Who Are the Miami Dolphins' Biggest Non-AFC East Rivals?

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVJuly 22, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 31:  Former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula speaks to a crowd during a cermony prior to the start of the 2010 Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. A statue was erected for Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history on January 31, 2010 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Miami Dolphins Finatics Question Of The Day: Outside the AFC East teams, which team do you think is the Dolphins biggest rival? A) Pittsburgh, B) Oakland, C) Tampa Bay, D) Jacksonville, E) Indianapolis, F) Other (please specify)

That was the question given to people who "liked" the Miami Dolphins on facebook this morning. To me this was an extremely interesting question that I felt the need to write about.

Of course, I did the unimaginative and used a Getty Images photo that I previously used in my article where I ranked the Greatest Miami Dolphins Teams of All Time . If you have a better picture I could use, suggest it in the comments.

Back to the list. First thing though is this: NFL rivalries are hard to create when the two teams aren't in the same division.

Colts-Patriots works as a rivalry because both teams feature top QB's and tend to finish at the top of their divisions (allowing them to play each other every year), and have had a history of playing in the playoffs.

Those are biggies considering that this wasn't considered a big AFC East rivalry even when they were both in the AFC East from 1970-2002.

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Secondly, inter-conference rivalries are even harder because out-of-conference teams only play once every four years, and only face each other in the postseason if they meet in the Super Bowl. And even with the Super Bowl rematch aspect, they have to play at least twice in the Super Bowl, and at least one of the games have to be memorable.

The only NFL rivalry that fits that mold is Cowboys-Steelers, who've faced each other in the Super Bowl three times, with two of them ranked in the top-10 of all-time Super Bowls. But that rivalry is also helped by the fact that those two teams are franchises with strong histories and national fanbases.

(The opposite of that: Cowboys-Bills. They faced off twice in the Super Bowl, but you wouldn't really consider those games memorable, save for the Leon Lett play in their first matchup.)

So, where does that leave us with the phins and their non-AFC East rivalries?  Let's first look at the suggestions from the Dolphins themselves.

A. Pittsburgh Steelers

If this were 1980 instead of 2010, or even 1990 instead of 2010, I'd put some serious thought and consideration to them.  

The Steelers and Dolphins are one-two in winning percentage since 1970. Prior to the last decade the Dolphins were well ahead, but now its almost a Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden type battle since the Steelers have continued their excellence this last decade (113-60-1, .652 winning percentage, five AFC North titles, six playoff appearances, two Super Bowl championships) whereas the Dolphins decided that they didn't want to be considered NFL elite anymore and turn into the Detroit Lions for most of the last decade (80-84, .488 three playoff appearances, two AFC East titles. Actually if you watched, this team is much worse than the record and playoff appearances indicate.). 

The Dolphins accomplished that by keeping Dave Wannstedt gainfully employed for the first half of the decade before hiring Nick Saban.

(Tangent, I made a sarcastic remark about Saban on Twitter, and got attacked by Alabama fans not in an intelligent debate type of way, but in more of a middle school name-calling way using homophobic terms and attacking my family as well, which actually got me more followers on twitter and compared me to Mike Bianchi, an excellent college football writer for the Orlando Sentinel , just not in a good way. Stay Classy Alabama!)

The Fins also hired Cam Cameron for the 2007 season (a nice guy who just seemed way over his head).  

On the other hand the Steelers were a model of stability, as Bill Cowher coached the team for the first seven years of the decade to add to the previous eight that he had been at the helm in the 90's before retiring and making way for Mike Tomlin.

This rivalry doesn't have much juice for that reason and another: The Steelers haven't lost to Miami since 1998.  To put this in perspective, Dan Marino and Kordell Stewart were the team's respective starting QB's, Chad Henne was in eighth grade, Brandon Marshall was a high school freshman, Ricky Williams was setting records in his senior year at Texas, Troy Polamalu was a high school senior, and Ben Roethlisberger was a high school senior that had just gotten his first car and would use it to try to pick up seventh graders at the roller rink on Friday nights. (Sorry, I know that joke was in poor taste, but just way to easy to just pass up.)

To add to that, the last time the two met in the postseason was in 1985.  The history is there between these two teams, but I really don't see the hatred there other than the fact that they did knock Henne out of the final game of the season last year.  This rivalry isn't too serious.

B. Oakland Raiders

Another "more intriguing game from 1970-2000 than it is today" type of rivalry.  While the Dolphins have been pretty bad, the Raiders have taken the cake. How bad have they been? I'm not even writing out the record.

One day these two teams will rise again, much sooner than you think (this season). But for now, the rivalry is just about dead.

C. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For a long time they were the "other" Florida team. They had the 0-14 ying to the Dolphins 17-0 yang. The Dolphins sported pretty cool uniforms, while the Bucs sported this (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But in 1995 they hired Tony Dungy, who turned around the team's fortunes by drafting smart and instilling (with the help of Monte Kiffin) a dominant D that ended up winning the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden only seven years later.

Despite all this, just based off the fact that they only play each other every four years save for a preseason home and home series, I really can't consider this one a rivalry either.

D. Jacksonville Jaguars

I don't even think this team should be in Jacksonville. But maybe part of that stems from the 62-7 whuppin they put on the Dolphins in what turned out to be Dan Marino's final game. 

See, it wasn't that they won, but that they ran up the score AFTER knocking him out of the game. Karma kicked their asses the next week though in the form of the Tennessee Titans.

Does that make a rivalry?  Eh, not really. Again, this team has no business being in Florida, and won't be by 2012.

E. Indianapolis Colts

Now this could qualify when you consider:

I. The Colts and Dolphins were AFC East rivals from 1970-2002

II. The Colts loss turned into the Dolphins gain (Don Shula)

III. There was tampering on the Dolphins part in getting Shula to Miami. Joe Robbie had to pay a fine AND give the Colts the Dolphins their No. 1 pick in 1971 NFL draft (which thankfully for them was No. 22 due to the Dolphins recording a 10-4 record.) This gives the rivalry a bit of bad blood.

IV. They've faced off in the playoffs twice: 1971 in the AFC Championship game (Dolphins won 21-0, even more impressive is that the Colts were defending Super Bowl Champions at the time), and 2000 in a thrilling Wild Card game that went into overtime (the Lamar Smith game).

This team I'd consider their biggest non-divisional rival, which is funny because they just became a non-division rival eight years ago after being a pretty good division rival for the previous 32. But there is one non-division rival that's bigger and better.

F. Other (San Diego Chargers)

The Chargers have been the Dolphins top rival since 1981. Of course that's the year of their classic playoff encounter that is truly the greatest football game ever played (apologies to Colts fans and Giants fans over the age of 60.)

They did have another playoff encounter the next year, where the Dolphins got their revenge on the Chargers en route to the Super Bowl, followed by a playoff encounter in 1992 where the Dolphins destroyed the Chargers in a South Florida January Monsoon 34-0. We won't discuss the actions of 1994.

Every game between these two teams goes to the end, and it shows in their records against each other (Miami is 12-11 against San Diego). For a while it was the Chargers that owned the Dolphins, then the Dolphins won six consecutive games against the Chargers from the 1995 until 2009.

These teams have also been mirror images of each other since the 1980's, meaning either the Chargers are Dolphins West, or the Dolphins are Chargers East (I go with the former).

Both teams play in cities where they were the first major league professional sports teams in the market.

Both teams play in warm weather cities that if anything hurt them in the later months more than help them.

Both had hall of fame QB's named Dan that were failed by bad defense and lack of a running game.

Both teams have showed tremendous promise in the regular season before choking in the postseason (a 90's Dolphins specialty that the Chargers perfected in the aughts). It took the Chargers 17 years to find their successor to Dan Fouts (all due respect to Stan Humphries, who did play out of his mind in 1994 and led them to a Super Bowl with plenty of thanks to our defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, and to Drew Brees, who kind of shouldn't have been pushed out but it's understandable). Hopefully with Chad Henne we have our Phillip Rivers to go with our version of LT and Michael Turner (Ricky and Ronnie). 

In fact this Dolphins team seems to be somewhat based on the Chargers of the past seven years. The hope for us is that while emulating their regular season success (67-29 in the last six seasons) but improve on the Chargers postseason record (3-5, with only one trip to the AFC Championship game despite winning five AFC West titles in that time frame).

Sadly, no match-up between these two teams is scheduled for this season.  But I have faith that the NFL will have no choice but to schedule a meeting between these two sometime in January. When these two teams meet in the playoffs, it always seems to be memorable one way or another. Thats why the Chargers are the best non-AFC East Dolphins rivalry; the teams seem to bring the best out of each other.

Thomas Galicia can be found on twitter @thomasgalicia. Who do you think are the Dolphins best non-division rivals? Leave it in a comment!

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