COMMENTARY | It's been 18 months since Miami Dolphins fans gathered across the street from the team's headquarters in Davie, united in calling for the head of Jeff Ireland, the team's general manager.
From a public perception standpoint, not much had changed between then and Sunday.
A season-opening win over Cleveland resulted only in a myriad of distractions. Mike Wallace - Ireland's most expensive hired gun - bemoaned his role in the offense while stalwart defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai aired their respective grievances publicly (Starks via an obscene gesture that may or may not have been aimed at the Dolphins sideline; Soliai through his agent, David Canter, who ripped the organization for its negotiating tactics with the free-agent-to-be).
None of it reflected well on the oft-maligned Ireland, who spent more of his owner's money than any other GM this offseason in a last-ditch effort to save his job from the ax that would inevitably swing down if the Dolphins' consistent inconsistency continued into the 2013 season.
But there was Wallace Sunday, the $60 million man racking up nine receptions for 115 yards, catching a touchdown on Miami's opening drive and setting up the game-winner with a 34-yard grab that put the Dolphins on the Colts' 1-yard line.
There was Brent Grimes, playing on a one-year, $5.5 million contract after being discarded by the Atlanta Falcons following a torn ACL, snatching an interception over Reggie Wayne in the end zone during the fourth quarter to preserve Miami's 24-20 lead.
There was Phillip Wheeler, who signed a roundly criticized five-year, $26 million ($13 million guaranteed) deal during Ireland's offseason spree, shooting the B-gap on 4th-and-10 and tossing aside Donald Brown to bring Andrew Luck down for the game-winning sack.
There was Ryan Tannehill, the converted receiver Ireland staked his Dolphins legacy to when he drafted Tannehill with the eighth pick in the 2012 draft, playing Luck to a stalemate.
For all the warts that litter Ireland's time in Miami - and there are plenty - for one day, if only one day, he had been vindicated.
And for all of his missteps in the years leading up to Sunday, he's the architect of a roster that boasts one of the best front sevens in the league, plenty of youth and cap space, and a 25-year-old quarterback who with each passing week seems more and more like the first keeper the franchise has had at that position since Dan Marino.
A 2-0 start may not erase all the ill will that led to Ireland becoming the focus of the fan base's pent-up frustration that's been simmering for a decade, but the Dolphins aren't sitting alongside the Patriots atop the AFC East today without Sunday's standouts: Wallace, Grimes, Wheeler and Tannehill.
They're Ireland's guys, for better or worse.
Sunday, there was no questioning which description applied.
Rob Smith is a Florida Press Association award-winning sports editor at the Venice Gondolier Sun newspaper in Venice, Fla. Follow him on Twitter @Smithers_Rob.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jeff Ireland
- Miami Dolphins
- Randy Starks
- Paul Soliai