Pull up a chair and sit on the edge of it, folks. This one could be worth the wait — and, thanks to everyone from Cam Cameron to Steve Ross, it’s been quite a wait.
The Miami Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in either the biggest game of the NFL weekend or the biggest game at Hard Rock Stadium since it was called Dolphin Stadium three name changes ago.
Take your pick for how big this game is. And round up the kids while you’re deciding. It’s time this next generation knew. This is what Dolphins weekend once were always about, if you can remember back to yesteryear when Dan Marino was a player and not a consultant or the 1970s was an era and not a sit-com.
Big games. Big rivals. Big hoo-hahs. Big consequences, too.
The horse is admittedly ahead of the cart of consequence. It’s just Game 3 in, as linebacker Jerome Baker says, “a marathon of a season” — though the marathon is a sprint if you’ve watched the Dolphins run.
But there’s been a generational void of consequence involving the Dolphins. And these Dolphins want in. They don’t want to be the next edition with their nose pressed against the glass. One of first-year coach Mike McDaniel’s pet phrases to his players is, “We know we’re going to be special,” and that can fit a timeline of this Sunday or next season.
“It’s something we’re believing,” defensive tackle John Jenkins says. “You can see it coming together.”
Winning is the magnet in that regard, not just bringing the locker room together but fans willing to believe again, too. A 2-0 start with a ho-hummer against rival New England and an epic comeback at Baltimore have changed some minds.
Now comes Buffalo and no season will be conclusively made or broken Sunday. So what? You’re allowed some overhype considering you have to go back to Jan. 4, 2009 against Baltimore since the Dolphins played as big a home game. That was a playoff game, too (and it wasn’t pretty).
For a regular-season home game of this intrigue, you have to shuffle through history to … Jimmy Johnson’s 1999 Dolphins going 7-1 in November after beating Tennessee … Shula’s 1993 Dolphins entered 9-2 against the New York Giants in December?
The point is, forgive the overhype, but there’s a lot of unused hype for a couple of decades. Something will be learned about the Dolphins, and the obvious question is whether the Dolphins have closed the continental stretch of distance between them and the Super-Bowl-trending Bills.
Las Vegas doesn’t think so. You can see why. Buffalo came within 13 mismanaged seconds of a second-straight AFC Championship Game last season. It began this season beating the defending Super Bowl champ Los Angeles Rams and No. 1 AFC seed Tennessee by a combined score of 72-17.
That’s one reason why Buffalo is a whopping six-point favorite even in the September heat of South Florida. The other reason is they’ve beaten the Dolphins seven straight times. It’s not been close, either, with an average margin of 16.3 points. Only two games have been in single digits.
That underscores a larger point here. If Buffalo is playing with Vegas’ money, the Dolphins are playing with house money. This is a rare instance where a win says more about them than a loss. A win says they’re ready to contend in a manner they haven’t in decades.
And a loss? It says they have work to do. The issue would be how much.
“It’s a big game,” Baker says, “because it’s the next game. It’s the only one we’re looking at. But at the same time we know there’s a long way to go.”
The Dolphins have spent three years of a perplexing rebuild getting to an important game again. Or they’ve spent 14 years wandering the wilderness getting to a home game like it. Either way, pull up a seat Sunday and let’s hope you’re on the edge of it.