As I’ve mentioned before, I was born and raised Miami. I’m writing this while visiting my home in that very city. Years ago, a plush Dolphins football was placed in my crib when I first came home from the hospital, my dad had season tickets for the Heat’s first season, and I look at the Marlins as my embarrassing, but occasionally brilliant, younger brother who continues to defraud me in a series of increasingly brazen ways. In short, all of my sports allegiances are tied to this area, always have been, and will be until a deserving Canadian or New England city absorbs the Panthers. As such, I have a drastically different relationship with each of the teams I root for: the Heat can only disappoint by failing to reach mythical levels of success, and the Marlins and their ten-figure albatross of a publicly funded stadium would continue to be a stain on the area even with decent performances, and even they have managed to develop from being an expansion idea to a real team that has won two World Series with completely different rosters. They’ve also held three fire sales in half the time that it’s been since the Dolphins have won the Super Bowl.
To be sure, fans of many NFL teams have suffered just as badly as Dolphins fans. Worse, even. Some have no “undefeated season”-type nostalgia to cling to. But you would be hard-pressed to find a city in which the football team has been so thoroughly upstaged as it has been in Miami. Last year, the Heat won one of the most exciting NBA Finals ever, and its members, even Mario Chalmers, seem to be on top of the world in a variety of exciting ways. Some might say that the Dolphins have failed to enjoy this kind of success in the same window of time, seeing as they were the subject of a detailed NFL bullying investigation and frittered away two games at the end of the regular season, either of which would have cemented a playoff berth. The team has won between six and eight games in each of the past five seasons. They stay in playoff contention tantalizingly long every year, on the outer reaches of the CBS “in the hunt” graphic, almost never bad enough to enter the “Tank for _____” conversation that starts every year. On paper, it’d be easy to say “let’s not sweat this so much, Lebron alley-ooped to himself using only his feet last night, sports are going fine,” but for some reason we find ourselves equally (if not more) engrossed in a team with no objective chance to win a championship, whose management has made so many public gaffes that they should have been considered by John McCain as potential running mates in 2008.
Is rooting for a predictable sports juggernaut boring? Of course not. Plenty of my acquaintances with fond recollections of the late-nineties Yankees dynasty or the Brady/Belichick reign of evil would definitely take umbrage with any argument to the contrary. But there’s something about rooting for the small fish in the big pool that makes you feel like you’re doing it for a reason. On some level, I think Browns and Raiders fans keep showing up to games dressed like dogs and Kiss rejects because it teaches a lesson about perseverance with no guarantee or indication of any real success for long stretches at a time. It’s something you can pass on to your kids that can stay relevant even if you have nothing else to talk about.
It’s gratifying when your specially designed team of world beaters makes good on the expectations laid on them, but there is not enough prolonged mental anguish attached to this feat for it to feel like the end of some shared journey that you’ve gone on with myriad like-minded people. Cheering for the Big Three Heat doesn’t have that much risk of failure associated with it. It’s an enjoyable part of my life as a sports fan that guarantees at least a conference finals appearance every year, and when they get there, I can simply remember my happiness from the last year. If the Dolphins managed to get it together one season well enough to make the playoffs, I would probably be in a good mood for a solid two weeks. Anything beyond that is uncharted territory, since they haven’t scored a touchdown in a playoff game since before I knew how to multiply. Hypothetically, I would tell my kids about the seven threes Mike Miller made in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals despite barely being able to walk, but I’d tell the story inside the room of my house decorated in honor of the Dolphins having won the Super Bowl.