INDIANAPOLIS — He probably won’t be available when the Miami Dolphins draft at 11th overall.
And you may never have heard of Quenton Nelson. And you may think it’s absurd to even consider drafting an offensive guard that high.
But NFL personnel don’t feel that way. In fact, they think if he wasn’t a guard he’d for sure be one of the first few picks in this draft.
So what if, let’s just say, Notre Dame’s Nelson — who some people think is the type of guard who comes around every 10-20 years — were actually to slide to Miami on the first night of the draft.
“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys,” Nelson said at the NFL Scouting Combine.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t spend a first-round draft choice on a guard. And yes, it is one of Miami’s needs. But the Dolphins have lots of needs. And for years, Miami has felt it could get by without big investments on guards.
But what if this guy is a Hall of Fame talent, like Dolphins legend Larry Little?
It would be no mistake then.
According to a scouting report by Lance Zierlein on NFL.com, Nelson has “intimidating power,” “can forklift defenders,” is an “elite guard prospect with outstanding size, rare power and a block finisher,” and “has the traits and talent to become an All-Pro guard for years to come.”
In Indianapolis, many NFL personnel were saying Nelson is the easiest, safest pick in the draft.
But when you watch Nelson on film, what jumps out is his aggression. Nelson lives to maul, body slam and trample defensive opponents.
Nelson would bring an element to Miami’s offensive line that left with Richie Incognito.
“I would consider myself a nasty player,” said Nelson, when asked if he agrees with the notion that he is nasty.
Nelson is straight-forward, direct and a man of few words. But he also does not lack confidence.
“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle.”
Miami will obviously examine any available quarterback, offensive tackle and linebacker in the first three rounds of the draft.
But if this guy is available, drafting him would have to be seriously considered.
“Nelson had a terrific combine and is a plug-and-play, high-level starter,” writes ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “He’s a guard, not a tackle, but he’s also currently my second-ranked prospect in this class.”
Nelson appreciates comparisons to former Cowboys guard Larry Allen and current Cowboys Pro Bowler Zack Martin.
It is not within the realm of possibility that Nelson has many, many Pro Bowls in his future.
“Whatever offensive line I join, what I want to do is keep my head down, work very hard, learn a lot from the older guys and earn their respect through my work ethic and how I carry myself day in and day out,” Nelson said. “And then we’ll take it from there.”
HOLLYWOOD — One was a featured back for the Dolphins, the other, Dan Marino’s go-to man when it came to moving the chains.
Together, Terry Kirby and O.J. McDuffie likely sound like many fans sweating out the ever-increasing prospect of the Dolphins parting with Jarvis Landry.
“It would be a travesty,” Kirby said.
“If you let a guy like that go, you better have a contingency plan,” McDuffie said.
They were two of the Dolphins past and present surveyed at the gala dinner hosted by the Jason Taylor Foundation at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
The Dolphins have made Landry their franchise player but have granted him and his agent permission to try to facilitate a trade. Those at the gala dinner did not appear to find that prospect appetizing.
McDuffie is the last person who needs to be convinced of Landry’s value. There was a time that McDuffie was Landry, fearless in traffic in pursuit of first downs. It’s no coincidence both answer to the nickname Juice.
“They’d call me a possession receiver,” McDuffie said. “I say, ‘Yeah, I make sure we keep possession of the football. And that’s what it’s all about — moving the chains, doing the dirty work.”
Bottom line, from McDuffie’s perspective: “I would do everything I can if I were them to keep him around.”
It’s a no-brainer for Kirby, selected in the third round in 1993, 53 picks after first-rounder McDuffie.
“Why wouldn’t you keep him here, because he’s the nucleus of your team?” Kirby said. “People want to come here because of him.”
Losing Landry would leave a receiving corps of Kenny Stills, a proven deep threat, and a lot of question marks, not the least of which is DeVante Parker.
“Can anybody go inside?” McDuffie said. “Inside, you can’t just be fast or quick or whatever. You’ve got to be really smart on the inside because so much happens, a lot faster on the inside than it does on the outside. So you’ve got to have somebody who can handle all that.”
There was a time last season when coach Adam Gase called his offense “garbage.” And that was with Landry, the team’s co-MVP two seasons ago.
“If you don’t have a long ball, what else do you have? You’ve got possession offense,” Kirby said. “It’s mind-boggling.”
Ronnie Brown, a former running back and 2005 first-round pick, said losing Landry would muck up an already tricky situation because quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed 2017 with a knee injury.
“Now he’s going to have to have a new receiver that he’s not familiar with,” Brown said.
Landry showed up for optional workouts last offseason in a good-faith gesture he hoped would be rewarded.
“As a player, you want to send the right message to your teammates, like, ‘Hey, I want to be here,’ ” Brown said. “You want the organization to receive that and kind of credit you for that.”
Taylor, the host of the evening, experienced tough negotiations himself. He too was a Dolphins draftee who performed beyond expectations only to eventually wake up one day and learn what he had to offer didn’t match the organization’s view of what it could offer him.
“Having been on that side as a franchise player, and having been on that side in being traded and released, it’s a business for both parties,” Taylor said. “We only get a couple of cracks at this apple if we’re lucky.”
So Taylor has empathy for both sides.
“Landry has done some unprecedented things in this league in his first four years,” Taylor said. “He’s very deserving of a contract and some stability, and the Dolphins also have an obligation to control their cap. There’s not a ton of money out there right now cap-wise, but Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier and those guys will work it out and figure out what’s best for the organization.”
Safe to say there are plenty in the locker room who hope what’s best for the Dolphins is figuring out a way to bring back No. 14.
“Jarvis is going to get what he’s earned in this league and that’s the way it’s going to go,” center Mike Pouncey said. “I think he wants to be in Miami and he’ll be a Miami Dolphin.
Hill, 39, played in the league from 2001, when he made it with Arizona as a seventh-round pick, through ’10 with Denver. He was with Miami in the Nick Saban era from 2006 through ’08.
He’ll be working under new defensive backs coach Tony Oden, putting him on a lengthy list of Dolphins’ players-turned-coaches. The most recent was former linebacker Bryan Cox, who worked as the team’s pass rush coach in 2011.
Here’s the full list:
–Renaldo Hill: safety (2006-08); assistant defensive backs coach (2018)
–Bryan Cox: linebacker (1991-95); pass rush coach (2011)
–James Saxon: fullback (1992-94); running backs coach (2008-10)
–Terry Robiskie: running back (1980-81); wide receivers coach (2007)
–Jeff Dellenbach: center/tackle (1985-94); fellowship coach, offense and special teams assistant (2004)
–Bernie Parmalee: running back (1992-98); tight ends coach, special teams assistant (2002-04)
–Dwight Stephenson: center (1980-87); assistant offensive line coach (1992)
–Tony Nathan: running back (1979-87); coaching assistant, running backs coach (1989-95)
–Larry Seiple: tight end, running back, punter (1967-77); quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach (1988-99)
–Bob Matheson: linebacker (1971-79); special teams and linebackers coach (1983-87)
Every time the Dolphins celebrate their 1972 perfect season is a recognition of arguably the best team in NFL history, but it’s also a reminder of how long the franchise’s championship drought has lasted. Miami won it again the following year with a triumph in Super Bowl VII and hasn’t stood atop the football world since.
The Eagles’ 41-33 victory over New England in Super Bowl LII delivered the team’s first Lombardi Trophy and ended a 52-year wait in Philadelphia. The team did win the 1960 NFL championship, but it had been one of seven teams that have been around the entire Super Bowl era and failed to win one.
Miami is now sitting at 44 seasons without a Super Bowl win, which is the 12th-worst drought in the league, and hasn’t appeared in one since losing to San Francisco at the end of the 1984 season. The only five teams that have a longer run of failing to reach a title game are the Lions (60 years), Jets (49), Chiefs (48), Browns (45) and Vikings (41).
Here are the longest droughts without a Super Bowl win, now that Philadelphia is off this unfortunate list:
FORT LAUDERDALE — Having just polished off a burger at his favorite burger joint — Shula Burger — Don Shula was reflecting on when he knew he had an aptitude for his original profession, coaching football.
“I was always telling somebody what to do,” said Shula, 88, a smile crossing his face.
When Shula says something, he means it. So when he says he was “always” telling people what to do, it goes back more than you think …
“In grade school,” Shula said. “In high school. College. So it was just natural to go into coaching.”
When he did, Shula held onto his principles, including one that his teams should never, ever, make it easy on opponents by doing something stupid.
Penalties classify as something stupid. So Shula teams did not commit them. In 1976, the Dolphins led the league in fewest penalties committed. They duplicated the feat the next year and the year after that and didn’t stop until their streak was an NFL-record nine years.
The current Dolphins are at the other end of the spectrum, penalized more often than any team except Seattle. They were slammed with 17 flags in one game, and when coach Adam Gase called that “ridiculous,” he got not a single argument.
Question is, what to do about it?
Answer: Why not ask the man who wrote the blueprint?
“I’d get mad if we did something in practice,” Shula said of penalties. “If you do that in a game, it’s going to cost us. I wouldn’t tolerate practice penalties.”
He didn’t have to tolerate them in a 1993 playoff game against San Diego. The Dolphins won without committing any infractions. Of course, Shula did face occasional moments when his stare could melt 300-pound men. You wouldn’t have wanted to be a Dolphin the morning of Oct. 2, 1995. A day earlier, the Dolphins were penalized 14 times for 143 yards, all-time highs under Shula. Worse, it came in Shula Bowl II, against the Bengals, coached by Don’s son, David. At least the Dolphins won 26-23.
Where’s that leave us today? Unless you’re wearing a helmet or coach’s shirt, you can’t truly know how much penalties are or aren’t tolerated by Gase in practice. There’s no reason to think Gase is any more thrilled when officials are marching the Dolphins backward than Shula was.
But clearly, if the Dolphins want to take a step forward in 2018, things must change. The Dolphins were penalized 125 times for 1,141 yards in Gase’s first season and managed to get worse this year at 137 for 1,154 yards.
Look at it this way: It’s as if Jarvis Landry has not gained an inch the past two years. Landry has 2,123 yards in receptions, but the team has gone backward a total of 2,295 yards.
Shula’s formula didn’t just start on the practice field. His former All-Pro safety, Dick Anderson, likes to point out that the 17-0 defense in 1972 made only 13 mental errors all season. They didn’t commit dumb penalties and could have been called the “No-Penalty Defense” if not for the fact “No-Name Defense” sounds a thousand times better.
‘If you have a great athlete who doesn’t know what the hell to do, it’s going to get you beat.’ — Don Shula, on the premium he put on having smart players
Shula’s work toward that end would begin before the draft.
“We had a lot of information,” Shula said. “I always looked for guys that knew what to do. If you have a great athlete who doesn’t know what the hell to do, it’s going to get you beat.”
If you ever hear a coach saying he needs to simplify his game plan, you have to wonder if it’s because, as Shula says, the players don’t know what the hell to do.
This isn’t a perfect science. Gase and his assistants have correctly pointed out that some penalties, you have to live with. Ndamukong Suh is the highest-paid player on the team and won the team MVP award this season (correctly so), but he also drew the most flags of anyone on the team, 13. If he’s lunging for a tackle and, in the heat of the moment, his hand occasionally grabs a guy’s face mask instead of his jersey, that happens with the speed of this game. You can occasionally forgive that.
But when Suh lines up inches from the ball and gets called for seven pre-snap penalties in a season, that’s another story. If Gase got tired of Jay Ajayi putting the offense in first-and-15s with his running style, he cannot excuse linemen handing out first-and-5s like candy. The Dolphins have enough trouble going forward without having to always go backward.
And if you don’t believe all that, there’s probably a prodigy in grade school somewhere who can convince you.
FORT LAUDERDALE — One Miami Dolphins coach who enjoyed immediate success was reflecting over lunch Sunday afternoon about another Miami Dolphins coach who enjoyed immediate success.
The only difference is that for an encore, the speaker — Don Shula — won a couple of Super Bowls while the second coach — Adam Gase — is left wondering what went wrong.
Dolphins fans are, too. A year ago, they were sure the Dolphins had finally hired the right guy, but today, some aren’t so sure about Gase.
“Give him a chance,” Shula said. “The guy proved that he could do it. And you know everybody at one time or another has an off year. Give him a chance to bounce back and utilize his ability.”
Gase met Shula shortly after taking the job in January 2016, and the two have forged a bond before our eyes on many a Sunday afternoon. There would be Shula, 88, in a golf cart, on the Dolphins’ sideline during warmups at Hard Rock Stadium. And there would be Gase, making sure he took time to pay respects to Dolphins royalty.
“I enjoyed going to games,” Shula said. “Go down on the field before the game and saying hello to the coach. He’s a good guy, Adam. I like him — everything I know or have seen about him. I’m not an expert on him, but I like his mannerisms.”
Shula may not be an “expert” on Gase, but he is on the path traveled by him. Shula was only 40 when he was named Dolphins coach in January 1970. A year later, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs and 23 months later, they were in the Super Bowl.
Gase was 37 when the Dolphins hired him. One year and one day later, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs. But that’s where similarities end. It took Shula seven years before he had one of those off years he referred to; Gase’s first losing season was 6-10 this year.
“Good players, good assistants, good organization,” Shula said in explaining how he pulled off two Super Bowl championships within four years of arriving. “All those things have to fit together. You can’t do one without the other. So as a coach, you’ve got to put it together. You’ve got to know where your strengths and your weaknesses are. You build on your strengths and try to uplift your weaknesses.”
Gase inherited many on the current roster. The assistants are his — or were, since he’s taking a sledgehammer to the staff. Shula figures Gase deserves a couple of more years before anyone judges what he can do.
“I think he should be entitled to that,” Shula said.
Since he is Don Shula, he got to have lunch Sunday on the house, at a place that put his name in lights. It was at Shula Burger on the 17th Street Causeway in Fort Lauderdale, honoring Jupiter’s William Gogan for winning a national “SweepSteaks” drawing for a five-day, all-inclusive trip to Sicily in April.
Over a casual, two-hour meal of burgers, fries, onion rings and beer (Diet Pepsi for The Coach), the Gogans and Shulas mixed talk of football and world travels.
Afghanistan? Been there, Shula said, on a trip to honor the military. A rewarding experience? Certainly it was, even though wife Mary Anne explained it was not all smooth sailing. There was a helicopter flight to an outpost in which they had to wear 40-pound bulletproof vests and were surrounded by heavily armed personnel. They didn’t question the need for either the moment the chopper came under fire. After the pilot scurried them out of there, pronto, she inquired as to just how much danger they’d been in. Whatever amount it was for them, came the response, it wasn’t nearly as much as for the guys firing from down below. That’s the kind of defense the Shulas can appreciate. But they arrived at another stop to learn a suicide bomber had struck the area only hours prior.
Diners passed the table, did a double-take and fiddled around to open the camera app on their phones.
“Thirty-five dollars,” Shula told each. “Two for $70.” Then, Shula would laugh that grandfatherly laugh that his startled old players only lately discovered had been locked deep down inside for years. He clasped a young boy’s hand for one photo, making sure to do so as just the right angle so his diamond ring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame glistened for the lens.
“Who do you like today?” someone asked.
“Anybody but Belichick,” said Shula, who made headlines years ago when he referred to the Patriots’ Bill Belichick as “Beli-cheat.”
Don Shula was a stickler for ethics then; he’s a stickler still. But he does respect New England quarterback Tom Brady, 40 — so much so, the obvious question was how Shula would compare Brady to Dan Marino.
“I think nobody has thrown it or will ever throw it any better than Marino,” Shula said. “He had a lightning-fast release. That ball came out like lightning. Brady is more of a field general.”
Maybe so, but Marino could talk like he had five stars on his shoulders.
“We were in a critical situation one time and it was a timeout,” Shula told Gogan. “And he comes over to the sideline and I was asking everybody what they liked and I get to Dan and I said, ‘Dan, what do you like?’ He said, ‘Throw the (expletive).’
Know what else was fun? That Monday night in 1985 when the Dolphins spoiled the Bears’ perfect season 38-24 to protect the legacy of Miami’s 17-0.
“Kicked their ass, big time,” Shula said.
Some players on the ’73 team will tell you it was better than the ’72 team, the key words being “tell you.” Try telling that to Shula.
“You know how you keep track of that?” Shula said. “They have what they call ‘scores.’ ”
However proud he was that day they beat Washington to complete 17-0, he might be even more proud today.
“I would have thought that it could happen again — that if we did it, it wouldn’t be that hard for somebody to do again,” Shula said. “But the fact that they haven’t tells you how tough it was to do.”
It’s tough winning them all in this league. As the current Dolphins coach knows, it’s tough winning even some.
Forty-five minutes after the game Sunday, the stadium was still packed with Minnesota Vikings fans, delirious with the kind of high only sports can offer.
Who could blame them? Isn’t winning in a fashion the Vikings did — a miracle on the last play — what you live for as a fan? Doesn’t that one moment make sitting through those hot/cold/dreadful days worth it? Isn’t it why, when the announcers implore you not to change the channel, because this game isn’t over, you obey, listening to that voice in your head reminding you of that time 10 years ago when dadgummit, you didn’t?
Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs, 61 yards, touchdown. Vikings 29, Saints 24.
Despite recent misfortunes, the Dolphins have had moments that make you leap from your seats. In honor of Sunday’s classic, here are the 20 best. A disclaimer: These are not the greatest or significant plays the Dolphins have pulled off. They are the plays that made you leap out of your seat, spill your beer, not care, and high-five the best friend sitting next to you, whom you met three hours prior.
20. The imperfect season averted
The Dolphins avoided going 0-16 — and getting talked about in the same breath as this year’s Browns — with a 22-16 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens late in the 2007 season. Greg Camarillo’s 64-yard touchdown reception decided it. “Take us out of the history books!” radio analyst Joe Rose yelled. “We’re not going in for that one, baby!”
19. Auer burns the Raiders
With the first play in team history, Joe Auer returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against the Raiders. At that point, Auer’s main concern was getting hugged by Dolphins part-owner Danny Thomas, the actor, who had his omnipresent lit cigar in his mouth.
18. An onside punt?
Nobody knew the rules like Don Shula. In 1980, the Dolphins had given up a safety with 6 1/2 minutes left and trailed the Bengals 16-7. So Shula called on punter George Roberts to execute an unheard-of “onside punt” with the free kick. The Dolphins recovered and were on their way to win 17-16.
17. Ginn turns on Jets
Consider this a two-for-the-price-of-one entry. In 2009, Ted Ginn returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, beating two Jets who had an angle on him. The Jets, not having learned their lesson, kicked to Ginn again. Ginn sidestepped two defenders back-to-back on his 15, then cut outside for a 101-yard touchdown, a feat that earned him a temporary display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
16. Oliver goes coast to coast
When Louis Oliver intercepted that Jim Kelly pass intended for Thurman Thomas in the end zone and didn’t immediately kneel down, it was easy to wonder if he’d lost his mind. Actually, Oliver knew exactly what he was doing, returning it 103 yards for a touchdown on a 1992 day in which he had three interceptions. “I said, ‘Let me take it to the end zone and do a little dance or something,’ ” Oliver said after the 37-10 win. “But when I got to the end zone I was tired as hell.”
15. Fail Flutie
Doug Flutie appeared ready to haunt Miami again by throwing a touchdown pass, seeing the Bills recover an onside kick, and driving Buffalo to the Miami 5 with 17 seconds left in the 1998-99 playoffs. Trace Armstrong had other ideas, getting a sack-strip-fumble on Flutie that Shane Burton recovered to preserve a 24-17 victory. “I don’t know if they’re going to rule it a pass or a fumble,” Armstrong said. “I’m just praying it’s a fumble, for two reasons. It would end the game, and I don’t think I could go another play.”
14. Mr. Smith goes to the end zone
Lamar Smith’s 17-yard touchdown run ended his 40-carry, 209-yard effort in a 23-17 overtime playoff victory over the Colts. The win, on Dec. 30, 2000, remains the most recent Dolphins playoff victory.
13. Fulton’s Super record
No one had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a Super Bowl until Fulton Walker went 98 yards for a 17-10 lead over Washington in 1983. The Dolphins eventually lost 27-17.
12. Anderson escorted to end zone
One week after the classic “Longest Game” win over the Chiefs, the Dolphins knocked the Colts out of the 1971 playoffs thanks to safety Dick Anderson’s 62-yard interception return. Johnny Unitas’ pass was deflected by Curtis Johnson, and after Anderson caught it, he had a wall of six blockers as he weaved his way into the end zone. “My eyes were popping as I ran,” Anderson said. “I’ve never seen so many people land on their heads.”
11. Shula gives up two
How could a play in which the Dolphins give up two points make this list? Leave it to Don Shula, who outsmarted everybody in 1973. The Dolphins were up by six in a Monday night game against the Steelers and deep in their own end, facing a fourth down. They lined up to go for it, were nailed with a delay penalty, and still didn’t send in punter Larry Seiple. The ABC crew was beside itself, wondering if Shula had gone mad. Bob Griese took the snap and casually stepped out of the end zone. This allowed Seiple a free kick, eliminated the chance of a blocked punt and still meant the Steelers needed a touchdown to win. The Dolphins held on 30-26. “Shula’s way ahead of us all!” Howard Cosell said.
10. Wake goes for two
A sack-safety in overtime? Who ever heard of such a thing? Cameron Wake produced the unthinkable in 2013, leading the Dolphins out of a slump when it was least expected. With 6:42 left in overtime, the Bengals had a third down on their 8-yard line. Andy Dalton dropped so far back to pass, he was in his end zone, where Wake nailed him for a 22-20 win. “I looked down on the grass and saw all colors. I figured, ‘Oh, we’re in the end zone,’ ” Wake said. “It’s just one of those games. How much better could it have been than to have a D-lineman kind of seal the deal?”
9. Lett it be, Lett it be!
Thanksgiving Day, 1993. All the Cowboys had to do to beat the Dolphins was nothing — nothing at all. Pete Stoyanovich’s 41-yard field-goal attempt in the snow was blocked by Jimmie Jones … except … what is Leon Lett doing? Lett cemented his place in football follies history by trying to recover a ball that didn’t need recovering. By touching it, he made it a live ball again. After Jeff Dellenbach recovered on the Dallas 1, Stoyo made good on his mulligan from 19 yards out for a 16-14 victory.
8. Seiple fakes out even Shula
A week after the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers faced the visiting Dolphins in the 1972 AFC title game. The Dolphins had noticed on film that the Steelers tended to turn their backs on punts and told punter Larry Seiple that when the time was right, they’d call a fake punt. Seiple didn’t feel like waiting, so in the second quarter, he took off, gaining 37 yards to set up a touchdown on what Steelers coach Chuck Noll called a game-changer. “Shula was not extremely excited,” Seiple said. “If I hadn’t made it, I would have kept on running.” The best part: The Steelers were so unaware what was happening that some players were running upfield along with Seiple, making it appear they were blocking for him.
7. No. 31 did it!
As improbable plays go, it’s tough to top this one. Five days after the Dolphins claimed him off the 49ers’ practice squad, Michael Thomas was pressed into duty in 2013 when several defensive backs went down. He didn’t know the plays. Teammates didn’t know his name, so they called him “31.” All Tom Brady knew was he was the new guy. So on fourth down with seven seconds left, Brady picked on Thomas, aiming for Austin Collie in the end zone. Thomas picked it off, sealing the Dolphins’ win. Long forgotten is that just before that play, Thomas also broke up a throw to Danny Amendola. Thomas had not taken a single snap on defense in practice. He wasn’t even sure if he was allowed to keep the game ball (he did). “I can’t put this into words right now,” he said tearfully in the locker room. “You know, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
6. A.J. for the TD
A.J. Duhe intercepted Jets QB Richard Todd three times in the 1982 AFC Championship Game, returning one 35 yard for a touchdown and the final points of a 14-0 win. Duhe bobbled the screen pass a couple of times before securing it. “Today was the greatest day ever,” Don Shula said.
5. Marino’s back, and so is magic
Dan Marino, coming off an Achilles injury in the 1994 opener, hit ex-Patriot Irving Fryar with a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 with 3:19 remaining to win 39-35. “They just don’t get any bigger than that,” Don Shula said.
4. One unlucky Bear
You could score this one Marino to Clayton (assist, Hampton). The Dolphins took a 38-17 lead in the classic 1985 victory over the Bears thanks to a Dan Marino pass that ricocheted off the helmet of Dan Hampton. Mark Clayton happily collected the ball and waltzed the remaining 42 yards for a touchdown.
3. Duper was Super
In 1985, three weeks before the famed Monday night game vs. the unbeaten Bears, the Dolphins trailed the Jets 17-14 following a 20-yard touchdown pass by Ken O’Brien with 68 seconds left. Dan Marino needed two plays to rewrite the script, hitting Mark Duper with a 50-yard bomb in a 21-17 victory. Good chance the play never would happen today. Duper, who had missed the previous seven games with an injury, was single-covered on the play by cornerback Bobby Jackson. One play earlier, Jackson had fallen while tackling Mark Clayton and was so dazed, he couldn’t get up without teammate Johnny Lynn hoisting him up by the jersey. Concussion protocol, anyone?
2. The clock play (of course)
This might be the most-watched play in Dolphins history. It’s certainly one Dolfans will never tire of seeing. “Clock! Clock! Clock!” Dan Marino yelled in 1994, motioning that he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock. The Jets bought it just enough to allow Marino to fire a 11-yard touchdown pass in a 28-24 victory. “I am an accomplished actor,” Marino said.
1. The hook and lateral
From the greatest game in Dolphins history comes the greatest play in Dolphins history.
The Chargers had jumped to a 24-0 lead in the 1981-82 playoffs before Miami started chipping away. Still, San Diego was sure to go into halftime ahead 24-10 when Don Shula suggested “87 circle curl lateral” to quarterback Don Strock with six seconds left.
“Sure, why not?” Strock said, even though, years later, he admitted to The Sun-Sentinel he was thinking there was no chance the play would work.
Strock hit Duriel Harris with a 25-yard pass. Harris lateraled to Tony Nathan, who cruised down the sideline the final 15 yards with ball held aloft.
Harris also was so unconvinced it would work, he was thinking of holding onto the ball after the catch. Nathan probably couldn’t have blamed him.
“It never even worked in practice,” Nathan said.
Plenty of teams try the hook-and-lateral in desperation mode today, but back then, it baffled the Chargers. The Dolphins were so fired up, Shula didn’t have to bother with a halftime pep talk.
Still, the Chargers went on to win 41-38 in overtime in what the NFL later termed “the Game of the Decade.”
The call, as far as Bob Griese was concerned, came out of the blue. After 14 years as quarterback of the Dolphins and five years calling NFL games for NBC, Griese suddenly received an offer from ABC to analyze college football games.
“Why? Why? College games?” Griese remembers asking.
The ABC executives had an ace in the hole.
“Well, we want you to come and work with Keith Jackson,” they said.
“Whoa, Nellie,” Griese recalled Saturday afternoon. “So I did.”
Griese fondly remembered his longtime partnership with Jackson, who for generations was the face of college football even though in his iconic, 52-year career, Jackson’s credentials spanned the globe — as the famous opening to Wide World of Sports reminded us each Saturday. Jackson went behind the Iron Curtain to broadcast rowing from the Soviet Union and called everything from baseball to the Olympics to the NFL (as the original voice of “Monday Night Football”).
“Some guys that are doing college sports — football or basketball — want to take over the show,” Griese said. “They want to be bigger than the game that they’re doing. Keith never wanted to do that, even though ‘Whoa, Nellie’ and ‘the big uglies’ and all of his terms were really big and were used back then.”
Griese couldn’t resist joking the he and Jackson should go into business hawking golf shirts and baseball caps with “Whoa, Nellie.”
“He said, ‘I ain’t gonna do it. I ain’t gonna do it. The game is about the kids and not about me,’ ” Griese said. “He never wanted to impose himself into the game.”
The homespun humility of this Georgia native shined through to Griese right from their first game together at the University of Washington.
“We get ready to do the opening and we sit down and he says, ‘OK, lad, how do you want to do this?’ ” Griese said. “I’ll never forget, I about fell off my chair. “I said, ‘Keith, you’ve been doing this for all your life. You know how to do this. I’m just a rookie at this business. I’ll just follow your lead.’ He said, ‘OK, that’s the way we’ll do it.’ ”
It worked. Griese and Jackson were to college football what Pat Summerall and John Madden were to the NFL — the broadcast team you’d expect to hear if it was a big game.
“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, ESPN’s parent company. “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game.”
With one brief period of exceptions. They occurred in 1996, leading nonetheless to a poignant moment in broadcasting. Michigan had a strong program, but in ’96, Jackson and Griese didn’t call their games because Bob’s son, Brian, was a backup quarterback for the Wolverines and ABC Sports feared a conflict of interest. The network philosophy changed the following year.
“I told Brian, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news,’ ” Bob said. “ ‘Your dad’s going to get to see you play your senior year.’ He said, ‘Well, what’s the bad news?’ I said, ‘The bad news is that color analyst in the booth is not going to give you a fair shake. If you make a great play, it’s just going to be ordinary. And if you make a mistake, it’s really going to be a dumb mistake.’ ”
Jackson was amused at all the questions Bob faced about whether he could truly be objective. He also was amused at how Bob stumbled through whether to call Brian “Griese” or “Brian” or “Brian Griese.” Then, the roles were reversed. Michigan qualified for the Rose Bowl and a chance to play for the national championship against Washington State — Jackson’s alma mater.
At that point, Griese could mimic all those “ridiculous” concerns in Jackson’s ear: “Are you going to be able to call it fair and square?”
“Brian has a pretty good game and Michigan’s going to win,” Griese said of the ’98 Rose Bowl. “There’s like 15 seconds left and in the booth, the assistant reaches over and hands Keith a 5×7 file card. And I said it’s a promo or a lead-in to a commercial. So Keith holds onto it for a little bit. And he’s looking at it. And there’s a silent pause. And he says, ‘Whoa, Nellie. You want to know who the MVP is? I’m standing right next to his proud daddy.’
“Yeah, that was a special moment. I said, ‘You better take over from here because I can’t talk, Keith.’ ”
Griese carries special memories away from the booth as well. He and Jackson used to arrive at game sites on Thursdays and dine together that night. A guy from Evansville, Ind., Griese fancied himself as not much of a drinker and if he did, it was a beer. But dinner with Jackson always meant a bottle of red wine on the table. Griese would sip his half-glass all night. Jackson would polish off the rest while educating Griese on fine wine.
And if there were ever a few drops left in Griese’s glass?
“He’d reach over and he’d grab it and he’d say, ‘Well, we don’t want to waste any good red wine,’ ” Griese said. “He was always entertaining and just the nicest guy to everybody he’d meet.”
Because the Dolphins have had West Coast trips the past couple of years, Griese was able to recreate those memories, dining with Jackson and his wife, Turi Ann.
For the last game they called together, Griese stashed a Gatorade bucket in the booth. As the clock wound down, Griese dumped the bucket on his partner — except it contained confetti. As Griese spoke Saturday afternoon, he looked at a framed picture of that moment hanging in his home. Nearby was a copy of Jackson’s brief acceptance speech after Griese presented him to receive the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Gold Medal in 1999. Griese read the speech aloud:
“This is a simple moment in this life,” Jackson told the gathering. “It will be a star bright enough to cast a light along the rest of the journey. It has been a life that is so rich that you must be careful when considering it. It is a canvas with colors so vivid and true, painted by thousands of people who have been part of this life. And I shall forever be indebted to them.
“And many of them are in this room tonight. For nearly half a century, I have stood at the edge of your stage for the simple purpose of definition. Never wanting to intrude, but rather, enhance. I hope I have done that.
DAVIE — For those still unsure about whether Ryan Tannehill is the answer for the Dolphins, how would Ben Roethlisberger look in a Dolphins uniform?
If you’re wondering how the Dolphins’ high-priced defensive line could produce bargain-basement sacks, would J.J. Watt be an acceptable addition?
And if you’re down on DeVante Parker, might someone along the lines of Michael Irvin be a welcome replacement?
Of course, none of those three will be Dolphins in 2018 … but comparable talent could be.
And, more to the point: For the sake of the Dolphins’ future, it pretty much needs to be.
The Dolphins hold the No. 11 pick in the draft, and the names Roethlisberger, Watt and Irvin should come to mind, because all were selected in that slot — a position that has been a gold mine over the years.
(Warning: For some unfortunate souls, it also can be a landmine. But more on that in a minute.)
The Dolphins have chosen 11th once, in 1969, coming away with defensive end Bill Stanfill, a cornerstone of the No-Name Defense on the two Super Bowl-winning teams and member of the Dolphins Honor Roll at Hard Rock Stadium. If you were to offer Adam Gase a guy capable of 18.5 sacks in a season, which Stanfill had in 1973, Gase might find that acceptable.
Linebacker Patrick Willis, a tackling machine for the 49ers whose career was cut short by injury, was a No. 11. So were All-Pros DeMarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney, who between them have 264 sacks.
If you wanted to keep your quarterback in one piece with those headhunters around, calling on Pro Bowl tackles Taylor Lewan or Leon Searcy (yup, both 11s) would be advisable.
So too is doing one’s homework, which should keep the Dolphins’ braintrust of Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Gase occupied the next few months. The first round is fraught with poor options, and drafting as high as No. 11 only raises the stakes.
Jay Cutler’s Dolphins career will come and go with only one forgettable season, costing Miami $10 million. But what if his price also were the 11th overall pick, which is what the Broncos paid in 2006?
Maybe it’s time for the Dolphins to choose another QB, but can they afford a replay of the Daunte Culpepper experiment (Vikings, 1999)? Or, worse, another Jerry Tagge, whose career passer rating was 44.2 after the Packers thought he’d be the answer in 1972?
Those are the extremes, naturally. A majority of 11s end up somewhere in the middle, ranging from the very good (Wilber Marshall, Bears, 1984, or Dontari Poe, Chiefs, 2012) to the OK (Anthony Smith, Raiders, 1990).
For sheer bizarre entertainment, let’s revisit 1979, when the Saints took Texas punter Russell Erxleben at No. 11. They got what they deserved: After five years of Erxleben averaging 40 yards per punt, they saw him join the Lions, where he averaged 52 yards in 1987. Oh, but did we mention that was for his only kick in his final season?
Even when teams do the right thing, the results may not show it. UM’s Dan Morgan was a solid linebacking addition to the Panthers in 2001, but injuries shrunk his career into seven seasons. Packers fans had to wonder what could have been for Tim Lewis (1983), who had 16 interceptions in four seasons. Then came Sept. 22, 1986, when the Packers were playing the Bears on Monday Night Football. Lewis, 24, was covering speedy receiver Willie Gault, who caught a 6-yard pass. Lewis collided with Gault and didn’t regain feeling in his extremities until he was in the hospital. He was diagnosed with a narrow spinal canal and forced to retire.
The Dolphins’ season just ended with a whimper at 6-10, so all Dolfans have to look forward to is the draft. And, perhaps, another Big Ben, another Playmaker, or the latest installment from the massive talent well of the Watt family.
Breaking down No. 11 picks
The Dolphins hold the No. 11 pick in this year’s draft. They have chosen 11th only once before, in 1979 when they took one of their all-time greats, defensive end Bill Stanfill. Here’s how the No. 11s break down from 1969 to the present.
The Dolphins can only hope
Year Pos Player College NFL team
’11 DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin Houston
Three-Time Defensive Player of Year, 4 All-Pro teams
’07 LB Patrick Willis, Ole Miss San Francisco
732 tackles, seven Pro Bowls but retired after ’14 with health concerns
’04 QB Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) Pittsburgh
Six Pro Bowls; future Hall of Famer
’88 WR Michael Irvin, Miami Dallas
Pro Football Hall of Famer
All they expected
’14 T Taylor Lewan, Michigan Tennessee
2 Pro Bowls
’12 NT Dontari Poe, Memphis Kansas City
239 career tackles; 2 Pro Bowls
’05 LB DeMarcus Ware, Troy State Dallas
138.5 career sacks, 4-time All-Pro
’02 DE Dwight Freeney, Syracuse Indianapolis
125.5 career sacks; 3-time All-Pro
’92 T Leon Searcy, Miami Pittsburgh
111 starts; 1 Pro Bowl
’84 LB Wilber Marshall, Florida Chicago
Two-time All-Pro; 1,020 tackles
’73 RB Sam Cunningham, USC New England
“Sam Bam” had 43 TDs in 9 seasons
’69 DE Bill Stanfill, Georgia Miami
69.5 career sacks
Solid but unspectacular
’08 CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy Buffalo
Part-time starter, 15 career INTs, 80 passes defensed
’06 QB Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt Denver
Personification of inconsistency
’03 CB Marcus Trufant, Washington State Seattle
11 seasons, 21 INTs
’01 LB Dan Morgan, Miami Carolina
7 seasons, 281 tackles, but several injuries
’00 RB Ron Dayne, Wisconsin New York Giants
Best season was 773 as rookie
’99 QB Daunte Culpepper, Central Florida Minnesota
He was no Drew Brees
’98 T William Thomas, FSU Philadelphia
Started 168 games
’96 DB Alex Molden, Oregon New Orleans
8 seasons, 12 INTs
’95 DE Derrick Alexander, FSU Minnesota
20 career sacks
’91 T Pat Harlow, USC New England
94 career starts for Patriots, Raiders
’90 DE Anthony Smith, Arizona L.A. Raiders
57.5 career sacks
’89 DB Donnell Woolford, Clemson Chicago
36 INTs in 9 seasons
’86 LB Joe Kelly, Washington Cincinnati
11 seasons, 6 INTs
’85 DB Richard Johnson, Wisconsin Houston
15 INTs in 8 seasons
’83 DB Tim Lewis, Pittsburgh Green Bay
16 INTs in 4 seasons before neck injury ended career
’81 T Keith Van Horne, USC Chicago
Played 13 seasons
’80 G Brad Budde, USC Kansas City
Played 7 seasons
’77 T Morris Towns, Missouri Houston
Played 92 games in 8 seasons
’75 G Dennis Harrah, Miami L.A. Rams
168 games in 13 seasons
Can I get a Mulligan?
’13 DE D.J. Fluker, Alabama San Diego
65 career starts
’10 T Anthony Davis, Rutgers San Francisco
4-year starter; retired early for health reasons
’09 DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State Buffalo
Only 1 career start, 6 sacks
’97 CB Michael Booker, Nebraska Atlanta
Played only 5 seasons
’94 LB John Thierry, Alcorn State Chicago
41 tackles in 9 seasons
’93 DE Dan Williams, Toledo Denver
27 career sacks
’87 DE Shawn Knight, BYU New Orleans
Played only 3 seasons
’82 WR Anthony Hancock, Tennessee Kansas City
5 TDs in 5 seasons
’79 P Russell Erxleben, Texas New Orleans
Seriously? A punter? Zero chance of a repeat today