It would be tough to find a player more grateful to wear aqua and orange than Mike Pouncey. Even as he and the organization were finalizing their divorce, he was declaring himself “a Miami Dolphin for life.”
Critics will point to the games he missed — exaggerating their point along the way — but one stat from a season ago should end any debate about his contributions these past seven years: When Pouncey suited up, Jay Ajayi’s per-game rushing average doubled, to 130 yards.
No, Mike Pouncey won’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but you can write his name, in ink, right behind Jim Langer’s and Dwight Stephenson’s as proof that the Dolphins have been more blessed at center than any other position. Yes, that includes quarterback, because the past 18 mind-numbing years cannot be ignored.
Yes, there were times Pouncey’s body let him down, and even in a moment of sheer honesty, he once questioned aloud how long it would allow him to survive in this league.
There also were times Pouncey let Pouncey down, making choices that made the organization wince.
There’s an important distinction to be made here, however, regarding the blind faith he put in old college buddy Aaron Hernandez and whatever role he played in the Bullygate scandal of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Pouncey owned up to his mistakes, tried to grow from his mistakes, and in April 2015 was rewarded by the Dolphins with a contract extension worth $52 million over five years, had things worked out for that long.
Pouncey lasted 1 1/2 sentences into his news conference to announce the extension before emotion started to pour out of him. What might have been the most joyous moment of his career turned into a melancholy one by his own choosing as he reflected on “little stupid things” he’d done, then held it up against the faith the Dolphins were placing in him.
He realized the two did not quite compute.
“There’s just so much stuff,” he said. “I look back at my career and I could have done so many things better. There’s stuff I put my family through. I’m just happy that it’s all over with now.”
Turning toward the Dolphins, he added, “They could have easily gave up on me a long time ago. They stuck with me. It’s something I will never forget.”
Too bad his brittle hips railroaded those plans, restricting him to five games in 2016, but for his return in 2017, teammates voted him recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.
“He’s been probably our most consistent guy and he’s probably played his best ball in the back half of the season,” coach Adam Gase said in December.
The only centers in Dolphins history to make the Pro Bowl were Langer (six times), Stephenson (five) and Pouncey (three). How many Pro Bowl talents in this league would accept playing a season out of position? Pouncey did, spending 2014 at right guard (and making the Pro Bowl) because of chronic front-office failure to address needs at guard.
Ironic, you have to say, that Pouncey gets devalued by the Dolphins following the first season in the past five in which he didn’t miss any games. Pouncey wore those 16 games played as a badge of honor, sending out a “big middle finger” to everyone who doubted he could, and then pointing to nearly every reporter standing before him as non-believers.
In truth, Pouncey missed a total of only eight of 48 games the three previous years combined. To hear his critics, you’d swear he was out half the time.
The matured Mike Pouncey is one I’ll remember for a smile that could not be wiped off his face: How you feeling, Mike? Great, just great. The Dolphins lost last week? We’re gonna bounce back and play our best this week. The line around you is crumbling? We’ve got a great group of guys. We’ll get it together.
Every locker room needs a tension-breaker. In December, when the offensive linemen held their Secret Santa gift exchange, guard Ted Larsen threw a beat-up Dodge Neon into the pot, partially for comic relief. Pouncey not only snatched it, he drove it to work, praying it would chug all the way to Southwest 30th Street, praying it would actually stop when he stepped on the brakes, and laughing with Mercedes-driving teammates who were laughing at him as he parked.
Sort of like that Dodge Neon, Pouncey gave all he had to give.
And what he had to give was plenty good.
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