Beyond Wildcat: Carrying on With The Dolphin's 2008 Playbook
The 2008 season for the Miami Dolphins grew into a fun year for the Orange and Teal wearing fans of the "fish" (Dolphins are actually mammals.) Even those who down their beer with a frown sitting in the stools of a South Beach Bar admiring the black and white autographed photos of the 1972 season, the Shula, and Marino couldn't help but turn up a smile to see a team come from being 1 loss shy of doing what the Detroit Lions just did to a team that could have tested the Titans in the 2nd round of the playoffs if only the Ravens didn't get so many picks. But the season was a smashing success for the 'Fins and their fans. Dolphin glory was found on the field and no longer just in Nutrisystem commercials.
But it didn't start during kickoff week. Nor did it start the next week. The Sparano era took awhile to spark. Favre's Jets threw them the first punch and the Super Bowl-bound Cardinals cooked the Dolphin secondary with an unguardable receiving duo. The Jets were showing promise, the Bills were showing strength at the start, and the New England Patriots with Cassel taking snaps still had swagger.
Maybe it was how both Brady and Cassel embarrassed them last year, maybe it was how the Patriots dominated the division over the years to get their dynasty, maybe it was how the Pats came so close to their fans something grand like what the Fins did in 1972, or maybe it's the bitter memories of a game played during a December 1982 snowstorm where the Patriots ordered a convict on one of the most awesome work release programs of all time to drive a plow and clear a space for a Patriot field goal. Whatever reason the Dolphins had to hate the Patriots that day worked. It worked so well that it started a season to remember.
It had been awhile since the Patriots lost in Gillette. I think Saban and Huizenga were still getting along. But the Dolphins had a statement to make. Ronnie Brown had a case to defend. Tony Sparano had to prove to Parcells that he was the right hire. So Ronnie Brown stood in the heart of a legit Patriot defense. He wasn't waiting for the ball to be handed off to him, he wanted the ball in his hands to start the play.
All eyes on Ronnie, Ricky Williams ready to run at his side, and Chad Pennington at the wide receiver ready to run the reverse for an opportunity to pass. A brotherhood began with the ball and for the first time in years a curiousity arose in the eyes of New England's defenders.
For a follower of the Dolphins. It was like the part in the album Tommy by The Who when the deaf, dumb, and blind child broke a mirror and began to see, speak, and hear. Ronnie Brown went to New England and not only stripped them of perfection, but did his best Al Bundy impression with 4 touchdowns. The Dolphins not only stole the show but an amount of yardage that was simply unheard of in New England. And that was when the Dolphin season began.
The Wildcat created a rift in the football continuum. A rift that Ronnie and Ricky ran through. For the Dolphins the Wildcat came back once in awhile to keep defenses honest. A few times it got some new downs dialed. A few times it got some Dolphins in the end zone. Other coaches took notice and began to sample it in their playbooks. The Falcons tried it out with Ryan, Norwood, and Michael Turner.
Even when it didn't work, I still remember a girl texting me mid-game with, "It's the wildcat!" Even if the play didn't end well, I would have rather seen that snap than the 2007 season. It was something different. It was something Dolphin. Maybe the Wildcat's magic wasn't in the speed option. It wasn't in the unbalanced offensive line. Maybe the real advantage it brought was a new state of mind. A sign of change. A sign that this team was going to work beyond it's potential.
The playbook will certainly evolve but I don't think the Wildcat will be put down. New Dolphins may learn to like it. Pat White has been practicing with it, Ted Ginn was seen throwing a few passes, and I certainly don't think we've seen the end of Ronnie Brown's arm.
Granted, it certainly wasn't the Wildcat that got the Dolphins into the playoffs. Give credit to Chad Pennington's superb efficiency with the ball, Joey Porter's pass rush that walked the walk and backed up the talk, and the Dolphin's secondary stepping up (hopefully the corners can step up in the wake of Goodman's departure for Denver). But the Wildcat was one of the best surprises of the 2008 season.
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