Published: Sunday, September 14,
THE IMPERFECT SEASON
ON THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF 17-0, DAVE BARRY
REFLECTS ON THE FLATULENCE COVER-UP, JJ.'S INTENSITY VS THE
SHULA STARE, THE SPORTS AGENT AS SATAN, AND DAN MARINO'S SOUL.
BY DAVE BARRY, Herald Columnist
I'm standing in the lobby of the
Miami Dolphins' swank training center at Nova Southeastern
University in Davie, across the street from an apartment complex
called Sunforest (actual slogan: ``A Rental Community'').
I'm looking up at the wall over
the front doors, which is a shrine. It's not a shrine to Dan
Marino, even though he's by far the best-known, and best,
player ever to play here. No, it's a shrine to the 1972 Dolphins
-- the team that turned Miami into a dynasty; the only team
in NFL history to have a perfect season; the team that won
Miami's first NFL championship, then went on the next year,
with basically the same people, to win Miami's second -- and
last -- NFL championship.
These were the ruthlessly efficient,
unstoppable, kick-your-butt Dolphins. They could shut your
offense down, and when they got the ball they could throw
it on you, short or long, or they could hand it to Larry Csonka,
who would run it right through your defensive line, your defensive
secondary, your concrete stadium wall.
Csonka is depicted on a plaque
up on that wall, and so is Don Shula, and Bob Griese, and
Paul Warfield, and all the other guys who gave Miami its most
glorious sports moments ever. As I stand in the lobby and
look up at the faces of those legendary men, the thought that
comes into my mind -- call me sentimental -- is: ``Those legendary
men had some bad hairstyles.'' It was not their fault. It
was the '70s, when every adult male in America who was not
a hippie got the official sideburn-intensive Burt-Reynolds-in-
Smokey-and-the-Bandit model haircut. The 1972 Dolphins look,
on their plaques, like an old Ramada Inn lounge band with
a name like ``Disco Don and the Funk-O-Matics.''
But never mind how they looked.
The point is, they won . They won it all . Two Super Bowls,
baby. And so those Dolphins are revered in Miami, a town that
loves winning and does not tolerate losing, which is defined
as ``finishing anywhere other than No. 1.'' This is not a
loyal or patient sports town. This is not Detroit or Chicago,
where people will sit out in the sleet and root for their
Lions or their Bears through one mediocre decade after another,
the way their fathers did, and their fathers' fathers. This
is Miami, where almost everybody's father's father grew up
someplace else, Brooklyn or Bogota, Houston or Havana, Memphis
or Minsk. Most people haven't been here long; many don't expect
to remain here long. The local teams are not in their blood.
Sure, the Dolphins, the Heat,
the Marlins, the Panthers and the Hurricanes all have their
hard-core, thick-or-thin followings. But most fans are part
of a free-floating cloud that forms around whatever team happens
to be winning. (If no team is winning, the fan cloud goes
to the beach.)
In the 1980s, the cloud swirled
thick around the University of Miami Hurricanes, because the
Canes were winners, always in contention for No. 1. But in
recent years they've usually been, what, only in the top 10
or 20 . . . Losers! More recently the fan cloud moved on to
the Panthers, and for about 15 minutes there we were, all
waving plastic rats and cheering passionately for small-town
Canadians and explaining ``icing'' to each other. But then
last season the Panthers didn't even make it to the Stanley
Cup finals for God's sake, which meant they were . . . Losers!
And so the cloud formed around the Heat, couldn't get enough
of them -- Pat Riley was a genius! -- until they played the
Chicago Bulls and . . . They can't shoot! They suck! Next!
Right now the cloud is disorganized,
with some fans clustering around the Marlins (as long as they're
in the playoffs) and others swirling around the Hurricanes
(until they lose a game). But this is, in its soul, a pro-football
town, and the cloud would love, more than anything else, to
wrap itself close around the Dolphins once again.
But only if they win.
They have to win.
That's why Jimmy Johnson is now
the head coach. That's why Don Shula is not. Shula won more
football games than any other professional coach; he almost
always got his teams into the playoffs; there was no question
that he'd be in the Hall of Fame the instant he was eligible.
You could make the argument that he's one of the best coaches
-- maybe the best coach -- in any sport, ever. But he had
not won the Super Bowl, not been No. 1 , since 1973. Way too
long, for Miami. The sports-talk-radio callers -- who of course
know everything; who are convinced that you can acquire a
running game simply by going to some big vending machine somewhere
and putting in a few million quarters and pushing a button
that says ``RUNNING GAME'' -- said that Shula had lost his
edge, was getting old, was letting the game pass him by, wasn't
tough enough, had grown soft. The Miami fan cloud had decided
that Don Shula -- Don Shula -- was a loser. Next!
You never hear anybody say Jimmy
Johnson is soft. Oh, sure, Johnson is likable. He's outgoing
and often funny, and he loves to party. He doesn't seem to
care at all what people think of him: He makes amusingly self-deprecating
TV commercials; he laughs with you when you laugh at his hair;
he bought his girlfriend, Rhonda Rookmaaker, a pet dog named
Buttercup, which is a teacup Yorkshire terrier, one of those
terminally cute scuttling things about the size of a Raisinet,
a daringly wussy dog for a pro-football coach to be associated
with. So Johnson comes across as accessible and human, much
less intimidating to be around than Shula, who always seems,
even in social situations, on the verge of ordering everybody
to do wind sprints.
But when it comes to making personnel
decisions, Johnson is legendarily ruthless. Not an ounce of
ruth in him. It doesn't matter if you're a respected and beloved
veteran player who has given years of service to the team;
the instant that Jimmy thinks you're no longer giving him
what he needs to win now, you're gone. I don't mean this in
a critical way -- I really like Johnson -- but you get the
feeling that if you were on his boat in the middle of the
Atlantic, and it started to sink, Jimmy would not give you
a life preserver unless he was 100 percent sure he didn't
need it for himself, or a key offensive lineman, or anybody
else he thought was more likely than you to help his team
win. Including Buttercup.
This day in August is not a happy
one at the Dolphin training center. Partly it's the usual
late-preseason crankiness. Everybody except the owners, who
make money on it, eventually comes to hate the preseason,
because it goes on too long, and players get injured, and
the teams have to play too many (five) bogus ``preseason games''
-- putting ``preseason'' in front of ``game'' is like putting
``impersonator'' after ``Elvis'' -- that are basically an
excuse to charge fans good money to watch scrimmages.
There's a lot of tension around
all NFL training camps at this time of the year because the
coaches have to cut a lot of players to get their rosters
down to regular-season size. A lot of guys who have worked
their butts off see their careers go down the toilet in late
August. It's a scary time to be a fringe player; and on a
Jimmy Johnson team, almost anybody can be a fringe player.
But the big reason for the bad
mood at Dolphin camp is that a couple of days earlier, in
the scrim . . . excuse me, in the preseason game against the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dolphin regulars looked bad. This
was not supposed to happen. Traditionally, the Buccaneers
are to excellence in football as Hialeah is to ethics in government.
If the Dolphins are going to be winners this season, they
should have handled Tampa Bay; instead, they got pushed around,
causing Johnson to address the team in a postgame speech that
On top of that, there was the
Lamar Thomas episode. Thomas, a Dolphin receiver, was supposed
to start in Tampa, but he got into a loud argument -- loud
enough to alarm a security guard -- outside the team hotel
with his girlfriend, Ebony Cooksey. Johnson, who does not
want his players thinking about anything other than football,
was so angry that he sent Thomas home before the game.
Team sources said that the cause
of the argument between Thomas and Cooksey was that he didn't
want to let her have the keys to a house he maintains in Tampa.
But Thomas' agent, Howard Weinberg, told The Miami Herald
that the real cause was -- I am not making this up -- flatulence.
(You did not read this in The Miami Herald, because the subject
matter of the story, written by our excellent Dolphins beat
writer Armando Salguero, was deemed to be below the taste
standards of our sports section. Fortunately for you, here
at Tropic magazine we have no taste standards.)
Weinberg claims that while Thomas
and Cooksey were sitting in her car, talking calmly, Thomas
-- to use football parlance -- sliced a major hunk of Limburger,
thereby causing Cooksey to rapidly exit the car and yell at
Thomas in a laughing and good-natured fashion. The Dolphins
contend that it was not good-natured. We'll probably never
know what really happened, but since an agent is now involved,
the whole matter could easily be tied up in some kind of arbitration
for the next 10 years.
So anyway, the mood is not terrific
at the Dolphin training center as the morning practice ends
and we members of the news media are allowed, briefly, into
the team locker room, where, as is so often the case in professional
sports, we are as welcome as head lice. The problem is that,
by the 30th or 40th day of preseason, not only have the players
totally run out of things to say, but also they're tired;
they're hot; and they're worried about getting cut. They just
want to eat lunch, get some rest, call their wives and girlfriends,
But we in the media have to come
up with new stories every day, and so we must go up to players
and make them give us quotes, which most of them have learned
to do without really having to think about what they're saying,
which is why almost every quote you read from a professional
athlete sounds like it could come from just about any other
professional athlete in any other sport. Everybody is executing;
everybody is focusing; everybody is avoiding mental errors,
getting the job done, stepping up to the next level.
A lot of players avoid us. As
we enter the locker room, wily veteran quarterback Dan Marino,
a man who has faced NFL pass rushes for 14 seasons, sees us
coming, reads the situation, makes a move to his right and
-- showing great agility despite the fact that he has a bad
knee and a bad ankle and is holding a plate of food -- is
gone. Showing less wiliness is backup quarterback Craig Erickson,
who gives several interviews. When the cameras are rolling
and the notebooks are out, he speaks in Quote Mode, talking
about the need to focus and the failure to execute in the
Tampa Bay game; when his words are no longer being recorded,
he tells a reporter, human to human: ``It was just too many
mistakes, man. Too many `What the (bleep) is going on?' ''
In the middle of the locker room,
linebacker Anthony Harris is telling a camera, with great
sincerity: ``I put 150 percent into it every time I'm on the
field.'' This makes me feel old; I had no idea that we were
all the way up to 150 percent. I grew up in a world where
athletes always gave 110 percent, but I guess that's no longer
going to get the job done, not if you want to step up and
execute at the next level.
While the other media folks gather
quotes, I read the posters on the locker-room wall. Some of
them explain the official NFL policies on drugs (No); on gambling
(No); on tackling (``Don't block or tackle with the top of
your helmet . . . See what you hit!''); and on acceptable
player image (``Players must . . . present a professional
and appropriate appearance before the public on game day.
Among the types of activity that are prohibited are the use
of tobacco products while in the bench area and use of facial
makeup . . . ''). The poster does not state explicitly that
a player may not flip the bird at an entire stadium with both
hands, but we know from what happened to Bryan Cox in Buffalo
that this is also frowned upon.
After reading the posters, I weigh
myself on the computerized locker-room scale, which is next
to a chart showing all the players' weights before and after
each practice. I weigh the same as cornerback Sam Madison
before practice, although he has a definite edge on me --
I'd estimate five minutes -- in the 40-yard dash. This is
why Madison reportedly makes $280,000 a year, although for
the purpose of the salary cap his value is $461,300. I mention
this only because it's a violation of modern journalism ethics
to write a sports story without using the term ``salary cap.''
Truthfully, I don't know what it means. I asked The Herald's
Salguero to give me a simple explanation, and for a minute
there, as he was speaking, I thought I understood the salary
cap, but now it's gone from my brain, and when I review my
notes, they look like this:
``$41m player's base plus a pro
rata portion of (illegible) based on number of yrs of his
(looks like `congress') add those up that's what (illegible)
cost 53 players unless two or more (illegible) filing joint
I never understood the Infield
Fly Rule, either.
After lunch we go outside to watch
the Dolphins' afternoon practice. Coaches in shorts and ball
caps are frowning at the players, sizing them up the way a
rancher sizes up a bull; guys are yelling mysterious-football-code
instructions such as ``SET 190! 190!''; everybody's dripping
sweat; testosterone fills the air. Huge offensive linemen
-- who look almost fat in the locker room; who lumber when
they walk -- hunker down into their stances, and then, when
they hear the signal, raise up all at once with a quickness
that seems impossible for their size, their legs moving with
Rockette-like coordination, their steps precise and almost
dainty. Elsewhere, a fullback explodes into a blocking sled,
lifting its front off the ground (later, when there's nobody
around, I try running into the sled, and bounce off like a
Ping-Pong ball from a locomotive). Elsewhere, the special
teams are practicing punt returns; the ball rockets off the
punter's foot into the sky, out of the atmosphere, around
the troubled space station Mir; then it comes screaming back
to Earth toward a slim, lonely looking player who, somehow
ignoring the herd of very large men thundering down the field
toward him, manages to catch it. (He'd better catch it. Jimmy
is watching. ) Elsewhere, the quarterbacks are limbering up
their arms, Marino holding a ball, joking with the guy next
to him, then casually turning to look downfield and -- ZIP
-- there it is, the famous Quick Release, the ball hissing
through the air like the head of a striking snake, so that
from 20 yards away it would hit a physically normal person
in the face before he could get his hands up. But of course
there are no physically normal people playing this game.
On the sidelines, we mortals in
the media watch the practice and chat, waiting to see if anybody
breaks a leg, waiting for our chance to get quotes from Johnson.
I'm watching and chatting with Armando Salguero and Harvey
Greene, who is the Dolphins' director of media relations,
which means that his job is to keep the media AND the players
AND Jimmy Johnson happy, which is impossible, which is why
Harvey often has the expression of a rabbit at a dog show.
But he's one of the best in the
business, and we in the media love him, and not just because
he decides who gets game-day parking passes. He also entertains
us. On this day, he and Armando are talking about the time,
several years ago, when the practice was suddenly canceled
because lightning struck a nearby tree, setting it on fire.
Harvey points out the tree, then he and Armando have this
HARVEY: What's amazing is, the
tree still works.
ARMANDO: The tree still works? You mean like, it's performing
HARVEY: Whatever trees do.
Just before the practice ends,
cornerback Calvin Jackson goes down and has to be taken off
the field on a golf cart. This is something the Dolphins do
not need; injuries have already put several key players out
for the season. Also apparently the practice did not go well,
because when Johnson comes off the field, he holds an extremely
short press conference, consisting almost entirely of Johnson
staring straight ahead and saying, through gritted teeth,
``We'll be fine.''
``Any more questions?'' asks Harvey,
his tone clearly warning that any fool who asks a question
when the coach is in this mood will never, as long as he lives,
get another parking pass. Nobody says anything.
``See you later,'' says Johnson,
So we are left to find other sources
for our quotes. I decide to try Drew Rosenhaus, who is a sports
agent and also, in the minds of many sports lovers, Satan.
Drew will not be offended that I called him Satan: Drew is
the ultimate example of a guy who doesn't care what you say
about him, as long as you spell his name right. These headlines
would be OK with Drew:
DREW ROSENHAUS KIDNAPPED LINDBERGH
DREW ROSENHAUS LINKED TO JFK ASSASSINATION
DREW ROSENHAUS IS SOLE CAUSE OF GLOBAL WARMING
Rosenhaus often attends preseason
Dolphins practice, watching from the stands with his ear glued
to his cellular phone, which rings immediately whenever he
finishes a call. I ask him why he comes to practice.
``It's good to see what happens,
see how guys are doing,'' he says. ``If I see [defensive tackle]
Tim Bowens make four sacks, when I'm negotiating with Jimmy,
he's not going to be able to tell me Tim's not doing well.
And it's good for recruiting. The players get to see you.
Guys like to see their agents out here.''
Rosenhaus is famously aggressive
in pursuing players whom he wants to represent, even if they're
already represented by other agents. Defensive tackle Daryl
Gardener, who is the size of several Florida keys, claims
that Rosenhaus, making his pitch, once followed him into a
men's room and locked the door. (Rosenhaus denies the part
about locking the door.)
``My competitors don't like me,''
Rosenhaus tells me. ``They think I'm out here to recruit their
``But you are ,'' I say.
``Yes, I admit it,'' he says.
``But it's a free country.''
It troubles me to say this, but
I find myself actually kind of liking Rosenhaus. He's slimy,
but he's openly slimy. It's refreshing. It's as if Bill Clinton
suddenly stopped trying to sound like Billy Graham and shouted,
``Hell YES I inhaled!''
I spend 10 minutes talking to
Rosenhaus. Actually, I spend 10 minutes listening to Rosenhaus,
who, when he gets warmed up, talks much faster than I can
think. He tells me he has a new book coming out, called A
Shark Never Sleeps , which will have a cover photo showing
Drew on a football field, wearing a suit and standing in front
of a table covered with a lot of money. (``The idea was being
on the football field with a suit and a lot of money,'' he
explains.) He introduces me to one of his newer clients, Olindo
Mare, who has just beat out Joe Nedney to become the Dolphins'
kicker. Rosenhaus manages to make it sound as though he, Drew
Rosenhaus, is primarily responsible for this; as though Olindo
Mare, when Drew found him, was lying comatose in a ditch with
only one leg.
Finally, by (really) holding my
hand over Rosenhaus' mouth, I am able to quiet him long enough
to speak directly to Mare. I'm trying to ask him if the coaches
have warned him against trying to pass the ball, the way Garo
Yepremian did in that legendary play from Super Bowl VII in
1973. You remember: The Dolphins were leading the Redskins
14-0 with about two minutes left in the game -- and their
perfect season -- when Yepremian tried a 41-yard field goal.
The kick was blocked, and Yepremian, instead of falling on
the ball, picked it up and threw a . . . well, you couldn't
really call it a pass; Garo looked like a man trying to swat
away a rabid bat. The ball was caught by Mike Bass, who at
the time happened to be playing for the Redskins, and who
returned it for a touchdown. Suddenly the perfect season was
in jeopardy, a fact that did NOT make Garo a popular individual
when he returned to the sidelines. It is very fortunate for
Garo that the Dolphins won the game, because now he is a beloved
local sports personality, as opposed to a local sports personality
with a permanent crater in his face shaped like Larry Csonka's
So I'm asking Olindo Mare about
this famous bit of Dolphins lore, getting deeper and deeper
into the story, and he's looking at me with this mystified
expression, and suddenly it hits me: He doesn't know what
I'm talking about. Mare is 23 years old; when the Dolphins
had their perfect season, he did not exist. He seems a little
offended that I'd compare him to some old guy who couldn't
even throw a pass.
``We're athletes, not kickers,''
Now I'm feeling really old. I'm
afraid to ask Mare what percent he puts out. I'm thinking
it could be as high as 175.
The kicking game is important,
of course. But the kicker is only one player; there are more
than 50 other men out here -- big men, tough men, men who
are trying to survive in one of the most violent sports, men
who have spent the past two months toiling and sweating day
after brutal day in the South Florida heat and grime. And
the question that we must ask ourselves, as we look at these
1997 Miami Dolphins, is: What are their laundry procedures?
For that information we turn to
Tony Egues, the team equipment manager, who's in charge of
a large, spotless, well-organized facility next to the team
locker room that contains, among other pieces of equipment,
three computerized washing machines that look like they belong
on the space shuttle. These are in a room behind doors with
signs that say: ``CAUTION BIOLOGICAL HAZARD.'' This warning,
contrary to what you might think, does not refer to the massive
daily accumulation (try not to even think about it) of unlaundered
jockstraps. It refers to the laundry chemicals, which, Egues
explains, have to be a lot stronger than ordinary household
detergents to get out those stubborn stains you get when very
large men stomp and sweat and spit and puke and bleed all
over each other's garments.
But the biggest problem, Egues
says, is getting the Dolphins to put their laundry in the
two mesh bags that each player is assigned.
``In a Utopia,'' Egues says, ``they
would all use their own mesh bags. But in the real world,
they leave stuff around, and they go into other players' mesh
bags.'' He sighs. ``It's like children.''
Egues says that, because of all
the loose laundry, the equipment people eventually learn to
recognize individual players' garments.
``You'll see something,'' he says,
``and you'll think, `This belongs to Danny.' ''
Speaking of Marino: His jerseys
are never washed. Right after each game, Marino hands his
jersey to Egues; so that it can be auctioned off to raise
money for Marino's charitable foundation.
Marino is not an intellectual,
and when it comes to eloquence he is not Winston Churchill,
or even Winston Churchill's cigar. (Reporters love to do imitations
of Marino, speaking in very short sentences consisting primarily
of very bad words.) But Marino is one of the genuinely good
guys in sports, regularly giving his time to a number of causes.
For example: As I'm leaving the practice field one afternoon,
I stop and watch Marino and guard Keith Sims hang out with
some kids who have been brought to Dolphins training camp
by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Florida, which grants
wishes to terminally ill children. Sims is talking to a 13-year-old
boy named Dylan, who has cancer. Dylan is showing Sims his
``What,'' Sims is saying, in mock
indignation, ``you don't have a Keith Sims card?''
A few feet away, Marino is talking to a wide-eyed 8-year-old
named Brian, who has had major surgery lately and is clearly
not doing well. Brian looks at the scars on Marino's much-repaired
knee; he then raises his T-shirt and shows his own scars,
which are far too big for his tiny body.
Marino, who looks so uncomfortable
when he's surrounded by the media, appears totally relaxed
here, in no hurry to leave. He chats with Brian's family and
patiently signs his name on every article of clothing being
worn by Brian and Brian's brother and sister. He also signs
a football, then stands up to grant one of Brian's wishes,
which is to catch a pass thrown by Dan Marino, the quarterback
who has thrown for more yards, and more touchdowns, than anybody
else in NFL history. Brian goes out for the pass, maybe five
yards. Marino gently tosses the ball, and Brian, who is not
going to miss this ball for anything in the world, grabs it
and hugs it to himself, smiling radiantly, and I'm telling
you that this was the greatest catch I've ever seen.
Then Dylan, who would also like
to catch a Dan Marino pass, comes over, and Marino grabs a
``Where should I run?'' asks Dylan.
Marino surveys the practice field.
It is vast. It is the size of Connecticut. It is empty. There
is not a single person on it, other than Dylan.
``Just get open,'' says Marino.
Dylan starts running; Marino throws
the ball right to him; Dylan drops it.
``Bad throw,'' says Marino, as
Dylan trots back. ``You're gonna catch this one. Just don't
go so far.''
Dylan starts running again. Marino
throws the ball; it's a tight spiral, but it's thrown so softly
that it hardly seems to be moving. A statue could catch this
ball. It floats to Dylan and drops securely into his hands.
I'm telling you that this was the greatest throw I've ever
As Marino is leaving, he promises
the two boys he'll see them the next night in the Dolphins
locker room at Pro Player Stadium, after the final preseason
game against the Redskins. Dylan, joking, says, ``Don't be
mean to me if you lose!''
``We're not gonna lose,'' says
And they don't. They beat the
Redskins fairly easily in a weeknight game at Whatever Company
Is Currently Paying To Have Joe Robbie Stadium Named After
It Stadium. The Dolphins build an early lead, thanks largely
to the fact that the Redskin quarterbacks -- perhaps as a
symbolic gesture of thanks to commemorate the 25th season
since Garo Yepremian's pass to Mike Bass -- keep throwing
the ball to the Dolphins. Most of the action comes in the
first half, when the Dolphins look dominant, much better than
they did at Tampa Bay, prompting George Richards, a Herald
sportswriter sitting next to me in the press box, to remark:
`` Somebody opened up a can of whup-ass.''
``A what ?'' I ask.
George explains that this is an
old country saying, meaning to act in a very aggressive manner.
I think it's a wonderful expression and everybody should use
it whenever possible.
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton,
responding firmly to reports of Iranian troop movements near
the Kuwait border, today sent an official communique to Saddam
Hussein stating: ``Don't MAKE me come over there and open
up a can of whup-ass.''
The Redskins game, as preseason games so often do, turns boring
in the second half, as both coaches, not wanting to injure
key people, send in their marginal players, their high-school
seniors, their mail room personnel. Earl Morrall starts the
fourth quarter. The fans are leaving; the press box is snoring.
Everybody wants the real season to begin already.
I feel especially sorry for the
Dolphins cheerleaders, who have to keep cheering and smiling
and doing perky synchronized dances long after the crowd has
lost all its enthusiasm. (Dorie Braddy, the director of cheerleaders,
told me that the cheerleaders, who rehearse three or four
nights a week for three or four hours a night, make only $25
each per game. She also said that the biggest problem with
pro-football fans, in South Florida and elsewhere, is that
they are, in a word, dead. ``They just sit there,'' she said.
``You want them to react. If you're yelling `Defense!'you
want them to yell `Defense!' '')
After the game we media people
head down to the locker rooms for quotes. The players are
strewing laundry everywhere, not using their mesh bags. I
go to Marino's locker; I want to get a quote from him on the
game's Official Giveaway Item for fans age 12 and under: a
Dan Marino figurine, made in China. The striking thing about
the Dan Marino figurine is that there are few people on Earth
that it resembles less than Dan Marino. It's wearing No. 13
and passing a football, but it has a disproportionately large
head with strange coloring and a sinister grin. I would not
want to be a child age 12 and under and wake up from a bad
dream and look at my nightstand and find myself staring at
-- BigHead, the Vampire Quarterback!
Marino, having given his quotes
to the media, is getting dressed when I walk up and show him
``Does this look like you?'' I
He examines it.
``No,'' he says. Then he examines
it again and adds, by way of amplification, ``No, no, no,
``So that's a `no,' '' I say,
writing it down.
After he's dressed, Marino goes
over to the Make-A-Wish kids, Brian and Dylan, who are waiting
with their families near a locker-room exit. He signs some
more stuff for them, poses for more pictures, spends a few
minutes talking quietly to the two boys. Then he says goodbye.
``See you, Dan,'' says Dylan.
``See you,'' says Marino.
``See you,'' says Dylan, again.
Finally the preseason ends. Finally
it's opening day, a game that counts, against the Indianapolis
Colts. The crowd -- around 70,000; not quite a sellout --
gathers early at Whatever Stadium, getting mentally prepared
for the game by buying licensed merchandise and barbecuing
enough meat to feed North Korea for a year. People are also
taking pictures of each other posing next to the statue of
Don Shula, which accurately reproduces that scary Shula Stare,
the one that looks like it could burn a hole through eight
inches of steel. This is an intimidating statue. I think that
if you replaced an actual NFL head coach with this statue
-- put it on the sidelines, mounted on a swivel base so you
could point it at players, referees, other coaches, etc. --
it would probably get you into the playoffs.
The opening-day crowd is in a
festive mood. Tailgaters whoop as they watch a small motorcade
go past, featuring a float with some cheerleaders and the
``T.D.,'' which is a guy in a
costume shaped like H. Wayne Huizenga.
No, seriously, it's shaped like
a dolphin wearing a football helmet, which more and more of
your smarter dolphins are now doing in the wild. Leading the
motorcade is the legendary Dolfan Denny, who has been inspiring
the fans by making hard-to-describe pelvic motions on the
sidelines of Dolphins games since shortly after the Civil
War. He's wearing a shiny silver helmet and driving a swoopy
three-wheeled motorcycle. Riding all alone in the back seat
of this motorcycle, like a head of state in a ceremonial parade,
is: a hamburger. Go, team!
Inside, the crowd is being entertained
by an on-field competition featuring the Hooters Owl, which
is the official owl of the Hooters restaurant chain (motto:
``Proof That Men Really Are Scum''). The Hooters Owl is a
person inside an owl costume the size of a UPS truck. The
owl walks erratically, jiggling and twitching and staggering
( Today on Geraldo: Big Owls On Drugs! ) as fans try to win
prizes by hitting it with footballs. As a sports-event promotion,
this truly captures the intellectual essence of the Hooters
And then the game begins. It's
a game that lives up to the words of the Miami Dolphins Fight
We're in the air,
We're on the ground,
And then we're in the air again, because we're not doing so
well on the ground.
They're not doing so well in the
air, either; Marino is having an off game. But the defense
and special teams are playing very well, and Olindo Mare --
athlete, not kicker -- is having a spectacular first game.
He's not only kicking off and making field goals; he's also,
suddenly, punting -- something he has barely practiced with
the Dolphins -- in place of John Kidd, who has pulled a hamstring.
I'm beginning to wonder if maybe they should forget about
that Yepremian incident and let Mare try throwing the ball.
The Dolphins put one good drive
together and lead 10-7 at halftime. The halftime show features
a musical number by the Dolphins cheerleaders dressed as biker
chicks, plus a bunch of guys on Harleys, plus (Why not?) a
team of U.S. Navy SEALs parachuting onto the field, sending
this message from the American military to the nation, and
``We will go anywhere where there
are women in really tight shorts.''
Mare kicks two more field goals
in the second half, but the game gets tense at the end, as
the Colts start moving the ball on the wet field, kicking
a field goal to make it 16-10, and then getting the ball back
with an onsides kick. And now they're driving again, and the
game is on the line, and the stadium is bedlam, and the hitting
on the field is fierce, and players are covered with mud and
sweat, and Tony Egues, passing by on the Dolphins' sideline,
shouts into my ear: ``LAUNDRY NIGHTMARE, BABY!'' And Jimmy
Johnson, the way coaches do, is going clinically insane, whirling
away from the field in disgust as the Colts complete a pass,
spitting out profanity, then whirling, his face red with rage,
to scream something at a line judge, getting in the man's
face, looking as though he's a millimeter away from opening
up a major can of whup-ass.
No need. The Dolphins' defense
holds, the game ends, the players, dirty and dog-tired, trudge
off the field. In his postgame press conference, Johnson praises
the defense and special teams, but shakes his head over the
``Obviously, we gotta play better,''
he says. ``Dan wasn't throwing the ball very well.''
In the locker room, Marino, speaking
to the crowd of reporters that always forms around his locker,
``I'm missin' throws,'' he says.
When the reporters leave, Marino
puts on a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts and walks slowly away
from his locker. He's had operations -- you don't want to
know how many -- on both legs; he walks with a limp. His right
calf is shrunken, distinctly smaller than his left. He will
not be playing forever. The way it goes in football, he may
not still be playing by the time you read this. I hope he
is; hope it's a good season; hope the Dolphins get into the
playoffs with the fan cloud roiling wild around them. It'd
be fun to see them make the Super Bowl, although nobody really
thinks they will, at least not this year; Jimmy's official
timetable says that's for next year, when Marino will be a
year older -- maybe too old, maybe too gimpy.
And the team has to win. Jimmy
will not let this team not win, and if he thinks he has to,
he'll bench No. 13.
I don't feel sorry for Marino,
exactly; he makes millions, and his place is secure in the
Hall of Fame. But he has never been on a team like the 1972
Dolphins, the guys whose faces are up on the wall at team
headquarters, whose names are permanently inscribed in the
hearts of the bedrock Dolphin fans. Marino has played superbly,
played his heart out, played with injuries that would have
most people on crutches; but he may never be able to give
this town what those guys did.
I say we root for him anyway.
© 1997 Dave Barry.
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