If you’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the national press doesn’t like the Miami Dolphins, you are by no means alone, and the media’s reporting on players who started their careers with Miami, versus the exalted treatment many of them have received after they moved on to other teams would seem to reinforce this belief.
One of the first examples I remember seeing of this phenomenon was when former Dolphins center Jeff Dellenbach, a fourth round pick out of the University of Wisconsin in 1985, signed with the New England Patriots in the ‘95 offseason. Dellenbach, who didn’t start a single game for the Dolphins until 1991 -- his seventh season in Miami -- saw his stature as an NFL offensive lineman skyrocket overnight upon inking his new contract with New England. One sportswriter referred to him as ‘the valued center’ and predicted that his departure would be ‘a big loss’ for Miami. What that particular sportswriter failed to mention is that the reason Dellenbach became expendable in the first place was because the Dolphins had drafted another Big Ten center, Jeff Uhlenhake, out of Ohio State in the fifth round of the ‘89 draft and it only took him three years to become a starter on Miami’s OL.
One of the worst examples of media overreaction to a player leaving the Dolphins was when cornerback Troy Vincent left Miami in the ‘96 offseason to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Dolphins drafted Vincent in the first round of the ‘92 draft, and in his four years with Miami, he never made a single Pro Bowl. Yet, when the news broke that he was headed for Philadelphia, the press made him him out to be a future Hall of Famer for the Eagles. Now, the culture maniacs will probably tell you that the Eagles, like the aforementioned Patriots (even under Parcells and before Belichick arrived) had a better locker room environment, etc, and there is little doubt that that’s probably true. But these glowing assessments of the two players above were made before they even so much as stepped on the practice field for their new teams. The common denominator for Dellenbach and Vincent is that both players were signed by NFL teams from the Northeast, where much of the media is also based, but even so, it’s still pretty clear that the national press apparently holds players who used to play for the Dolphins in much higher regard when they’re playing for another team, and this was true even during the Shula/Marino years, when the Dolphins were a much more competitive team than they are today.
Now, of course, former Dolphins Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick are playing for the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively, and I feel a lot better about the compensation Miami received for Tunsil than I do about Fitzpatrick. Then again, they had more time to decide what they wanted to do with the former than the latter. The ‘Stinkah with Minkah’ was thrust upon the front office out of the blue, and I very strongly maintain that Fitzpatrick’s beef about playing for the Dolphins had every bit as much to do with their being a bad team as it did with his being moved around to different positions. He just couldn’t come out and say he didn’t want to play for a bad team, so he overstated his discontent with being moved around. At any rate, as was the case with Vincent, expect both players to be voted to more than one Pro Bowl after leaving Miami, and you can be sure that the perception of both players will not be limited exclusively to their play on the field, but to the way the Dolphins are regarded nationally, versus other teams. The only thing that will cure this condition, or at least put a dent in it, is winning.