Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
Do you remember when the Heat won the NBA Championship? Me neither. And that’s why being a sports fan can absolutely suck: because those fleeting moments of unbridled euphoria quickly give way to the drudgery of our mundane day-to-day existence and the hardships we face as another lost summer wastes away. For me, Mike Miller draining a barrage of threes seems as distant a memory as the cutting of the umbilical cord or the first day of kindergarten or giving a shit about Kony. You really just hold out for the next distraction—in this case, sports—as an outlet through which you can channel all your triumphs and disappointments. In this case, the sport is football. And unfortunately, the next distraction this time around is the Miami Dolphins—my Miami Dolphins. Yes, the moribund franchise whose simultaneous quick-fix/draft-and-develop strategy over the past several seasons has yielded predictably disastrous results to the point where the Bills have passed them in terms of relevance and appeal.
A quick recap:
When we last checked in with the NFL here at Between the Beers—and to remind you of a bygone era where we used to write daily and update content, we at one point offered our readers TWO different posts about a departed Jets offensive coordinator—it was depressing subjects like Bountygate and concussions and Roger Goodell’s boot stomping on a human face (in this example, we’ll refer to the face as “Jonathan Vilma”) that dominated discussions. The highlight was covering the draft, even as I spent the entire week lamenting my team’s pick. Then the NBA playoffs reached their climax, the Mets didn’t suck for a little while, the Yankees didn’t suck at all, we all went to the beach, CALL ME MAYBE, the calendar turned to August, and seeing Trent Richardson listed as a first-round fantasy pick finally shook me from my football malaise.
When we last checked in with the Miami Dolphins, a 0-7 start and pole position in the Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin sweepstakes fell apart at the seams when the Dolphins went on a roll, finishing 6-3 even as embattled coach Tony Sparano was axed with three games remaining; interim coach Todd Bowles guided the team to wins in two of their final three games.
Of course, despite Anthony Fasano’s disgust at the idea of disloyal turncoat fans refusing to bask in the glory of a 6-10, third-place-via-statistical-tiebreaker finish in the AFC East, most Dolphins fans were filled with trepidation and uncertainty upon entering the offseason sans a Super Bowl for the 38th time since 1973. Rather than having a blue-chip, quasi-surefire franchise quarterback fall in their laps to build around—something the Dolphins hadn’t been able to muster up despite trotting out 16 different retreads, castoffs, reclamation projects, overmatched backups, failed draft picks, and whatever the hell Cleo Lemon was in the post-Marino era—the Dolphins were on yet another wild goose chase for that elusive quarterback of the future.
But first, the Dolphins needed a new head coach. They eventually hired Joe Philbin, who had great success as Packers offensive coordinator watching Mike McCarthy call plays for two different MVP quarterbacks. He was offered the job after former Titans coach Jeff Fisher decided a team that averaged three wins per year the last five seasons with an injury-prone franchise quarterback was a better option.
(The Dolphins also passed on my personal preferred choice, no nonsense defensive guru and effusive motivator Mike Zimmer, because he was “too blunt and honest for the Dolphins’ liking.” The Dolphins surrounding themselves with yes men? Who says Bill Parcells didn’t leave his mark in Miami?)
With Philbin in the fold, many outside observers thought the erstwhile Packers offensive coordinator would be reunited with his backup quarterback from Green Bay, Matt Flynn. Flynn famously threw for six touchdowns in the Packers’ Week 17 victory over the Lions, meaning that a package deal of him and Philbin would kill two birds with one stone: a new coach, a new quarterback, a new beginning. After all, there’s no way a quarterback in a league where Derek Anderson and Steve Beuerlein made Pro Bowls might’ve produced a statistical outlier in a sample size of one game. Of course, Flynn deemed competing with Tarvaris Jackson on the depth chart in Seattle rather than being handed the car keys in Miami to be the better option and ended up agreeing to terms with the Seahawks.
But before cycling through the second-string quarterbacks on other teams’ depth charts, the Dolphins scoured the injured reserve list and set their sights squarely on one target: Peyton Manning. It made sense that the Dolphins would not suck just enough in the second half of the 2011 season to miss out on Andrew Luck, then go pick up the declining veteran with four neck surgeries who was cut to make room for the soon-to-be first overall pick. The future Hall of Famer was wooed by fans (who erected billboards and launched a web campaign) and by starfucker owner Stephen Ross, who shrewdly throws piles of money around in a salary cap-driven league where such a strategy is essentially useless.
The only problem was the affection was unrequited. After meeting with the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Toronto Argonauts, Allen Wranglers, the North Korea national team, and a group of scrappy inner city youth who needed a quarterback for their pickup game against their affluent rivals in order to save a community center in their hardscrabble neighborhood from being torn down to build a deluxe condo, Manning begrudgingly held a perfunctory meeting with the Dolphins front office brass in Indianapolis (despite having a home in Miami), reportedly as a favor to Dan Marino in exchange for two dinners at Mendy’s. (Put it this way: If the entire Dolphins organization was one person, they’d be sleeping on Marino’s pullout sofa at this point.)
(I should also point out they thankfully never reached an agreement with Alex Smith, who was rumored to be negotiating with Miami after being jilted by the 49ers when they entered the Peyton Manning fray. Thinking that signing Smith constituted a splash would be like overselling Sha Na Na’s live performance at your boat show.)
With the Dolphins needing a jolt before the NFL disappeared for the remainder of the spring and summer, they settled on the only reasonable solution: a three-man quarterback battle in training camp. First, they chose to retain incumbent starter Matt Moore. They followed that up by signing David Garrard, who was out of football for a year because of a back injury after being cut by the Jaguars just days before the start of the 2011 season; Jacksonville proceeded to trot out a rookie whom Football Outsiders ranked as the worst quarterback in the NFL last year with a minimum of 100 pass attempts.
But the biggest news came when the Dolphins attempted to compensate for the Luck/Griffin misfire by taking Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a converted wide receiver who finished 53rd among Division I-A quarterbacks last year in completion percentage, with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. The last time the Dolphins selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft was 1983, when the aforementioned Mr. Marino fell to them. The move reunited Tannehill with his former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, now the Dolphins offensive coordinator since his Aggies couldn’t finish any better than 7-6 despite having a quarterback the Dolphins deemed to be only six draft picks lesser than the likes of Luck and Griffin.
And now we’re here.
When we last left Hard Knocks, there were goddamn snacks and hammy melodrama from Mike Tannenbaum and repeated incantations futilely uttered in the hopes of conjuring a certain Revis. The prolonged lockout from last season meant a truncated offseason, and among the much collateral damage from the labor standoff (2011 Hall of Fame Game: Always In Our Hearts) was the absence of a new season of Hard Knocks.
Rumors circulated all offseason as to which team would be chronicled in the latest installment of the series. With teams such as the Falcons, 49ers, Texans, Broncos, Jets, and Redskins rebuffing HBO’s advances, and with Ken Hershman pretending he didn’t see Shad Khan’s hand eagerly raised, the Dolphins were officially unveiled as HBO’s 31st choice selection for the newest season. I assume Ross saw Hard Knocks as a way to give the Dolphins some additional exposure before they start 1-7 and everyone switches over to Ray Allen’s debut around Halloween.
Take solace, Phin Phanatics: You can replace that “Manning to Miami” billboard with one boasting “We’re not the Jaguars!”
Anyway, that lengthy introduction (which really should’ve been its own post) leads us to our review of the first episode. Since Hard Knocks isn’t structured in a way where I can come up with some linear response to what transpired, I’ll be offering quick hit reactions and observations of some of the activity highlighted in each episode, all from a self-loathing Phin fan himself. Without further ado…
-Liev Schreiber intones “The Miami Dolphins are at the beginning of an overhaul” over scenes of a locker room being renovated. It’s a football reality series, who said the metaphors had to be subtle?
-I pride myself on having a pretty decent memory and almost never screw up names, yet I’ve called Joe Philbin “John Philbin” at least four times this offseason. Anyway, he begins with the usual hackneyed piece of locker room coachspeak looking like Rick Scott doing a terrible Don Knotts impersonation.
-Derek Dennis was to Hard Knocks what Chuck Cunningham was to Happy Days.
-Postscript: Dennis was since picked up by the Patriots. I fully expect him to make eight Pro Bowls now.
-Hey, Mike Sherman’s back! And looking like a disheveled Mike Martz!
-Lauren Tannehill, aka Anna Benson 2.0, makes her first appearance within the first 10 minutes. Whoever directs these episodes isn’t stupid.
-She’s also wearing ridiculously short shorts while walking a dog. Once again: Neither she, nor HBO, is stupid.
-Yes, I included a picture. I’m not stupid, either.
As a bonus, a pre-Hard Knocks photo, just so you get an idea of what HBO wants you to be ogling these next five weeks:
-Did I just watch a shirtless Paul Soliai style his teammates’ hair? You’re goddamn right I did! This show is the best.
-Jeff Ireland creepily assembles his roster by himself on a white board. The scene conjured memories of Steve Buscemi’s “People To Kill” list in Billy Madison. (Any scene featuring Ireland applying lipstick was edited out.)
-Hey, we got Eric Steinbach! His “boating under the influence” charge was always my favorite of the nine Bengals arrests in 2006.
-Philbin runs his practices in a way that allows the coaches to constantly be alternating between watching the first and second units, requiring both units to remain on the field at all times with no downtime. Yes, it’s unusual. Nevertheless, shots of an exhausted Vontae Davis after one freaking practice deflated my hopes of an improved secondary.
-Biggest disappointment in the first episode: Stephen Ross. I was expecting him to be standing on the sidelines fully decked out in some Armani suit on a 105-degree Miami afternoon on his cell trying to sell a minority share of the franchise to DJ Khaled.
-I jokingly tweeted some predictions for celebrity cameos that might occur during this run of episodes, and the best we got in the premiere was Braylon Fucking Edwards, the 25th banana from Hard Knocks: Jets. This show has the backing of HBO and the city of Miami and that’s the best we can do? No Jennifer Lopez cameo in which she and Flo Rida perform her new single that I’ll immediately fast forward past on DVR? No turgid locker room speech written by Aaron Sorkin to promote The Newsroom? (And like all things Newsroom, everyone can then turn to social media to complain about it instead of just not watching like the rest of us.)
-Braylon Edwards was wearing an Al Golden football camp shirt.
Not only did he go to Michigan, but NO ONE is excited about the Al Golden era. It looks like Jeff Ireland haphazardly scurried through a church donation bin just to find something Miami-ish for Edwards to wear on camera. It was either that or a Butthole Surfers T-shirt, right Todd?
-Chad Johnson. Chad Johnson, oh Chad Johnson. This is gonna be awhile.
I made fun of this signing when I first heard about it, calling it stunt-casting by HBO that was “so shameless that Miami might as well have signed Lena Dunham or Peter Dinklage to be their fifth receiver.” Even if that was the case, not since Danny DeVito giving It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia an unexpected major boost in their second season and beyond did such casting work out so well.
Here were Johnson’s best moments in the first episode:
1. On his ill-fated stint with the Patriots: “Last year, I took a year off to give everyone else a chance to catch up.”
2. Matt Moore tells us Johnson’s response when the receiver was asked what he’d be doing on his day off: “I don’t know, but I’ll probably be open though.”
3. Johnson tries to convince viewers that his overall track record outweighs his paltry 15-catch season with the Patriots. Problem: Tom Brady threw 39 touchdown passes in 2011, of which the Artist Formerly Known as Ochocinco caught one.
4. This exchange between Johnson and a practice official:
Johnson: “Hey ref.”
Johnson: “He can’t cover me.”
Official: “I believe it.”
Johnson: “Appreciate it.”
5. Johnson informs us he didn’t have sex the entire 2011 season because of his substandard play. The drought ended when he scored his first touchdown, but after that their status returned to what Johnson referred to as, “cobweb mode.” I can relate. I too look forward to a season of “cobweb mode,” most likely whether Johnson finds the end zone or not.
6. Fun fact: You may recognize Evelyn Johnson (nee Lozada) from VH1’s Basketball Wives. She was previously engaged to NBA star Antoine Walker before the two called it off after 10 years together. Walker is now bankrupt despite making roughly $110 million in his playing career. Here’s an excerpt from Chris Ballard’s Sports Illustrated profile of Walker, who is now playing for an NBDL team in Idaho:
A three-time All-Star living in a $915-a-month apartment he shares with reserve guard Chris Davis, and playing for a salary of less than $25,000. He has no car, subsists mainly on cold cuts and fast food and plays in front of crowds as small as 155.
Also, it was reported that Lozada makes more in an episode of her reality series than Walker makes on his NBDL contract—a series she only joined because of Walker.
Long story short: I’m shocked—SHOCKED—she and Johnson would be mugging it up in order to receive the lion’s share of the HBO cameras’ attention during the entire first episode. That’s not like them at all.
7. A microcosm of the typical dialogue between the newlyweds:
Evelyn: “What are you thinking? About how gorgeous I am?”
Chad: “You’re really not all that.”
Chad: “Everybody’s decent in their own way, but then you’ve got money, so I’d marry you for that also.”
8. Evelyn discusses their first date being at McDonald’s. Someone jokingly asks if they met at the drive-thru. The sarcastic quip goes right over her head and, in a completely serious manner devoid of even a trace of irony, she proceeds to recall their courtship via Twitter. Johnson apparently was cursing her out for some reason, although refraining from using the “B” word (there’s a lesson there, Kanye). As she put it, hate somehow turned into love, and they lived happily ever until-their-show-isn’t-picked-up-and-they-no-longer-have-any-use-for-each-other.
9. “If you pause Call of Duty for someone, that’s the fucking one.”
I can’t argue with that.
10. “Hey Stu, I promise I’m getting arrested while we’re off.”
We then move to his introductory press conference. Some key excerpts:
11. On a potential second career if he failed to make the roster: “I was thinking about going into porn. Gotta earn a living.” Odds of a Chad Johnson/Evelyn Lozada sex tape have to be -250 right now, no?
12. On his quickness: “Have you been watching? I’m fast as shit.”
13. I’ll admit I’m mildly intrigued at the prospect of a Chad Johnson-Gene Simmons side project. It’d still have to go over better than Metallica and Lou Reed, right?
14. Also, he attributes his black nail polish to a rocker/hippie custom. What the fuck hippies has he been watching? Did he just confuse them with the goths? C’mon Chad, they smell the same but they certainly don’t look the same.
15. On the tutelage of Belichick: “I learned to shut the fuck up. For a year. I never thought I could do it but I did it.”
Never shut up, Chad. I beg you: Never. Shut. Up.
-How did the Dolphins not sign T.O.? Fuck football logic, we’re only talking entertainment value for the next month.
-Later, Joe Philbin lectures Johnson against the use of colorful language. Rex Ryan’s Hard Knocks this isn’t.
-Did they really need to subtitle that Johnson/Philbin conversation? I understood every word.
-The guy with the masseuse was discussing Tebow. Holy shit, they managed to shoehorn him into this series even without the Jets’ participation.
-Also, that scene cut out before the happy ending. HBO’s gone soft. (No pun intended.)
-There were more shots of cheerleaders and bikinis than I remember. Then again, I assume cheerleaders and bikinis are less prevalent in Cincinnati.
-Our first twist: David Garrard is number one on the depth chart for the first preseason game! Also, Pat Devlin’s existential crisis comes to an end when his existence is acknowledged.
-Oh the irony: HBO bends over backwards to NOT ask the Jaguars to do Hard Knocks, and then the most important camp battle might end with a Jaguars castoff winning the job.
-Jake Long: “We gotta have a great fucking day today man.”
Really, he gets 10 seconds? He’s probably our best player!
-Time for a new game: Let’s spot the things in Jeff Ireland’s office!
(I apologize in advance for the crappy iPhone screen grabs.)
-Holy shit is he red.
(Yeah, TWO Simpsons references.)
-“Adversity is the companion of champions or the enemy of the weak.”
Is that Confucius? No, it’s a Newman.
(Alright, we’re even: two Seinfeld references, two Simpsons references.)
-Dell monitor. Smart phone. These might just be props to cover up the Commodore 64 and Apple Newton he’s actually using.
-An iPod Classic and Bose sound dock. My dad has that same setup. I can’t knock it.
-Is that a three-hole puncher? Well, Mr. Ross is certainly splurging at Staples, now isn’t he?
-Is that a helmet signed by Tony Sparano in the upper-left corner of this photo? Does Ireland still keep Sparano’s head inside it?
-What could have possibly been on that coat hanger in that spot?
-“Steve Ross: Owner” Is this something they’re forgetting often?
-Here is something called the Player Enterprise Management System, which Ireland is logged in to access Tannehill’s information. Not as exciting as it initially seemed watching it in real time. No real information (duh, like they’d show confidential data), and the screen cuts off so you can’t see if there’s any fetish porn open on the bottom.
[UPDATE: After perusing the useless information on the top and right side of the screen, I somehow overlooked Ryan Tannehill's cell phone number being broadcast in plain sight on the bottom left. Nice job HBO. Hat tip to Deadspin for catching it.]
Join us next week for a new round of “Let’s spot the things in Jeff Ireland’s office!”
-Reggie Bush and Chad Johnson playing FIFA on PS3 in a hotel room. You gotta love Bush’s perpetual “Holy shit, I escaped that Kardashian Klusterfuck just in time before I became a sports pariah like Humphries” grin he’s been wearing for two years.
-I’m still waiting to find out who is the random guy the HBO crew gravitates toward because he’s supposedly having a breakout camp even though we end up never hearing from him again. Prediction: Someone in your fantasy league drafts Roberto Wallace eight rounds too high.
-I have to comment on that one fan at practice who confidently and emphatically stated, “We all believe in Tannehill. He’s going to take us to the Super Bowl in the next two years. Mark it down.” I talked to at least 20 different Dolphins fans over the course of draft week in New York City and reaction was pretty much split; even the people who endorsed the pick and Tannehill’s potential did so with a cautious optimism. So I should issue the disclaimer that, “The opinions expressed therein are solely those of the individual and do not reflect those of the Dolphins’ fan base at large.”
-As you may remember by my lengthy screed, I was against the Tannehill pick (more so the rationale behind it than the pick itself) but I should emphasize two things:
1. Of course I’m rooting him to succeed.
2. I’m willing to reserve judgment until he has time to develop (I still haven’t given up on Chad Henne to be a viable starter for crying out loud).
That being said, there are a lot of jobs and a lot of publicity depending on Tannehill being good, and good quickly, so regardless of how he’s actually progressing, you’re going to hear a lot of “Wow, he looks great!” and “There’s no reason he couldn’t win this starting job” sound bites emanating from camp just to start whetting appetites. (In an all-too-intentional directorial decision, a shot of Tannehill signing his contract and officially joining the Dolphins featured a triumphant-looking Dan Marino adorning a poster in the background.) From a marketing standpoint, I don’t blame them. If you’re going to do Hard Knocks, you might as well use it to the organization’s advantage. Put it this way: Fans will enter the 2012 season more familiar with the guy considered the first-round quarterback afterthought than with Luck or Griffin.
-Yes, like everyone else, I made fun of the selection of the Dolphins as the team to be profiled on Hard Knocks when it was first announced this spring, predicting it would be dull and uninspired. But let’s be honest: These fly-on-the-wall all-access formats—and by and large, anything even tangentially connected to the NFL—will suck us in, captivate us, and enrapture us. Miami may have been nobody’s first choice, but the producers knew the NFL’s appeal to fans, thus meaning they had 32 acceptable choices all along.
-That’s all for now. I’m very excited to be back and more than ready to divert my NFL focus to activities happening on the field once again. The Dolphins have their first preseason game against the Buccaneers on Friday. Be here next Tuesday for our second recap, unless HBO decides to just follow Chad Johnson around and Bravo launches a new season of Real Housewives of Miami with Evelyn Johnson and Lauren Tannehill. Hell, I’ll cover that too.