When I first pulled into Sun Life Stadium and was making my way to the Purple Parking section I looked over at my dad and thought to myself “I can’t remember the last time I came to a game with my father and the Miami Dolphins won”. I began to get that strange feeling for the first time this year….a feeling that was over shadowed by all the off-season moves and high expectations that have been swirling around the media.
After finally finding a space to park we began our walk weaving in and out of tailgating crowds and the sporadic Falcon fan as we come closer and closer to the stadium. All the fans, young and old seemed happy and in good spirits but, that is the nature of the “tailgate” as it blurs the optimism and the reality of pre-game hopes and playoff dreams. For the last 10 years that is exactly what being a Dolphin fan was – playoff dreams with a small side of hope – but this year, this game, somehow felt a bit different.
Going through the ticket line I began to look to see how many opposing fans where around, spotting a red and black jersey is not that difficult in a sea of white and teal, and they were there. Some came all the way from Atlanta others are transplants but they were there and confidence was high with them – who could blame them 13-3 last season and a winning record for the past 5 years. I once again began to get that “we haven’t been relevant in a long time” feeling and started to remember the old familiar sense of walking away from a home game feeling jaded that my team – our team – couldn’t pull it off.
To alleviate some of the angst I was creating, I turned to my father and asked him “So how are the Steelers doing this year?” (a long time Steeler fan as he is) and a mild smirk formed on his face and for that one split second at least I felt like a 2-0 team, especially being that the last game I saw with my father was in Pittsburgh and the Dolphins didn’t do quite that well. So we continued our walk up the ramp towards our seating level, the stadium began to fill up and we made our way to the beer stand. As usual I made friends with the bartender as I was almost sure I would be visiting quite often through out the game.
Now its kickoff time and we managed to get to our seats, 5 row up and right in the middle. After some rain the sun began to shine through the clouds, the cheerleaders where cheering, the music was playing, the coin was flipped – the game starts now. Right in front of me were Falcon fans with shiny new caps and shiny new Julio Jones jerseys, they were optimistic and beyond hopeful. To my left and right I was sandwiched between season ticket holders, wet from the earlier rain and just happy to be there, they even seemed hopeful. So was it me? Was me the only one having that feeling of dread, that maybe just maybe this team is not as good as they think?
As the game went on I found myself in that all familiar roller coaster ride where my Dolphins show up and then they don’t…I see the Falcons get a first down, move the ball and score, then I see the Dolphins come back and answer. In between all the plays, I began to look around into the stands (sometimes taking a break and glancing at the cheerleaders) and to my surprise I see all the familiar Teal, more Teal that I can remember seeing in years past. Maybe it was me, maybe just maybe I should feel hope and be more optimistic like them. 85% of the stands were Dolfans, the “Another Dolphin First Down” screams were echoed louder than I can remember…so maybe just maybe it was me and not them.
It was close to the end of the game and just over 3 minutes are left, Atlanta just scored to pull ahead 23-20, I looked around the stands again and everyone was still here….so was it just me? I looked over at the Dolphins and Tannehill was talking to his team mates and for the first time I saw what I have been waiting to see. A huddled offense ready to begin their run, 10 men in a circle but one was off to the side, it was Charles Clay – Tannehill reached over and took hold of his pads dragging him to the circle and forcing him to listen. This wasn’t a “you might want to hear this” moment, this was a “you better listen to your leader moment”. I scooted forward in my chair, I looked at the line, I saw the 4 wide sets with Wallace on the far right waving his arm indicating a go-route and Clay inside ready for a slant and an empty back field. There it was, the moment, the first time in as many years as I can remember, there was no optimism – there was no hope – there was only certainty. The Dolphins drove down the field to the 49, the 29, the 9…
The game was over the Dolphins won, my team won. The stadium was full and the 3-0 chant began, the Falcon fans with their heads down and the obligatory “good game” glances walked on by. 3-0 is where we were, were we are, 3-0 is what I chanted with the rest of the fans…at that moment I realized, the person that walked through the stadium at the start of the game was no longer me, now I am them.
By Sergio Peralta