By: Chip Turner
There’s a scene in the boxing movie Cinderella Man in which James J. Braddock’s trainer (played by the criminally underrated Paul Giamatti) explains to Braddock’s wife why he’s risking his livelihood in support of the fighter. “Sometimes you have an instinct…” he explains, “…you see something in a fighter. You don’t even know if it’s real, you’re looking for it so bad.” Then he pauses and shakes his head. “You can’t have no hope at all.”
Did we see something in Miami Dolphins training camp so far? It certainly seemed like it. The problem, the danger is…do we trust it enough to get our hopes up again for the 2021 season? The 2020 Miami Dolphins season ended much in the way as every season in recent memory; with abject disappointment. Something has always gone wrong.
Additionally, it’s been a very, very long time since Dolphins fans had confidence in the man under center. From the mid-80s to the turn of the millennium, Dan The Man gave us all the reassurance that we had a good chance of winning on any given Sunday, and even if Miami was behind, they were still in it if the game was even remotely close.
Even though most of us are too young to remember a Dolphins coach raising a Lombardi Trophy, and those Marino teams never quite reached the NFL mountaintop, we were spoiled. My goodness, were we spoiled. We didn’t know it at the time, but the next two decades explained it to us quite clearly.
We’ve all seen the list of names who followed. Fiedler. Huard. Lucas. Griese. Feeley. Rosenfels. Frerotte. Culpepper. Harrington. Lemon. Beck. Pennington. Henne. Thigpen. Moore. Tannehill. Cutler. Osweiler. Rosen. Fitzpatrick. And now…Tua. Twenty-one starting quarterbacks in twenty-one seasons since Marino retired. Four playoff games. One win, by the gritty Fiedler.
We’ve been looking for that special QB so hard, we don’t even know if what we sometimes think we see is real any more. From this perspective, it’s understandable why Dolphins fans are jaded and callous. For twenty-one years, whatever could go wrong…has. Epic collapses, injuries, bad decisions, absurd organizational drama, and general ineptitude. It happened again in that “win and you’re in” game against Buffalo this past January. It was an all-too-familiar feeling as the Dolphins simply got lambasted in Orchard Park, overmatched by a superior team.
So when the Dolphins offense completely lit up Training Camp over the past few weeks, when even the most skeptical of reporters started giving glowing reports about offensive performance, when we think we see something in Tua at the beginning of his second year in the NFL, some of us are hesitant to hope.
Some of us have turned into Red from The Shawshank Redemption at the mention of hope. “Let me tell you something, my friend,” he grumbles. “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” He’s the embodiment of institutionalized Dolphins fans. Tua drops a pass over Wilson’s outside shoulder? “It was slightly underthrown.” Does it again with perfect placement? “The pass was wobbly.” Goes several practices with multiple TD passes and no INTs? “He’s holding onto the ball too long at times.”
We’ve gone from hoping for the next Marino to shooting down any semblance of seeing something in a prospect. Tua was clearly the most hyped college prospect Miami drafted in nearly 40 years. So when he didn’t look like what was promised coming out of Alabama in his rookie season, fans started bailing on him like rats from a sinking ship.
But here’s the thing, and I’ve stated this repeatedly: There has never been a parallel to Tua’s journey from college to the NFL. Sure, players have been injured and then drafted, but a Quarterback with a hip dislocation and fracture, recovering faster than anyone expected, then coming into an NFL season during a pandemic, with no training camp, with an offense that was clearly designed for Ryan Fitzpatrick? Not quite. Then, pair all of this with the reports that he was playing at 60% recovered from his injury last year.
I think maybe we can give the kid a break, and hope a little. And yes, it’s becoming more and more difficult to pretend that we’re not seeing something. Because Tua looks more and more like the prospect we all saw at Alabama. Jaylen Waddle looks blisteringly fast, even with his ankle potentially not being 100%. Albert Wilson looks like the 2018 version of Albert Wilson. Even without Gesicki, Fuller, Williams, and Parker, the offense has looked flat-out dangerous. And now, Xavien Howard has come to terms with the team on a re-worked contract, so the defense should be locked and loaded.
All of this is putting that dangerous element of hope back into the head of even the most pessimistic of fans. Instead of waiting for something to go wrong, we start thinking, “Wait. What if everything goes right for once? What if the offensive line goes from tragic to somewhat competent? What if X comes back, Parker stays healthy, and Tua plays in games like he’s playing in Training Camp? What if the passing game helps open up the run game?”
Dare we hope?
In the end, it’s not really up to us. It’s up to Tua. The Miami Dolphins are getting ready for preseason now; they face the Bears in a week. And if Tua shows out in preseason like he’s been in Training Camp, people are going to start noticing nationwide. And once more, we’ll have hope, and hype.
Will it all end in tragedy once again? Maybe. But as Andy Dufresne explains at the end of The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever really dies.” Of course, good ol’ Andy was only institutionalized for 28 years. We’ve all been waiting almost 50.
I guess that goes to show just how resilient we Dolphins fans are. Because, once again…I hope.
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