He is the general manager of the NFL's only remaining winless team, but one thing Randy Mueller hasn't lost is his sense of humor. Explaining the team's decision to name rookie John Beck as the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback for Sunday's road game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mueller acknowledged that the second-round draft pick from BYU might not be completely ready for the madness that awaits him at Lincoln Financial Field.
"With a young quarterback, you try to err on the side of caution as much as you can," Mueller said Wednesday from Boise, Idaho, where he was enjoying a temporary respite from the Land of the Lost. "But let's face it – we're 0-9. It's not like we're protecting a 59 and we just need a par on 18."
If you think about it, there isn't all that much pressure on Beck, the quarterback who last April compelled Mueller and first-year coach Cam Cameron to pass on Brady Quinn in the NFL draft and incur the wrath of their aghast fan base, not to mention some players and a nation of draftniks.
In replacing Cleo Lemon, who replaced the injured Trent Green, all Beck has to do is help prevent the Dolphins from joining the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only teams to go winless throughout an entire NFL season. Oh, and provide some hope for the future, all while keeping his teammates from checking out and smarmy TV commentators and sportswriters from insufferably fixating on newly reinstated halfback Ricky Williams' pot-smoking past.
Other than that, Beck's life is stress-free.
The worst thing that has happened to the Dolphins in '07 was the Rams' stunning victory over the Saints last Sunday. In skyrocketing to 1-8, St. Louis left Miami as exposed as Eugene Robinson on Biscayne Boulevard the night before Super Bowl XXXIII. That the Dolphins simultaneously blew a 10-2 fourth-quarter lead on the Buffalo Bills didn't help matters.
Then, on Wednesday, Miami became the NFL's biggest newsmaker – first because of Beck's promotion, and later after the league announced that Williams had been cleared to return after an 18-month suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy.
Suddenly, the football world is watching – or at least slightly paying attention – as the Dolphins attempt to avoid eternal ignominy by beating at least one of their remaining opponents (at Eagles, at Steelers, Jets, at Bills, Ravens, at Patriots, at Bengals).
The scary thing is, this gutted franchise is faced with a challenge far more daunting than winning a football game.
As my former colleague Peter King pointed out so comprehensively last month, Miami's mess was of its own making, especially on draft days. From 1998-2003, the Dolphins selected 46 players and traded for 10 others. Exactly none of them is on the team's active roster; that will change only when Williams, who has a two-week exemption, gets back onto the field.
Mueller, who as the Saints' general manager traded Williams to Miami in 2002, didn't join the Dolphins' front office until June of '05, and during his first 17 months on the job he (like everyone else) had to yield to the all-knowing authority of coach Nick Saban. In the winter, after Saban slithered off to Alabama and Miami owner Wayne Huizenga had already chosen Cameron as his successor, Mueller finally was granted some semblance of power. Almost immediately, he started getting grief from a frustrated fan base.
From the free-agent signing of ex-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter (for a reported five years, $32 million) to the re-signing of veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (for a reported four years, $20 million) to the selection of former Ohio State wideout/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth overall pick (instead of Quinn, the popular choice), Mueller's moves have been cited by critics as reasons for the team's failings. Porter hurt his knee and then struggled to adjust to a defense that didn't deploy him properly before coming on in recent weeks, Holliday has been hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out virtually all of October, and Ginn has yet to make a significant impact on offense or special teams.
Yet blaming Mueller for Miami's miserable season is like calling out Katie Couric for the demise of the network newscast. Thus, though a 0-16 disaster (or close) would seem to spell possible doom for Mueller, Cameron or both, the GM believes Huizenga is committed to staying the course.
"We've only had the wheel for six months," Mueller said. "It's not like we can undo six years in six months, and people understand that. We spend a lot of time with (Huizenga), and he's fine. He understands that this should have happened a few years ago."
Partly for that reason, Huizenga seems to be on board with Cameron's decision to play Beck, a 26-year-old married father who went on a two-year Mormon mission in Portugal from 2000-02. If nothing else, the owner is as curious as everyone else who cares about the Dolphins to see if the rookie can help revive this flat-lined franchise. As Mueller said, "We're all fans, to a point. We all want to see what John can do."
As for Williams, all that talk about the chilly reception awaiting him for having let down his teammates faded as harsh reality sunk in and the Dolphins' players considered the potential benefits of his return. To you, Williams may be a punch line; surely, he is the sports world's most lampooned stoner in recent memory. But to veterans like the unfailingly blunt Porter, one of the team leaders consulted by Cameron before the coach greenlighted the halfback's return, Williams simply is a rugged runner with fresh legs.
Asked by reporters Wednesday if he'd welcome Williams back, Porter responded, as only he can, "Yeah, I would. We're 0-9. I'd welcome (Osama) bin Laden if he could run the ball like Ricky did."
Perhaps Williams and Beck will conspire to stir the Fins from their season-long slumber and let teams like the Rams, Jets, Raiders and 49ers (er, Patriots – thanks, Mike Nolan, for that absurdly generous Joe Staley trade) back into the race for the No. 1 overall pick in '08.
In the meantime, there's no shortage of self-appointed personnel gurus willing to tell Mueller how to escape the Land of the Lost. "We've heard it all, believe me," Mueller said. "I was on a car rental bus in Cleveland, and the driver said, 'You're playing Ted Ginn out of position. He should be a defensive back.' I just laughed; you just have to grin and bear it."
Rest assured, the GM would trade that grin for a win in a Miami minute.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Hey, Zygi Wilf and Brad Childress: Ready for Daunte's Inferno? Mr. Culpepper will be doing "The Roll" at the Metrodome, just like the old days, as he leads the Raiders over the Vikings … Not only will the Rams win their second straight game, in San Francisco, but they'll be tied for third place in the NFC West (with the flailing 49ers) by day's end … I don't have the guts to go out on a limb, but my daughter, fighting for the top spot in her sixth-grade class's picks contest, swears the Dolphins will take down the Eagles.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Green Bay, where I can finally try to hitch a ride on the Packers' bandwagon after doubting them for so long. Plus I know this really cool bagel place near Lambeau that serves delicious lox. Also, the Panthers are in town, which means I can say hello to Vinny Testaverde, one of the nicest men in football.
LIES, LIES, LIES
2. "AP" is an acceptable nickname for Adrian Peterson.
3. According to Mike Nolan, Barry Bonds is not under indictment.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Brandi Chastain was devastated when the Ravens' 21-7 defeat to the Bengals knocked her out of the pool after five weeks, and she reacted like any ultra-competitive, ticked-off football fan would: First she blamed her spouse, then teed off on the players responsible for her demise. More on that later. For now, we turn to our second guest predictor: Rap legend Luther Campbell, who's kicking off what he hopes will be a long, fruitful run by picking against his hometown team.
"I got Philadelphia," Uncle Luke says. "If Philadelphia loses to the sorry-ass Dolphins, that means the whole Eagles team had to be hanging out that week with the head coach's sons." If you think that remark had some bite, check out Chastain's bitter response to her elimination.
"I am so (mad) right now," she text messaged shortly after Baltimore's punchless effort was in the books. "I let my hubby talk me out of the Dallas game and now I'm done. Sucks." (Chastain's husband, Jerry Smith, has bigger things to worry about – he's the coach of the 16th-ranked Santa Clara women's soccer team, which faces No. 19 Cal in an NCAA first-round game Friday.) She then sent another text calling the Ravens lousy. On Monday, Chastain followed up with this email in which she addressed the Baltimore players:
"Here is my non-emotional response now that I have had a night to sleep on it. Last night I said something I didn't mean. Using the word lousy was rough, and now that I have taken my emotion out of it, I would instead like to replace it by saying that your offense is insufferable and lacks creative style and needs a good dose of whoop ass. Oh wait, that is what the Bengals gave to you without a touchdown. Remember this, Ravens, you are professionals and are paid a ridiculous amount of money, so on Sundays and the occasional Monday if you are around long enough to enjoy the luxury of playing then, that football is your job (but should be done with passion of a child), i.e. responsibility. That means you play every down like it is your last. Don't mope down the field on a pass pattern. Don't block like you are a toreador. Don't toss the ball like it's on fire and you just want it out of your hand now. Don't run unimaginatively, and please, please, please don't blame anyone else for your actions. Stand up and be accountable. I am sorry that I used lousy, that wasn't nice. Today I am much less frustrated, more lucent and gentler. Now drop and give me 50."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
"Nice call on Kolby Smith," the text message from my buddy Malibu read as I turned on my phone upon landing in San Diego Sunday afternoon. The Chiefs were still battling the Denver Broncos, and I smiled broadly as the Southwest 737 taxied to the gate: My advice to pick up Kansas City's obscure rookie running back had already proven to be brilliant! It wasn't until I sat down for lunch at Gordon Biersch, with wall-to-wall TVs showing the climaxes of the early games, that I realized the text had been a sarcastic one. Smith would end up scoring a whopping 2.1 fantasy points, which helped seal Beat the Gypsy's demise in its matchup with Pure Hell.
To make matters worse, Malibu played Smith ahead of Chester Taylor, the real-life backup to fantasy god and Beat The Gypsy star Adrian Peterson, a move that could have mitigated the damage caused by AD's knee injury. Now 6-4 and tied with two other teams atop the, uh, Prostitutes division of the 12-team league (and technically in first place, based on total points), Beat the Gypsy looks to break its three-game losing streak without its franchise back. BTG's opponent, Tom Brady Is God, is one of the other teams locked in the first-place tie, and its lineup can best be described as erratic (Philip Rivers, Roy Williams, Brandon Marshall, Antonio Gates, Joseph Addai). Malibu is counting on the long-awaited return of Andre Johnson and the insertion of Taylor into the lineup to help offset Peterson's absence. He's playing Kevin Curtis ahead of Santana Moss for three reasons: he likes Curtis' matchup against the Dolphins; Moss is injured and iffy for the Redskins' game against the Cowboys; and, in his words, "Moss has been a disaster all season. We took the wrong Moss." I know, I know – another nice call.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
I don't want to get in trouble with GLAAD, either, but is it fair to say Phil Jackson got a spanking from the NBA on Wednesday?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Mark Fainaru-Wada, my old Santa Rosa Press Democrat homie, who rocked the sports journalism world this week by leaving the San Francisco Chronicle to join ESPN. In an era in which too many journalists take shortcuts, substitute fluff for substance or get timid in the face of outside pressures, Mark is a tough, principled throwback whose best work is yet to come.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
Now that Adam Duritz has been spared the trauma of giving up Cal-related interviews and the Bears have officially been eliminated from even the most arcane of Rose Bowl scenarios – both thanks to their 24-17 defeat to USC last Saturday – I'll play out the string by summoning some of the most psychotically devoted Bear backers on earth. With Cal set to battle Washington in Seattle on Saturday, I call upon Dr. Ajay Nirula, a rheumatologist who now develops new treatments for patients with arthritis and autoimmune diseases (perhaps he can discover a cure for the current quarterback's peculiar case of fourthquarteritis ) when he's not worshipping at the altar of Oski. Says Nirula via email:
"I'm honored and puzzled to be included with the Cal luminaries who have contributed to this feature so far. Perhaps I partially inspired the overall concept of this feature back in 1991 by vowing to really give something up, and undergo a minor urological procedure should Cal make the Rose Bowl. Thanks go to Steve Emtman and the national champion Huskies for keeping me anatomically intact though sadly still Rose Bowl-less to this day." (Note: Had the Bears won, it would have added new meaning to the term "The Skins Game.") "On to UDub 2007; the stakes have obviously dropped considerably from the bygone days of 5-0 and No. 2 in the nation. Going with a theme inspired by our Seattle opponents, I contemplated foregoing the trifecta of Starbucks, Red Hook, and Pearl Jam on my iPod. However, these choices were a trifle repetitive of previous sacrifices in this space. The backup trifecta of single malt scotch, Indian food, and English Premier League Soccer was inconsistent with survival given my travels to India for the next 10 days. And then it hit me – a truly meaningful sacrifice that would appropriately reward a win that will steer our football season away from the wrong shore. For 25 years now, the author of this column has helped assemble a high-powered, debaucherous and fanatical group of Cal fans to rally behind the Golden Bear on a weekly basis. The group culminates the year on rivalry weekend against Stanford with an annual football game and legendary weekend-long drinking contest. I hereby declare that if we beat UDub this weekend, I'll sacrifice my hard-living Cal Friends for the rest of the year and instead hang out with a bunch of prematurely aged wussies (medical colleagues and the like) who shun booze and brawls and refuse to stand during football games. Silly ain't it? Better reserve the right to reconsider and just give up the Seattle stuff."
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
Reading had a tough task at Madejski Stadium Monday night, squaring off against the English Premier League's equivalent of the New England Patriots (minus the persecution complex): First place Arsenal, which has yet to lose in 12 matches (nine wins, three draws). The Royals packed it in with a 4-5-1 formation and battled the Gunners gamely through the first half before giving up a cheapie to Mathieu Flamini just before the break, after Reading's excellent American keeper, Marcus Hahnemann, charged out prematurely. The Gunners cranked it up after intermission and went up 3-0 before the Royals, riding a spark from sub striker Shane Long, made a late charge culminating in Nicky Shorey's rebound goal in the 87th minute. Reading (5-1-8), which sits in 12th place in the 20-team league, has another daunting matchup on Saturday – the Royals are at third-place Man City, which is undefeated and untied in seven home games.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
This week we tickle the keyboards with Elton John (and the amended words of Bernie Taupin) as I serenade the many Steelers fans who are devoted readers of The Gameface, to the tune of "Bennie And The Jets."
Hey kids, shake it loose together
The spotlight's hitting someone
Who's been known to toss the leather
He'll kill the Mangenius Sunday
So stick around
He's gonna rip 'em through the air
And gash 'em on the ground
Say, Willie and Orpheus, have you caught up yet?
Browns were just so spaced out
Now watch Bennie beat the Jets
Oh but they're lame and they're 1-8
Oh Bennie he's really keen
He's got fresh Nike cleats and giant feet
You know I wrote it in a magazine
B-B-B-B-B-Bennie's got some jets
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Thanks, Michael, for the frank and spot-on summary of the Chargers and their season thus far. It not only relayed how the players feel, muddling along, looking confused in an underperforming year, but also how their fans felt following that 'better lucky than good' performance against the Colts. I wasn't a huge fan of Marty Schottenheimer, and was among those walking out of the 2006-2007 divisional game against the Patriots screaming to the sky for his head. But an entire nation of Bolts faithful would take him, or Wade Phillips or, yes, Cam Cameron at the helm right now. But let's be clear: it's not Norv Turner's fault the Chargers are where they're at (even with his ho-hum style and lack of ingenuity – run, run, pass … run, run, pass). And it's not even the fault of overbearing GM A.J. Smith, he of the great drafts and muddling on-field influence. No, this, and every other Chargers letdown can be set down at the doorstep of the team owners, the Spanos family. Always indecisive with personnel issues, always tight-fisted at the wrong times, always willing to sit back and accept mediocrity, they let escape all the people behind the 'X's and O's' from a 14-2 season. How could we expect any less than a tenuous 5-4 lead in the Mild, Mild West? I hope I'm wrong. I hope Turner has a breakout year and the Bolts go deep in the playoffs. But I'm a realist. As long as the Spanos family is running things, I and every Chargers fan will anticipate the worst."
North Hollywood, Calif.
You're right – the fans, and most of the guys in that locker room, deserve better.
"You're a chump. Go write for Hollywood. You don't belong in sports journalism."
Uh, check that: Most of the fans deserve better.
"I think it says it all that old Norv has so many of his players badmouthing him. I know that it is polite and calculated badmouthing, but it isn't positive. Not just current players either. Darren Woodson was on ESPN three or four days ago saying that head coaching 'just isn't his gig.' That ought to tell you a thing or two about how this dude operates. Norv Turner guided my Cowboys to two rings (Ernie Zampese gave us the '95 ring), but the only thing he has excelled at since then is selling franchises on his own greatness … and making excuses for how badly his teams perform."
In fairness, he excelled last season as the 49ers' offensive coordinator. He deserves credit for being very good in that capacity. Some people are lousy coaches, period. That blanket description doesn't apply to Norv.
"Hey Silver, why do you hate the Chargers so much? You say we got lucky because of the missed field goal, but what about the (Philip) Rivers pass that slipped out of his hand that became a defensive TD? That was pretty lucky don't you think? I'm guessing your old boyfriend (who dumped you) was a Chargers fan! Get over it, find yourself a new boyfriend, and stop bagging on the Chargers … try being a real journalist, and stop being biased."
Actually, my old boyfriend was a Cowboys fan. But enough about Dennis Rodman.
"When I was a kid, my dad would take me to the Chargers AFL games at old Balboa Stadium. I even remember when we beat the (then) Boston Patriots to win the championship. What great memories, so it's particularly sad for me to see what's happening to the Chargers now. This is a great football team that has been totally let down by management. Judging talent is one thing, managing it is another. I'll give Smith his due on judging player personnel, but in everything else GM, the human side, he's terrible. Turner and (Ted) Cottrell are clueless about how to use the skill they have on the field and it seems obvious the players are becoming increasingly demoralized by this leadership (or lack thereof). Luck and a super human effort on defense saved the Colts game, but I felt less than satisfied knowing that this win would probably only help to extend the disastrous reign of this trio. What a waste. Hopefully Marty is getting what he is due now."
Two things Marty is getting this year: tan and paid.
"About the Chargers' players not buying into Norv because they're not executing also, yeah! Blame it on Norv just as we can blame Marty for losing the playoff game with the Patriots. Where have you been, boy?"
Um … in the locker room.
"First and foremost, my apologies. Although you can be abrasive at times, I thought your writings on the Chargers from the preseason into Week 3 were ridiculous. Now I sit here saying, 'Wow, what a horribly coached team. I guess that's why I am not a sportswriter.' I am sorry, I should have given your opinions the opportunity to prove or disprove themselves. Second, while most everyone believes it to be inevitable that this will be the one and only year of Turner in San Diego (barring another 'genius' decision by A.J. Smith), there also are rumors abounding that Pete Carroll is still interested and that Jimmie Johnson (close friends with A.J. Smith) might even have a shot at this team. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks."
I'm pretty sure Jimmie Johnson is busy winning the Nextel Cup and all. As for Jimmy Johnson, I find it hard to believe that he or any other big-name, self-assured coach (Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells et al) would work for Smith, or that Smith would tolerate such a strong figure in that capacity. Carroll, perhaps, with 'SC facing possible sanctions for the Reggie Bush scandal, could be persuaded to do so for a ton of cash, though paying big bucks is not the Spanoses' style. Bottom line: Unless Dean Spanos has the guts to get rid of Smith, it'll be another year of Turner, or a new coach who recognizes Smith's authority.
"As I sat on my dorm room bed watching the Bolts-Colts game last night, the only thing I kept thinking was that (Peyton) Manning's face after each of those fits was more amusing than my best guy friend attempting the Soulja Boy dance. As a Pats fan whose devotion is just a tad unhealthy (which as a college student in NY is quite dangerous), it was gratifying to see the quarterback largely regarded as better than (Tom) Brady finally look human. Last week's game versus Brady and 'The Chowder Love Boat' didn't really put a dent in Manning's reputation for unflappability, considering how consistent he was until very late in the game (those two fumbles had me giggling, by the way). Last night, however, shoved Manning a little bit closer to the edge of that pedestal the entire NFL has put him on for years. I respect him as a great football player, but in my heart I believe Brady is better, and finally has the numbers and the wins to prove it. And, I apologize on behalf of the literate and educated Pats fans; the idiots who write in about the 'lack of love' are nothing short of an embarrassment. Much love!"
New York, N.Y.
Same to you. And if only you'd have included a video clip of your friend in full Soulja Boy mode, we'd all be giggling.
"Your diatribe Monday the 12th ('Guns over Ganja') was one of the best points I've seen you make. The NFL is like Bizarro World when it comes to this. Who wouldn't agree Tank's policy violation was much worse than Ricky's? Weed (arguably) never hurt anyone, but guns? It staggers the imagination how backwards this is."
Yeah, but you know what the cynics will say: Guns don't kill people, late-night nachos kill people.
"Not sure where you are from, but in this country, guns are legal and ganja ain't."
"I have to say you take a lot of (crap) via email and still keep me smiling. I hate your politics but love your writing. Please try to keep your politics out of your writing. You are a lib and I'm a conservative Vet. But your comment on Ricky and Tank hit the mark. P.S. I checked my spellchecker very carefully before I sent this."
James A. Johnson
I love your spelling. Happy Veterans' Day, and thank you for your service.
"So 'moving forward' drives you nuts. How 'very unique' or 'somewhat unique.' "
As uniquely cool as a Wednesday night Farmer's Market in Central Park (no, not that that one).
" 'Life imitates art.' That was (expletive) genius. I am a 40-something unemployed Yale and Harvard grad. Can I just move out there and get a small stipend to sort through your email?"
David M. Todd
New York City
I hope you don't charge by the misspelled word.
"Watching games on Sunday, I hate to see players duck out of bounds or dive to the turf to avoid taking a hit. 'Come on! He could have gotten another two yards.' That is a common quote from my couch. While it bums me out to hear Fred Taylor admit to going down when faced with two tough defenders, I guess I would rather have the best players on the field every week than sitting on the sidelines nursing a deep thigh bruise or other annoying injury. I'm glad to see 'Fragile Fred' staying healthy. Perhaps his entire career would have been that way with another quality back to share the load."
I'm sure that there are exceptions to Fred's rule, even now. I always marveled at how Marshall Faulk, in the latter part of his career, would duck down or slide out of bounds on certain plays … but on third-and-6 with the game on the line, he'd put his head down and bull through defenders for the first down.
"How on earth do you have the Jaguars ranked behind the Titans? Do you actually watch the games?"
The Titans beat the Jaguars in Week 1 and lost to them last Sunday. Tennessee played the Colts far tougher than the Jags did. I could go on, and I might if it actually mattered.
"Why do you still have the Colts in second place? The Cowboys would beat the Colts, even in their home. Last year, it was the Cowboys that ended the Colts' winning streak during their Super Bowl year. This year, the Cowboys are leaps and bounds better than last year. Can the Colts make the same claim? Cowboys would win, 38-27."
Why rank the Colts second? That's easy. I went to the Patriots-Cowboys game. I went to the Patriots-Colts game. I think the Colts are better.
"Are as ignorant and childish as you look in the column? Taking a shot Craphonso Thorpe for you question for the Colts? are you trying out for you local junior high newspaper?"
No, but if I’d written something for 'The Town Crier' at Paul Revere Junior High like the email you just submitted, my teacher, the awesome Esther Hugo, would’ve ripped it up and made me stick around for some additional studying after school.
- Randy Mueller