There's little doubt that the Miami Dolphins are not only one of the NFL's worst teams, but also quite possibly the most dysfunctional. Their 18-15 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday saw a tribute to the 2008 national champion Florida Gators (which, of course, included Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow), a visit by Urban Meyer to the sidelines as Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano is on Dead Man Walking watch from a job perspective, and several late comeback plays by the aforementioned Mr. Tebow that allowed the Broncos to come back from a 15-7 deficit late in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
We've written about the X's-and-O's of the Dolphins' loss and the odd defensive calls that defined it, but what hasn't been discussed as much is how this season is wearing on the players.
When fans show up in the colors of the opposing team and root the opposing team's quarterback on, that's bad enough. But at least one Dolphins player has come out swinging against something far more insidious — the idea that the team should tank the rest of its season to ensure that it can procure the services of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2012 NFL draft. The Dolphins are playing badly and that's very clear, but tight end Anthony Fasano told New York radio station WFAN this week that he's had enough when it comes to the alleged "Suck for Luck" campaign.
"It's sick, actually," Fasano said. "I can't even fathom those thoughts of those people that conjure up that stuff. They have never played sports and pretty much aren't really our loyal fans. I can't really put any weight into that and I know the players don't listen to it. It's a shame, but people are going to talk and we just have to block that out."
The Dolphins aren't the only team facing this issue — there are those who say that the equally pathetic Peyton Manning-less Colts should blow the season out to get the quarterback many are calling the best college prospect since Manning himself — but it's different in Miami. Owner Steven Ross hasn't always been good about hiding the fact that he sees his team as an entertainment venture, while it's a bit more about football first in Indy.
For Fasano and his teammates, there's little to do but keep their heads down, try to move past the distractions, and find a way to win, talent deficit or not. "No matter how you try to approach it, the start of the season has been tough. I think it starts with Tony Sparano. He sets a great challenge for us week in and week out. He keeps us motivated and we are professionals, so we have to come to work every day and find a challenge and try to improve this thing and fix it and find solutions. I'm proud with the way our team has handled this situation so far, but it's definitely not acceptable. We are going to try to turn it around."
Having all those fans cheering for Tebow didn't help — the Gators tribute was singularly ill-advised in that respect, though it did put butts in the seats.
"Yeah it was awful," Fasano said. "Showing up at the stadium and seeing all the Gator stuff and the Tebow stuff. It was disheartening, but as players we kind of put ourselves in that position because the Dolphins are in the business of winning football games and making money. We haven't been winning football games, but it's still a smack in the face -- it's unfortunate we couldn't rain on their parade and get the win."
With all the talk in Miami about Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher or (insert name of flashy coach who will get the team more TV time in 2012), it's a sure thing the Dolphins will look very different next year, Andrew Luck or not. For the guys just playing out the string and doing their best, it may seem as if they're caught up in circumstances they can't control.