History of the Miami Dolphins
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The Miami Dolphins are a professional American football franchise based in the Miami metropolitan area. The Dolphins compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) East division. The Dolphins team was founded by attorney-politician Joe Robbie and actor-comedian Danny Thomas. They began play in the AFL in 1966. The region had not had a professional football team since the days of the Miami Seahawks, who played in the All-America Football Conference in 1946 before becoming the first incarnation of the Baltimore Colts.
The late 1960s: Origins
The first professional American football team to be based in Miami and the state of Florida was the Miami Seahawks. The Seahawks entered the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) during its inaugural 1946 season, as the first major league-level sports franchise ever in Miami. However, the team lasted only one year before being confiscated by the league.
In 1962, the fledgling American Football League staged a preseason exhibition game between the Houston Oilers and the Dallas Texans. Three years later, the AFL awarded an expansion team franchise to lawyer Joseph Robbie and actor Danny Thomas for $7.5 million. Robbie had originally wanted to establish the franchise in Philadelphia, but AFL commissioner Joe Foss suggested courting Miami due to its warm climate, growing population, and lack of a football team. Thomas would eventually sell his stake in the team to Robbie. A contest was held in 1965 to choose the name of the team, which elicited 19,843 entries and over a thousand different names. The winning name, "Dolphins", was submitted by 622 entrants. During the summer of 1966, the Dolphins' training camp was in St. Pete Beach with practices in August at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport.
The 1970s: The perfect season and the Super Bowl titles
Then in 1970, Don Shula, a former Paul Brown disciple who had been lured from the Baltimore Colts after losing Super Bowl III two seasons earlier to the AFL's New York Jets and finishing 8–5–1 the following season, was hired as head coach. The Colts charged the Dolphins with tampering in gaining Shula, which cost them their 1st-round draft pick in 1970. Shula introduced himself to the Miami press by saying that he didn't have any magic formulas and that the only way he knew to make his teams successful was through hard work. Shula's early training camps with the Dolphins would soon be the stuff of sweltering, painful legend. But Shula's hard work paid immediate dividends, as Miami improved to a 10–4 record and their first-ever playoff appearance, losing 21–14 at Oakland.
The Dolphins were a successful team during the early 1970s, becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl for three consecutive seasons. They captured the AFC championship in 1971 behind quarterback Bob Griese and wide receiver Paul Warfield. The AFC Divisional Playoff Game, in which the Dolphins defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27–24, was the longest contest in NFL history (82 minutes 40 seconds). The Dolphins then shut out the Colts 21–0 in the AFC Championship game at the Orange Bowl. In Super Bowl VI, however, Miami lost to the Dallas Cowboys 24–3.
In 1972, the Dolphins completed the NFL's first and only perfect season, winning every regular season game, two playoff games, and Super Bowl VII, defeating the Washington Redskins 14–7 (the 1948 Cleveland Browns had accomplished an undefeated season, but as members of the All-America Football Conference). During this season, Griese suffered a broken ankle in Week 5 versus the San Diego Chargers and was replaced by veteran Earl Morrall for the rest of the regular season, with Griese returning to the field as a substitute during the AFC Championship game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and would once again start for Miami in Super Bowl VII. On the ground, running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first teammates to each rush 1,000 yards in a season. The offensive line included future Hall of Fame members Jim Langer and Larry Little, and Pro Bowler Bob Kuechenberg. The 1972 Dolphins defensive unit, called the No-Name Defense because Miami's impressive offense received much more publicity, was the league's best that year. It was led by linebacker Nick Buoniconti, end Bill Stanfill, and safeties Dick Anderson and Jake Scott. The Dolphins defeated the Cleveland Browns 20–14 at the Orange Bowl, then knocked off the Steelers 21–17 at Three Rivers Stadium to advance to Super Bowl VII. The only blemish in Miami's Super Bowl victory over Washington came from their placekicker, Garo Yepremian. Late in the 4th quarter, with the Dolphins leading 14–0, Yepremian attempted a 42-yard field goal, which was blocked. Yepremian picked up the loose ball, and attempted to pass, but the ball slipped out of his hands, and after batting it up in the air, the ball was grabbed by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it for a touchdown. The Dolphins were able to hold on for a 14–7 victory.
The Dolphins finished 12–2 after the 1973 regular season and repeated as NFL champions, beating the Minnesota Vikings 24–7 in Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston. Miami reached the playoffs again in 1974 but lost in the first round to the Oakland Raiders, in what has entered NFL lore as the "Sea of Hands" game, considered one of the greatest games ever played. This devastating loss, which Shula called his toughest ever (he cried in the locker room after the game) and which haunts Dolphin players and fans to this day, marked the end of the Dolphins' dynasty. It would be eight years before the Dolphins would win another playoff game. After the disappointing defeat, several players, including Csonka, Warfield, and running back Jim Kiick, joined the short-lived World Football League. The Dolphins managed to win ten games in 1975, aided by Griese's consistency and the fine play of wide receiver Nat Moore. They did not make the playoffs, however, losing on tiebreakers to the Baltimore Colts.
Miami rebounded from a 6–8 losing record in 1976 by winning ten or more games in four of the next five seasons. Shula built a solid defense around a new set of stars, including linebacker A.J. Duhe and linemen Bob Baumhower and Doug Betters. The Dolphins went 10–4 again in 1977, but again lost the division title (and playoff spot) to the Colts. They made the playoffs as a wild card in 1978, but lost in the first round to the Houston Oilers 17–9.
Csonka returned to the Dolphins in time for the 1979 season. After winning the AFC East division with a 10–6 record, the Dolphins lost the divisional playoff 34–14 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Dolphins also accomplished another feat never done before or since by another NFL team. They beat the division rival Buffalo Bills 20 consecutive times in the 1970s. The Bills were "0 for the seventies" against the Dolphins.
The 1980s: The Marino era (Part 1)
In 1980, David Woodley, an athletic quarterback out of LSU, took over for Bob Griese, who severely injured his shoulder in a game against the Baltimore Colts. Griese would never play again, retiring after the season. The Dolphins finished 8–8 and did not make the playoffs. Their season ender with the Jets was notable for being the only NFL game ever broadcast without commentary.
The Dolphins were back on top of the AFC East in 1981 with an 11–4–1 record. That season, the Dolphins' quarterback position was actually manned by both Woodley and backup Don Strock, causing the local media to identify the Miami quarterbacks as "Woodstrock." They reached the divisional playoff against the San Diego Chargers, regarded as one of the most memorable games in NFL history, known as The Epic in Miami. After being down 24–0 after the end of the 1st quarter, Strock entered the game for an ineffective Woodley and engineered a frenetic comeback, which included the historic "Hook and Lateral" play, in which wide receiver Duriel Harris caught a pass from Strock and immediately lateraled the ball to the streaking running back Tony Nathan for the score on the last play of the first half, which cut the Chargers lead to 24–17. After the Dolphins took the lead in the 4th quarter, San Diego tied it up 38–38 with under a minute to play. Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, playing through exhaustion, blocked Uwe von Schamann's field goal try on the last play of regulation. Von Schamann had another field goal attempt blocked in overtime, and Rolf Benirschke kicked the game-winner for San Diego late in overtime. Strock finished the game with 403 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Dolphins, led by the "Killer B's" defense (Baumhower, Bill Barnett, brothers Lyle Blackwood and Glenn Blackwood, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, and Bob Brudzinski), held five of their nine opponents to 14 or fewer points en route to their fourth Super Bowl appearance. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, they got revenge for previous losses, crushing the New England Patriots 28–13 (revenge for the infamous Snow Plow game at Schaeffer Stadium played earlier in the season) and the San Diego Chargers 34–13 at the Orange Bowl. Late in the season, in a snowy game against the Patriots, a convicted felon on work-release cleared a path for Patriots kicker John Smith to score the game-winning field goal. In the first round in Miami, they met again, with the Dolphins winning easily. In the second round against San Diego, the Dolphins got revenge for their loss the previous year, winning even more handily. After shutting out the New York Jets in the AFC Championship 14–0 behind three interceptions by A.J. Duhe, they lost Super Bowl XVII to the Washington Redskins, 27–17. After enjoying success rooted in a defense-first philosophy, and employing a ball control offense to take pressure off of lackluster quarterbacks, the next 17 seasons would be marked by an average rushing game and defense that limited a great quarterback.
The Dolphins began 1983 with the offense struggling. In the season opener at Buffalo, David Woodley passed for only 40 yards, and they had to simply kick their way to victory with four FGs in a 12–0 win. Although he played well against New England in Week 2, a loss to the Los Angeles Raiders prompted Don Shula to bench him in favor of rookie Dan Marino, drafted out of the University of Pittsburgh, who went on to win the AFC passing title helped by a ratio of 20 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions and Rookie of the Year award. Seldom sacked by defenders, Marino was protected by an outstanding offensive line as he passed to receivers such as Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, who were known collectively as "The Marks Brothers." Despite the regular season success (the Dolphins went 12–4 winning their last five regular season games and was the only team in the AFC East with a winning record), they were upset in the divisional playoffs by the Seattle Seahawks at the Orange Bowl. Defensive end Doug Betters was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
In 1984, the Dolphins won their first 11 games en route to a 14–2 season (the franchise's best 16-game season to date). Marino, in his first full season, produced the most impressive set of passing statistics in NFL history, setting single-season records for most yards (5,084), touchdown passes (48), and completions (362). He was voted NFL MVP. Miami avenged the Seattle Seahawks 31–10 and crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers 45–28 in the playoffs to get to Super Bowl XIX. In the title game, however, Miami lost to the San Francisco 49ers 38–16. It would be Marino's only Super Bowl appearance and the Dolphins' last one to date.
In 1985, Miami finished 12–4 and was the only team that beat the 15–1 Chicago Bears all year. After just getting by the Cleveland Browns 24–21 after rallying from a 21–3 third quarter deficit in the divisional playoffs, many people were looking forward to a rematch with Chicago in Super Bowl XX. The Cinderella New England Patriots, the Dolphins' opponents in the AFC Championship, had different plans. New England forced six turnovers on the way to a 31–14 win, the Pats' first in Miami since 1966, snapping an 18-game losing streak facing the Fins at the Orange Bowl (not counting a 1969 win at Tampa Stadium, where the Fins were deemed the home team.)
In 1986, the Dolphins, hampered by defensive struggles, stumbled to a 2–5 start and finished 8–8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1980. The Dolphins lost their Orange Bowl finale to the New England Patriots 34–27 on Monday Night Football. The problems continued in 1987, with an 8–7 record in a strike-shortened year (7–5 in non-strike games), their first at the new Joe Robbie Stadium. In 1988, Miami had its first losing season (6–10) in 12 years, then finished 8–8 following the 1989 season.
The 1990s: The Marino era (Part 2)
By 1990, the Dolphins had finally shaped up on defense and finished with a 12–4 record, second in the AFC East. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs 17–16 in the wild card round, but lost to the Buffalo Bills 44–34 in the divisional playoff. The team struggled with defensive injuries in 1991, and narrowly missed the playoffs on an overtime loss to the New York Jets in the final week of the season.
The Dolphins finished 11–5 in 1992, capturing the AFC East title behind Mark Higgs having his best season as a running back and tight end Keith Jackson (acquired as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles) leading the team in receiving. They beat the Chargers in the divisional playoffs 31–0, but were defeated by the Buffalo Bills 29–10 in the AFC Championship.
1993 turned into a disastrous year for the Dolphins. Both Marino and backup quarterback Scott Mitchell suffered injuries, and following a memorable win over Dallas on Thanksgiving Day with Steve DeBerg as starting quarterback, Miami lost its final 5 games, including their must-win season finale in overtime at New England, to miss the playoffs at 9–7.
With Marino back for the 1994 season, the Dolphins won the AFC East again with a 10–6 record. After beating the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round 27–17, they suffered a last-second loss to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional playoff, 22–21, where the locker room lights "failed" at halftime at San Diego/Jack Murphy Stadium.
In 1995, Marino broke the career passing records formerly held by Fran Tarkenton for yards (48,841), touchdowns (352), and completions (3,913). The Dolphins finished 9–7, second in the AFC East, but still made the playoffs as a wild card, losing to Buffalo 37–22 in the first round. Following the season, Don Shula (pressed to retire) became an executive in the Dolphins’ front office. Jimmy Johnson, who had won a collegiate national championship at the University of Miami and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, was named as Shula's replacement.
In 1996, Miami finished 8–8 and out of the playoffs, with rookie Karim Abdul-Jabbar's 1,116-yard rushing season one of the lone bright spots. In 1997, Miami stumbled late and backed into the playoffs with a 9–7 season, losing to the New England Patriots 17–3 in the wild card round.
Miami had a solid 10–6 season in 1998 with a career season for receiver O.J. McDuffie, but it was not enough to get past the New York Jets into first place in the division. The Dolphins beat the Bills 24–17 in the wild card round, but lost in the next round to the eventual champion Denver Broncos, 38–3 (the Broncos lost only two regular season games in 1998, one of which was to the Dolphins).
In 1999, Marino was injured during a game in which backup quarterback Damon Huard led a comeback. During the previous two years, the Broncos had won the Super Bowl, ending years of futility for their quarterback, John Elway. Marino was now being hailed as the next great success story, but it was not to be. Miami proceeded to go 2–6 in their last eight games, but still backed into the playoffs at 9–7. After a close 20–17 win at Seattle in the wild card round, the Dolphins faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round and suffered a disastrous 62–7 rout, the second most lopsided postseason game in NFL history after the 1940 NFL Championship. Marino subsequently announced his retirement, and head coach Jimmy Johnson also left the team.
The post-Marino era saw the Dolphins shuffle nine quarterbacks in seven years. Before the 2000 season, Dave Wannstedt, formerly of the Chicago Bears, became the new head coach, and ex-Jacksonville Jaguars backup Jay Fiedler became the new starting quarterback, even though Damon Huard had been considered the favorite. Despite lowered expectations, the defense broke through with Jason Taylor and Trace Armstrong each getting 10 sacks, and four players (Sam Madison, Brian Walker, Brock Marion, and Patrick Surtain) tallying at least five interceptions. In addition, Lamar Smith rushed for 1,139 yards, and Miami finished atop the AFC East with an 11–5 record. In the first round of the playoffs, Miami took the Indianapolis Colts to overtime and won 23–17 on a Lamar Smith touchdown run, in their last playoff win as of 2016. Smith finished with an NFL postseason record 40 carries for 209 yards. However, in the divisional playoffs, the Dolphins were shut out by the Oakland Raiders 27–0, and Smith was barely able to run.
The 2001 offseason brought in rookie Chris Chambers at wide receiver, but Trace Armstrong left, as did two offensive linemen, Richmond Webb, a Pro Bowl anchor since 1990, and Kevin Donnalley. In the 2001 season, the Dolphins finished 11–5. A struggling offensive line play and a pedestrian offense kept Miami from being successful running the ball, and the Dolphins were shut out twice on the year. Despite it all, the solid defense kept them in it and they earned a wild card with an 11–5 record, finishing second in the AFC East title behind the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Dolphins lost in the first round of the playoffs 20–3 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Miami revitalized its running game in time for the 2002 season by trading for New Orleans Saints running back Ricky Williams. In addition, rookie tight end Randy McMichael had a productive season. The Dolphins, behind a new offensive scheme under freshly hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who replaced Chan Gailey, and a power running game led by Williams, quickly rushed out to a 5–1 start, including an incredible last-minute comeback by Fiedler against the Broncos. However, Fiedler injured his thumb and sat out for an extended period of time. This had excited many Dolphins fans, as many believed backup Ray Lucas could outdo the much-maligned Fiedler. However, Lucas was abysmal in his first two games and merely average in his third, and the team dropped three straight. Miami rebounded with wins over Baltimore and an impressive thumping of San Diego, but lost to Buffalo. Still, Miami pulled off an impressive win over the Oakland Raiders and sat at 9–5 with two weeks left in the season, in prime position to steal the AFC East. However, in Week 17, despite dominating the New England Patriots for most of the game, the Dolphins blew an 11-point 4th-quarter lead and eventually lost in overtime. Due to a tiebreaker, both the Dolphins and Patriots lost out on the playoffs as the Jets took the AFC East title. Fans wanted Wannstedt's firing, but he was kept on for the 2003 season. Despite it all, the team believed it had plenty to look forward to, as Williams broke Dolphins records with 1,853 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. The real culprit of Miami's demise was its poor play on the road, in which the team finished 2–6 and the defense surrendered over 370 yards a game.
The 2003 Miami Dolphins were a hard team to pinpoint. The defense was again solid and forced a lot of turnovers, and running the ball was extremely difficult against them. However, poor offensive line play (despite most of the starters returning) gave little room for Ricky Williams to run, and the offense was stagnant. The Dolphins began with a repeat of 2002's season end, with a complete meltdown against the Houston Texans, but they rebounded to win four straight games. During a crushing overtime loss at the hands of the Patriots, Jay Fiedler was injured, forcing newly acquired backup Brian Griese to lead the Dolphins to victory the next week over San Diego. That, however, was Griese's high point, and after a good showing against Indianapolis in a losing effort, he was lousy against the Tennessee Titans and highly ineffective against the Ravens. When Griese had the Dolphins losing to the mediocre Washington Redskins, Fiedler came off the bench and saved their season, leading them to a comeback victory, 24–23. Miami looked like it might rebound, with a victory that same week over the Dallas Cowboys to take them to 8–4, but two key losses to the Patriots and the Eagles ended Miami's chances at the playoffs, despite a 10–6 record.
The 2004 offseason was disastrous for the Dolphins. Tight end Randy McMichael was arrested for domestic violence and wide receiver David Boston (signed from San Diego) suffered an injury in training camp and missed the entire season (Boston also failed a drug test for steroids later in the season). But the biggest shock came when Ricky Williams retired for then-unspecified reasons, until it was eventually revealed that a) Williams had recently suffered his third strike under the NFL's substance abuse policy, and b) to a lesser degree felt he was unnecessarily overused by Wannstedt. Many experts predicted a disastrous season for the Dolphins. These predictions proved right as the Dolphins dropped their first six games of the season, marking the worst start in franchise history. After a 1–8 start, Wannstedt resigned on November 9, 2004. He was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The Dolphins fared better under Bates, winning three of their final seven games, including a 29–28 upset victory over the defending champion Patriots on December 20 in a nationally televised Monday Night Football contest. Despite this, the Dolphins decided not to hire Bates for the permanent coaching position. Instead, they hired LSU coach Nick Saban.
In 2005, the offseason saw many changes for the Dolphins as Saban began to mold the team in his image. The team selected Auburn running back Ronnie Brown in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. The Dolphins also signed veteran quarterback Gus Frerotte, who would win the starting job over A.J. Feeley, who was a disappointment in 2004, after Miami gave up a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Feeley. At the 2005 trade deadline, Feeley and a seventh-rounder were dealt to the San Diego Chargers for Cleo Lemon. Cornerback Patrick Surtain was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for their second-round pick. Finally, Ricky Williams returned to the team. However, he had to sit out the first four games of the 2005 season due to violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy that he had ducked out on in 2004.
The Dolphins began their 2005 regular season with a bang. The Dolphins won their Week 1 home-opener against the Denver Broncos 34–10, giving Nick Saban his very first NFL win. Despite going on the road and losing to division rival New York Jets (17–7), the Dolphins won a tough game at home against the Carolina Panthers 27–24. After their Week 4 bye, they lost their next two road games to their division rival Buffalo Bills (20–14) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27–13). Not even Ricky Williams's return against the Bucs was enough.
On Friday, October 21, the Dolphins had to play their home game against the Kansas City Chiefs two days early, because of Hurricane Wilma. The Dolphins lost 30–20, making them 0–3 in home games that had to be rescheduled because of a hurricane since the 2004 season. They would win next week at LSU's Tiger Stadium against the New Orleans Saints 21–6, but would lose their next three games. During that time, they lost two home games to the Atlanta Falcons (17–10) and their division rival New England Patriots (23–16) before getting shut out on the road against the Cleveland Browns (22–0). When things looked grim, the Dolphins regrouped and began gaining steam, winning six games in a row. First, they won on the road against the Oakland Raiders (33–21). Then Miami gained a measure of revenge against their division rival Buffalo Bills at home (24–23) with a late fourth quarter comeback engineered by backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels, Then the Dolphins pulled off an upset victory over the San Diego Chargers (23–21). Finally Miami beat the New York Jets by a score of 24–20, extending their winning streak to four games. The win also put them at the .500 mark (7–7), although wins by the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers put them out of playoff contention. The next week, on Christmas Eve, they achieved their fifth victory in a row with a 24–10 victory over the Tennessee Titans, which guaranteed them not to finish with a losing record. The team closed out their 40th season with a 28–26 victory at New England to finish the 2005 campaign at 9–7. On a side note, this was the first time since December 24, 2000 that the Dolphins were able to beat the Patriots in Foxborough.
In the offseason the Dolphins showed major interest in signing free agent quarterback Drew Brees; however, Miami was unsure if Brees' shoulder was completely healed from a labrum tear he suffered with the San Diego Chargers. The Dolphins ended negotiations and traded for Minnesota Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper instead. Years later, Brees won a Super Bowl with his new team, the New Orleans Saints; and broke several NFL passing records. In contrast, Culpepper never recovered from the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2005, was benched after the fourth game of the season and eventually put on injured reserve. During the preseason, Sports Illustrated touted the Dolphins to be one of the teams heading to the Super Bowl XLI. They were predicted to lose by a field goal to the Carolina Panthers in their own Dolphin Stadium. In Saban's second season, the Dolphins were expected to contend for a playoff spot. The season turned out to be a major disappointment. Before the season began, Ricky Williams tested positive for the 4th time for violating the NFLs substance abuse policy, ending his season. The season started out with a rough loss to the defending Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins went on to start the season with a record of 1–6. However they had seemed to have turned something around midseason, much like the previous year's late-season surge. However, with a 6–8 record after a loss to Buffalo in Week 15, they were assured to once again miss the playoffs. The team finished 6–10 after a loss to the Colts in their final game. On January 3, 2007, Saban announced that he had accepted a contract for eight years and a guaranteed $32 million to coach at the University of Alabama. Saban left despite making several public statements in the preceding weeks assuring fans and owner Wayne Huizenga that he would be staying on as coach. Cam Cameron, previously the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, was hired as the new head coach.
The Dolphins hit rock bottom in 2007, losing 13 games in a row to start the season. Five of those losses were by three points or less. A loss to Buffalo in Week 10 sealed their fate for the season, and the next game was a rare 3–0 defeat in Pittsburgh. A win in Week 15 over the Baltimore Ravens ensured that the Dolphins would not have a winless season, but they dropped their last two games to finish 1–15, the worst record in franchise history. However, six of the team's losses in 2007 were by margins of three points or less. Late in the season, two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells was named Executive Vice President of the Dolphins football operations. Shortly after the season finale, Parcells fired general manager Randy Mueller and on January 3, 2008, head coach Cam Cameron was fired along with almost all of his staff.
Parcells then hired Tony Sparano, who was previously an assistant under Parcells during his days as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. On the 2008 offseason, the Dolphins also parted ways with two long-time Dolphins, releasing linebacker Zach Thomas (who later signed with the Dallas Cowboys) and trading defensive end Jason Taylor to the Washington Redskins for a second round draft pick. The Dolphins took Jake Long (passing on QB Matt Ryan), star offensive lineman out of the University of Michigan with the first pick of the 2008 draft and drafted quarterback Chad Henne with their second round pick (the second consecutive year they drafted a QB in the second round). After the New York Jets traded for Brett Favre and released quarterback Chad Pennington the same day, the Dolphins quickly signed Pennington, who was a former Parcells draft pick. The Dolphins performed a 180-degree turnaround, aided by Sparano's offensive adjustments and by the fact that their rival New England (who had long dominated the division) lost Tom Brady to a leg injury on the season opener. After starting the 2008 season with a 0–2 record the Dolphins used the "wildcat" offense against the New England Patriots on six plays, which produced four touchdowns (three rushing and one passing) in a 38–13 upset victory. The wildcat offense or single-wing was a "new" formation that allowed the Dolphins to utilize their two best offensive players, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, who both played running back. From that point on the Dolphins completed the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history, going from a 1–15 in 2007 to 11–5. Additionally, Miami won the AFC East, becoming the first team in NFL history to win their division after only having one win the previous season. However, the Dolphins lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens, 27–9.
In 2009 the Dolphins again started off 0–2. Tom Brady returned to action, and so another Dolphins division title seemed unlikely. In week 3 Chad Pennington suffered a shoulder injury against the San Diego Chargers and was out for the rest of the 2009 season. Second-year quarterback Chad Henne replaced him. Under Henne, the Dolphins won their first two games before losing to the Saints after leading 24–3 towards the end of the first half. The Dolphins finished the rest of the season without Ronnie Brown, who was sidelined by a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery. Ricky Williams was the starter again and finished the season with 1,121 yards, surpassing his rookie year total at the age of 32. A difficult schedule held the team back, although they managed to beat New England in Week 13. They went into the last game of the season against the Steelers needing only to win to make the playoffs, despite a 7–8 record. However, a 30–24 loss knocked them out of contention. During this game, quarterback Pat White was taken off the field on a stretcher after being hit in the head. Miami ended the season with three consecutive losses to finish 7–9 and out of the playoffs.
During the 2010 NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected Jared Odrick with their first-round draft pick. In September 2010, Bill Parcells, stepped down as Vice President of Football Operations, but remained as a consultant. He was later criticised for not making the right choices to improve the team. Ronnie Brown was back from his leg injury the previous year, and Ricky Williams also returned (while many speculated he would retire). Off-season moves included acquiring WR Brandon Marshall from Denver. The Dolphins got off to a good start by winning their first two matches (both on the road) against Buffalo and Minnesota, but lost at home in Week 3 to the Jets. Week 4 saw another divisional loss at home versus New England before the Dolphins headed on the road again, beating Green Bay 23–20. After a loss at home to Pittsburgh 23–22 on a controversial fumble call the Dolphins hit the road to Cincinnati to win 22–14. Their perfect road streak was finally ended in Week 9 after losing to the Ravens 26–10. The following week, they beat Tennessee for what proved to be their only home win of 2010. Miami went 2–2 down the stretch before being eliminated from playoff contention by Buffalo in Week 15. Two meaningless games against Detroit and New England were lost to end with another middling 7–9 season and a 1–7 home record. At the end of the 2010 season, owner Stephen Ross flew to California to interview Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was ultimately hired by the San Francisco 49ers to be their new head coach. Word of the trip leaked out to the news media and so Ross apologized to Tony Sparano by giving him a two-year contract extension.
History again repeated itself as the Dolphins failed to improve the offensive side of the ball in the 2011 draft. Veteran QB Chad Pennington meanwhile announced that he would take the year off to recover from injuries. With the team showing little faith in Chad Henne, it was widely assumed they'd take Kyle Orton from Denver and pair him up again with Brandon Marshall, but negotiations failed and Henne was booed in training camp by Dolphins fans who wanted the team to sign Orton. With their first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and 15th selection overall, the Dolphins selected center Mike Pouncey from Florida, and with their second pick, running back Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins also acquired Reggie Bush from the New Orleans Saints in a trade. Miami then cut Channing Crowder and added Kevin Burnett to replace him. The Dolphins began 0–4 with losses to New England, Houston, Cleveland, and San Diego. By Week 5, Chad Henne had suffered a season-ending injury, forcing Matt Moore, who had recently been acquired from Carolina, into the role of starting quarterback. Week 5 was worse, as the Dolphins, looking lethargic, fell to the Jets 24–6, making them 0–5 to start the season. During a home game against the Denver Broncos, the Dolphins had a 15–0 lead with less than 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime 18–15 to fall to 0–7. It was in that game Sparano was caught on TV cameras pleading with the referees to review a Broncos touchdown play or else he would get fired. The referees did review the touchdown, but it was upheld. Two days after the game, Sparano put his house up for sale, but he claimed it was because he and his wife wanted to downsize and live closer to the beach. Miami remained winless until Week 9 when they won four out of the next five games, however, it wasn't enough to save Sparano as he was fired the day after the Dolphins lost to the Philadelphia Eagles because of rumors about Sparano's job security becoming a distraction, according to Ross. Todd Bowles was named interim head coach. The Dolphins won the final game of the season against the New York Jets, eliminating them from the playoffs in Jason Taylor's final game. The Dolphins finished the 2011 season with a 6–10 record. In the 2012 offseason, fans organized a protest outside the Dolphins' team facility to call for the firing of General Manager Jeff Ireland. In the 2011 season finale, other fans also raised money to fly an airplane banner over SunLife Stadium that said "Mr. Ross, save our Dolphins, fire Ireland."
The Dolphins were in contention to hire former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher, but he accepted the head coach position with the St. Louis Rams. The Dolphins hired Joe Philbin instead as the 10th coach in team history. Philbin had served as the Packers OC for five years, during which time their offense was never ranked below tenth in the NFL. The Dolphins also pursued quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith, all of whom chose to sign elsewhere. The Dolphins signed David Garrard and selected Ryan Tannehill with the 8th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Garrard originally won the starting QB battle against Tannehill and Moore in training camp, but injured his knee in a bizarre accident at home. Rookie Ryan Tannehill won the starting job for the 2012 season after a strong showing in preseason and camp. Garrard was eventually released. In his first game as a professional football player, Tannehill struggled, throwing three interceptions in a loss on the road against the Houston Texans. His first home game was a much different story, as he ran for a touchdown and did not commit any turnovers while dominating the Oakland Raiders. Miami then lost back-to-back OT games against the Jets and the Arizona Cardinals, despite Tannehill throwing for 431 yards, the most ever for a rookie QB in a single game in team history, and receiver Brian Hartline racking up 253 receiving yards, the most ever by a Dolphin receiver, in the game against Arizona. Now facing questions about finishing games, they played Cincinnati on the road and won 17–13 win after Reshad Jones picked off the ball with under a minute and a half left in the game. Despite an impressive 4–3 start, the Dolphins lost a highly touted game against the Colts, 23–20. This started a 3-game losing streak, raising many questions about the team. After staying in Wild Card contention through Week 16, Miami finished 7–9 after being shut out by the Patriots.
With many question marks about the future of some popular players, including Jake Long, the Dolphins went into the off-season looking for help at many positions. They started free agency by re-signing Brian Hartline, and added Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Dustin Keller, and Brandon Gibson, but lost Long and Sean Smith. Despite the signings of Brandon Albert, Cortland Finnegan, Louis Delmas, and Earl Mitchell, and a breakout season for Jelani Jenkins, the Dolphins finished the 2013 season at 8–8 and would have made the playoffs if not for a losing streak near the end of the season. After the 2013 season, general manager Jeff Ireland was fired, as urged by fans for the prior two years, and was replaced by Dennis Hickey. However, despite a 5–3 start, the Dolphins once again finished the 2014 season at 8–8 and missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.
In January 2015, the Dolphins hired former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to become the team's executive vice president of football operations. Tannenbaum started his career as a contract negotiator for the Jets and ultimately became their general manager in 2006. He helped build a roster that went to two consecutive AFC Championship games. Newly hired general manager Dennis Hickey would retain his power over the final 53-man roster. However, given Tannenbaum's history, it has been widely speculated that Tannenbaum has final say over personnel. In March 2015, the Dolphins made the biggest free agent signing of the NFL off-season; they signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the richest contract in NFL history for any defensive player. Suh's contract is for six years and $114 million ($60 million guaranteed). Two months later, in May 2015, the Dolphins locked up franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill through the 2020 season with a contract extension worth $96 million ($45 million guaranteed). Two months after the Tannehill contract extension was announced, a study done by students at Harvard University used predictive analytics to try to determine the success of each NFL team for the upcoming season. The study predicted the Dolphins to win Super Bowl 50. However, the Dolphins began the 2015 season with a 1–3 record, which resulted in head coach Joe Philbin's firing on October 5, 2015, one day after the Dolphins lost to the Jets in London's Wembley Stadium. Tight end coach Dan Campbell, a holdover from the Sparano regime, was appointed as interim head coach.
On January 9, 2016, Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase was hired as head coach. In the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, a proyected first selection overall who felt down in the draft due to a controversial video published on a social media account. The Dolphins also swung a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, sending the 8th overall pick for linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell and the 13th overall pick. The Adam Gase era got off to a lackluster start, as the Dolphins were 1–4 with their only win coming in overtime against a struggling Cleveland Browns team. However, the Dolphins upset the first place Pittsburgh Steelers, 30–15 in week 6, sparking a 6-game winning streak and launching the team into playoff contention at 7–4. After a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins won 3 straight games against the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to clinch their first playoff spot since 2008. The Dolphins finished 10–6 and locked up the number 6 seed in the playoffs. They were defeated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of the week 6 contest.
Notes and references
- Coenen, Craig R. (2005). From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: the National Football League, 1920–1967. U of Tennessee P. p. 126. ISBN 1-57233-447-9. Retrieved October 19, 2010.
- Carroll, Bob (1999). Total Football: the Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. HarperCollins. p. 82. ISBN 0-06-270174-6. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
- This Man Fired Flipper
- Armistead, Tom "On the Departing Dolphins: Observations and Conclusions" (August 4, 1966), Evening Independent
- Kirwin, Pat (2011-02-09). "Teams must be kicking themselves for not drafting Rodgers". NFL.com. Retrieved 2011-02-10.
- Bill Parcells claims "neophyte owner" contributed to his Dolphins exit. Omar Kelly, Sun Sentinel
- "Mike Tannenbaum to take over Miami Dolphins football operations". miamiherald. Retrieved 2015-11-14.
- "Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins strike mega deal". Retrieved 2015-08-27.
- "Ryan Tannehill of Miami Dolphins signs contract extension through 2020 season". Retrieved 2015-08-27.
- "A Way-Too-Early Prediction of the NFL Season". Retrieved 2015-08-27.
- James Walker (2015-10-05). "Dolphins fire coach Joe Philbin after team stumbles to 1–3 start". ESPN. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- Campbell, Rich (January 9, 2016). "Bears need new offensive coordinator as Adam Gase leaves for Miami Dolphins". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
- "Mock draft 2.0: First-round outlook after Super Bowl". USA Today. February 8, 2016.
- "2016 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting first two rounds". Sports Illustrated. February 10, 2016.
- "Laremy Tunsil Falls in N.F.L. Draft After Apparent Drug Video Surfaces". New York Times. April 29, 2016.
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