A doe-eyed little boy with tufted hair and a gap-toothed grin, bedecked in a well-worn Dan Marino jersey, peers blithely upwards at his father. A wearisome man, the years etched firmly on his visage, sits beleaguered on their living room sofa, his own Zach Thomas jersey showing its age as much as he.
“Papa.” the boy says with a weirdly Cockney accent for a child born and raised in the mid-eastern United States, “Tell me about the 2023 Miami Dolphins.”
The man casts his gaze upward as if trying to find a wisp of hope dancing across the ceiling.
“Alright, son,” he sighs.
“I’ll tell you.
Once upon a time, there was a team. A team of speedy upstarts, they were faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than the little locomotives that lead trains around the mall at the holidays. They were a finesse team is what I’m saying.
This team was led on the field by a man who simultaneously drew both nearly unrivaled optimism and untethered vitriol from the fans. Off the field, they were helmed by a determined, if diminutive, coach: bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to take on the world.
Their season began with a lightning strike, beating a presumably capable L.A. Chargers team opening week en route to starting off 3-0.”
“Papa, I thought the Chargers played in San Diego.”
The man ruffles the boy’s hair, forcing a wry smile.
“They always will in our hearts.
Now the 2023 Dolphins put up a near record 70 points in their Week 3 win, prompting the Fin faithful to start really believing that this group might be different from past years.
Of course, as is the Miami Way, they were quickly brought back to reality with a 20-48 mauling by the Buffalo Bills the very next week.”
“I hate the Bills!” the boy rifles.
“Now, now.” The man says chuckling. “Everyone hates the Bills.
The team continued its up and down play, sometimes exploding offensively, sometimes stifling their opponents defensively, and sometimes doing neither, but often winning regardless. By the time they reached a Week 14 contest with the Tennessee Titans, they were positioned well for a postseason run.
Alas, they fell back into their old ways. Or so fans thought. Mike McDaniel, for that was the rascally coach’s government name, told the team that the loss to the Titans would be ‘The best thing that’s ever happened to us’.
And his words seemed prescient when, the very next week, they rebounded to crush the New York Jets 30-0. Even better, they followed that up with a 22-20 thriller against a top NFC team in the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve. Things were looking bright for the 2023 Fins as that victory clinched a playoff spot and left open the possibility of an AFC East title.
Then, Week 17 took the team to Baltimore to face the AFC leading Ravens with a chance to put a stamp on their season heading into a finale rematch against the Bills.”
The boy grips his fluffy Cameron Wake blanket like a vice.
“What happened Papa? What happened in Baltimore?”
The man stares into the distance, years upon years of emptiness hollowing out his soul.
“Everything. Everything happened.
Miami came out strong, scoring on their opening drive. The Ravens returned the volley with a touchdown of their own, knotting the contest at 7-7. Miami moved the ball well again on their next possession, settling for a field goal, but putting points on the board.
The opponents seemed to settle in to one another at that point and went back and forth until the score was 14-13 in favor of the Ravens nearing the end of the first half.
The man falters. He bites his quivering lower lip to steel himself.
The boy, enraptured, begs him to continue.
“Then what, Papa? Then what?”
The man closes his eyes, forced to relive the pain in the darkness, his words but whispers on the wind.
“Then the Ravens scored.
And scored again.”
Tears begin welling up, slowly starting their march down his face.
“And scored again.”
His voice suddenly crescendoes until it is like a roaring thunder.
“And! SCORED. AGAIN!”
He cradles his head in his hands, loathe to see the light.
The boy reaches out and grasps the man’s wrist with his tiny fingers.
The man pauses. He takes a deep breath, raises his head, and opens his eyes to look once more upon his child.
The boy’s blanket has been cast aside. A faint plum hue slowly creeps into the man’s vision.
The boy’s jersey.
It is no longer teal and orange. It is no longer Dan the Man.
It is purple and black.
It is Lamar Jackson.
The boy locks eyes with his father, his innocence undeniably lost to the sands of time.
“Don’t forget, Papa.
Think this loss is now the besty besterest thing to ever happen to the Dolphins? Are you Coach McDaniel? Do you maybe want just a liiiiittle less adversity heading into the playoffs? Gnash your teeth and rend your clothes in the comments below.