Like any dastardly villain, Bill Belichick places a great deal of emphasis on settling old scores, and nearly two years to the day after having been humiliated by the Dolphins in the ‘Wildcat Game’ in week three of the 2008 season, he finally got his chance, in week four of the 2010 campaign. Although New England had beaten Miami on the road later in the ‘08 season and the two teams split their home and away games in 2009, the 2010 Monday night affair in Miami Gardens gave Belichick’s troops a golden opportunity to lay a drubbing on the Dolphins in front of a national television audience, and they made the most of that opportunity.
Throughout both teams’ histories, their fates have always seemed inextricably intertwined; oddly, the football gods have apparently mandated that they can never both be very good at the same time. Indeed, after winning at the Orange Bowl in the Dolphins’ inaugural 1966 season, New England would not win another regular season game there again until 1986, although they nearly pulled off the feat on Monday night, December 8th, 1980, the same night John Lennon was fatally shot in New York City. I remember the news of the shooting scrolling across the bottom of the screen just before Uwe Von Schamann kicked the game winning field goal in overtime. Other than a brief blip in the mid 80’s — the Dolphins lost Super Bowl XIX to the Niners in January ‘85 while the Pats lost to the Bears in Super Bowl XX the following year — anytime one of the franchises has reveled in riches, the other has tended to languish in rags.
But back to the 2010 Monday night debacle. It was clear almost from the outset that Belichick intended not to just beat the Dolphins, but humiliate them. No doubt still rankled from having been denied his place in history less than three years earlier as the coach of the NFL’s first 19-0 team, by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, the Hoodie Boy also had the added motivation of wanting to exact a measure of revenge for the embarrassing week three loss in 2008 to a rudderless team that had finished 1-15 a year earlier and came into Gillette Stadium at 0-2 that September afternoon. Although it took two seasons to come to pass, Bill finally had payback in his sights, and he wasn’t going to miss. To wit, he even attempted to burn the Dolphins with a fake spike play, reminiscent of Marino’s game winning touchdown pass to Mark Ingram at the Meadowlands against the Jets in 1994.
Although the Dolphins held a tenuous 7-6 lead at halftime, things would quickly unravel at the start of the third quarter. New England outscored Miami by the score of 35-7 in the second half to win 41-14, and scored on a 103 yard kickoff return, a 51 yard interception return and a 35 yard blocked field goal return, and special teams coach John Bonmego was fired the next day. But the ramifications of this game would continue to haunt the Dolphins for the rest of the decade. Worse than the dramatic big plays the Pats repeatedly peeled off was the way they ran Miami’s defense up and down the field with their hurry-up offense, resulting in the lasting image of gassed Dolphin defenders standing with hands on hips, trying in vain to catch their breath as Brady brought his team up to the line to run play after play after play.
You can probably guess most of the rest. One of the basic, fundamental flaws of human psychology is that when we have difficulty with an existing system, or that system’s shortcomings are exposed by a far more talented individual, superior organization or in this case, another football team, we have a tendency to want to scrap the whole project and tear everything down. To, in essence, throw the baby out with the bathwater. It wasn’t Tony Sparano’s fault that he hadn’t been blessed to have a quarterback who could go toe to toe with Tom Brady for sixty minutes. Only two or three teams in the NFL did have such a quarterback a decade ago, but fourteen months later, Sparano was fired, and the Dolphins went to a finesse based squad filled with track stars and soft players like Jonathan Martin, Dion Jordan and Clyde Gates, and the Dolphins never recovered. Belichick and the Patriots did something far worse than just embarrass us that night a decade ago; they caused us to abandon our identity, to forget who we were as an organization and football team. Let us hope that it never happens again. Oh — and by the way, they’re still four games under .500 against us all time.