Imagine if your job was to come up with a marketing strategy for the 2009 Miami Dolphins. Simple, right? “Miami Dolphins: Defending AFC East Champions!” Done. But say your boss doesn’t think that’s enough. “There are eight division champions each year,” he says. “Who cares about the one Baltimore annihilated at home in the wild card round?” You try to tell him that the rules are different for the Dolphins. They were a major underdog story. Their 10-win improvement tied the ’99 Colts for the best single-season turnaround in history. “That was last year,” he says. “Give me something fresh.”
What would you do? Fans aren’t going to pay big bucks just to see VP of Football Operations Bill Parcells sit up in a box. So how would you sell them on the Dolphin players? Come see the weak-armed but accurate Chad Pennington make smart reads and hit his check-down receivers! Actually, you probably wouldn’t mention Pennington’s weak arm. Just like you wouldn’t mention running back Ronnie Brown’s lack of elite speed. Or receiver Greg Camarillo’s knee operation. Wideout Ted Ginn Jr. made nice progress in his second season, but most of that was because he operated soundly within the confines of offensive coordinator Dan Henning’s system. That’s not exactly something you can fit on a billboard.
Pass-rushing linebacker Joey Porter is an accomplished player with a monstrous personality––too monstrous, in fact. Use extreme caution when shining a spotlight on him. Jason Taylor is back. Oh, but he’s now coming off the bench after having just one sack and zero dance competition victories as a Redskin. Where’s the marketing angle for this team?
Fortunately, the Dolphins’ new owner, Stephen Ross, is one of those shrewd businessmen who has a way of figuring these things out. Or, with a New York real estate-driven net worth of some $4.5 billion, he has a way of hiring someone who can figure these things out. To get people away from their HD big screens and into Land Shark Stadium (by the way, Land Shark Stadium: a Jimmy Buffett-influenced one-year naming lease with Budweiser), Ross decided that Dolphin Game Days will be an entertainment experience. You know, concerts, carnivals, restaurants…pretty much all the stuff you would find on South Beach.
Entertaining fans is smart because, let’s face it, the 11 Dolphins on the field probably won’t. This just isn’t a South Beach-type team. And it has nothing to do with the Dolphins’ lack of Cubans. This is a banal, old-fashioned Miami squad. It’s better suited for a town with harsh winters and a large warehouse district.
There are no flashy, rock star players. No dazzling, gimmicky schematics (save maybe for that Wildcat that quarterbacks coach David Lee introduced last year…though can you really see a casual fan ooohing and aaahing over a direct snap to the running back?).
Piece by piece, the Dolphins aren’t all that great.
And yet, this is a team capable of matching its 11-win performance of a year ago. Why? Because nine times out of ten, the Dolphins do football better than their opponent does football. Do football? What does that mean? For starters, it means the Dolphins are better managed and better coached. Being better managed is no surprise; with Parcells running the operations, you’re guaranteed to get quick, effective roster turnover the first few years (done), a big, physical defense (done), a few foundation-building draft classes (done, thus far) and a subtle winning mentality that, like porn, can’t be described but is easy to recognize (done).
The “better coached” part has been more surprising. Few people knew of former Cowboys offensive line instructor Tony Sparano before he got his first head coaching gig last season.
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