It’s all about expectations right now. And expectations can be a dangerous thing.
How many games will we win? Will we make the playoffs? Win the division? Win the Super Bowl?
We’ve reached that time in the year when fans of all teams across the NFL ask themselves these questions about how they expect the approaching season to unfold. Historically this is the time of year when most fans are filled with the hope and optimism that a new season brings. Anything can happen. Every team has a shot.
Well - unless you're a Miami Dolphins fan.
A decade of disaster
Over the past nine seasons, the Dolphins have gone 58-86, an abysmal .403 winning percentage. And all Dolphin fans know that the win-loss record only tells part of the sad story that has beaten down the team’s supporters, killed ticket sales, and allowed cynicism to seep into this once proud fan base.
It wasn’t always this way. Though it seems like generations ago, there was a time when every new season brought with it that exciting "this is our year" kind of feeling. While I wasn’t around yet to see those great early to mid ‘70s teams, I am old enough to recall those glorious (if consistently disappointing) days of Dan Marino. No, the season never ended as we had all hoped it would. But there was always next year - that promise that next year "could be our year."
Even after Marino’s retirement, each training camp and preseason was initially filled with that now seemingly elusive hope and promise. But by the end of the Dave Wannstedt era the tide had began to turn and our annual hope and optimism had started to wane. The years that would follow would bring us down a path that would result in the birth of the jaded Dolphins fan.
The 2006 season saw the Dolphins - a popular Super Bowl pick by certain folks in the national media - fail miserably, never coming remotely close to meeting expectations. The 2007 season was filled with unspeakable horror. The 2008 offseason would bring us our presumed new "football savior" - who would promptly take his cash from the organization and run away with his tail between his legs after back-to-back underachieving seasons that began with offseason hype and ended in regular season failure.
It’s pretty easy to see why this now downtrodden Miami Dolphins fan base regularly enters this time of the year with low expectations. The organization itself, though, enters this time of the year quite differently. From the owner to the coaches to the players, a lot of smoke gets blown up our asses in July and August. We hear the coaches and players say things like "anything can happen" or "this year’s team is more prepared to compete." We get told of the team’s high expectations and playoff aspirations.
Is the tide turning back?
Just as we’ve all come to expect, there has been a flurry of quotes and tweets from the players recently that have been filled with the same annual rhetoric we have all come to expect...with one noticeable difference.
This year feels different. The positive vibe around this team doesn’t feel forced. It doesn’t appear to be contrived. It feels authentic. It appears genuine.
Indeed there is an excitement in the air surrounding these Miami Dolphins. The stands being packed with 2,700 fans for their first practice of training camp (most for a camp practice since ‘06) is proof that fans want to believe. Fans appear ready to give the Dolphins their time and attention. But not their money - not yet.
Ticket sales have not rebounded very much yet - and for good reason. We’ve all been duped before by this team. We need to see it to believe it. We don’t want these coaches and players to tell us they will be good. We need to see it with our own eyes.
That doesn’t mean the excitement and positive aura that surrounds this team isn’t real. It’s real...for now. It will linger deep into August and cross over into September. How deep into the fall and winter these feelings last, however, will depend on what we all witness on the field.
The complications of expectations
All teams want high expectations that create enthusiasm and drive ticket sales. But sometimes expectations can rise too high too fast, setting an unrealistic bar that might be too difficult to clear.
Like it or not, the Dolphins find themselves in that very position. And it’s the two most recent offseasons that are the driving force behind these lofty expectations - having used a top 10 draft pick on a quarterback in 2012 and following that up by handing out $171 million ($78.5 million of which is guaranteed) in contracts to seven players just months ago.
Over the past month, I’ve noticed that fans have some rather lofty expectations for the 2013 Miami Dolphins - making the playoffs, winning the division, and even advancing deep into the postseason.
Right now, the effects of these expectations are all positive. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Anticipation. But if the Dolphins fall short and don’t clear the bar that’s been set, things will only get worse for the organization - as fan excitement and enthusiasm turn to anger, disappointment, and apathy.
Like I said, expectations are a dangerous thing.