans often scream for such moves. Why? Because fans know the possibilities of the future are wide open any time there’s a coaching regime change. Did the Patriots ever dream of becoming the dynasty they have become when they snatched a certain Browns cast-off as head coach? Would the 49ers have expected to make an NFC Championship appearance followed by a Super Bowl appearance when they hired Jim Harbaugh? Would the Dolphins expect to make the biggest single season turnaround in history, going from 1-15 to 11-5 division champs when they hired Tony Sporano? Changes can happen over-night when new coaching regimes are involved, and the Dolphins not only have a new coaching regime, they have a regime led by a man touted as a cure to quarterback woes. A man who directed Tim Tebow to a winning season and a playoff victory. A man who oversaw the greatest statistical passing season in NFL history (via Payton Manning 2013). A man who found a way to get the maligned Jay Cutler to post his only season passer rating over 90.
In conclusion, Miami Dolphins fans, you have been called out. Both studies and rankings have named you the worst, or nearly the worst, fanbase in the NFL. This doesn’t mean bad, or poor, it means the worst, the bottom scum of the barrel. They have suggested you are unreliable, unfaithful, lacking passion, lacking community, lacking unity, lacking loyalty. They have suggested you will turn on your team when exposed to frustration. This offseason, your franchise may not have addressed every concern you have, but they have made a notable attempt at addressing many of them. Now the ball’s in your court. What is the Dolphins fanbase, really? This is a question that can never be entirely and objectively answered, but a question for which the answer will become much more clear during the 2016 NFL season. How will you respond Miami fans?