It truly is one of the NFL’s better, bitter rivalries by any measure, and might be the best of all if one starts with the animus each city’s fans feel for the other. Welcome to Jets Week, Dolfans, except this latest renewal of Miami vs. New York limps in with the usual bravado nowhere to be found
The swagger has been thoroughly slapped from both teams.
The matchup is Embarrassment vs. Calamity.
So if the Dolphins and Jets are both down so low, why are the stakes so deliciously high?
This Monday night’s game at New York would be bigger if it involved unbeaten teams or playing for the AFC East lead, sure, or certainly better for TV ratings, at least. But for me the direness and the desperation swirling around the two teams’ 92nd meeting give it an element every bit as compelling.
Success is fine, but panic and failure have a macabre attraction all their own.
The Jets have lost three games in a row, the blustery wind knocked out of bodacious coach Rex Ryan. It is a good thing the team mascot is Fireman Ed because there are plenty of fires to put out up there.
Ryan’s supposedly vaunted defense has been beaten up for 98 points in those consecutive losses. And receivers have complained about the play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in what The New York Daily News described with its customary back-page headline subtlety as:
The Jets were among preseason Super Bowl favorites but now are at a loss to explain the losses, leaving us to savor and enjoy what once seemed impossible: Rex Ryan, humbled if not speechless.
Of course the Dolphins trump NYJ’s calamity with their own embarrassment of an 0-4 record, a head coach on the firing line and fans flocking onto the “Suck For Luck” bandwagon that advocates finishing awfully enough to gain the overall No. 1 draft pick and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
That Chad Henne’s shot in Miami is now likely past tense seemed obvious from the moment the club placed him on injured reserve last week, ending his season. The Henne era ebbing ranks up there in the Goes Without Saying category with coach Tony Sparano fighting for his job and the bulletin that Miami might not make the playoffs.
Sparano working for his coaching future Monday night alone makes this game’s stakes compellingly higher than any that would exist this early in a normal season.
The Dolphins lead the league in unhappiness (edging the Rams, Eagles, Colts and hard-charging Jets), but lead the state in football woe as well. Which is saying something.
We are — right now, at this very point in time — the state of sadness in football.
The Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles all lost Saturday on the same weekend for the first time since Oct. 30, 2004. And before that it had not happened since Oct. 14, 1978.
The rare weekend-gone-to-L meant none of our state’s college Big 3 is ranked in the latest Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 6, 1982, breaking a remarkable streak of 472 consecutive poll weeks with at least one state school (and often all three) represented.
The weekend was just as bleak in our NFL division, where the Jacksonville Jaguars blew three leads and lost to Cincinnati; the Tampa Bay Bucs were embarrassed, 48-3, in San Francisco; and only a blessed bye week spared the winless Dolphins.
You want some dubious history? Monday marked the first time ever (well, since the Jaguars were born in 1995) that fans of all six college and pro teams simultaneously awoke with every one of them coming off a loss.
A consoling note for the Hurricanes and coach Al Golden is that Florida under fellow first-year coach Will Muschamp and FSU under second-year man Jimbo Fisher are feeling some of the same growing pains.
I would see the Canes’ immediate future every bit as promising as those other two but for the unknown wild card of possible NCAA sanctions, an ominous caveat. As it is UM looked the best of the state’s troika Saturday in its thrilling 38-35 loss at Virginia Tech.
(Yes, a loss can be thrilling, and this might have been the best example of that South Florida has seen since the Dolphins’ 41-38 overtime loss to San Diego in the 1981 playoffs. Occasionally the proper immediate reaction to defeat is not necessarily outrage or complaint but simply, “Wow. What a game!”).
Some bright spots
Greater Miami should be thankful not all of our biggest sports teams are in the downturn that envelopes the Dolphins and football Hurricanes.
The Marlins have a new ballpark, with it an increased player payroll, and an exciting new manager in Ozzie Guillen.
The Panthers are on the ascent and seem poised to finally end their unfathomable 10-season hockey playoff drought.
The Heat? Well, the Heat will go right back to being enviably instant NBA championship contenders the minute the lockout at last ends.
It is only one sport — the one that happens to be closest to many of our hearts — that needs to play catch-up.
Football is down, the palpable cloud over what is still — despite it all — a football town.