By Adam H. Beasley
Has there ever been a worse time to be a Dolphins fan?
No, insist many of the heartiest Dolphins die-hards. It might be hyperbole, but right now, they feel worse than after the 62-7 playoff loss. Than after Don Shula was replaced. Than even after 1-15.
“It has really never been worse to be a Dolphins fan — not even close,” said Miami-based publicist Tadd Schwartz, a longtime Dolphins backer. “The team used to be the pride of the city. Now we’re the butt of all jokes. Literally — we’re on late-night TV.”
The past month has been embarrassment cascading on top of embarrassment. The bullying saga has depressed morale. But so have losses in five out of six games, capped by Monday night’s defeat at the hands of the previously winless Buccaneers.
And Dolphins fans are, in near unanimity, disgusted.
Matt Infante is an ardent Dolphins fan with a wide following on Twitter. If he’s not the official spokesman for Dolphin Nation, he’s close.
On Tuesday, Infante changed his Twitter avatar to a picture of the Dolphins logo with a paper bag superimposed over the porpoise’s head.
“Not sure if [Monday] night’s loss was rock bottom. But this is the lowest this franchise has been since the Marino era,” Infante said. “Only positive to come out of this will be the organizational cleansing that should come as a result.”
As this point, that appears likely.
Team owner Stephen Ross late Monday promised changes to the organization, and if that means changes in personnel, general manager Jeff Ireland seems the most likely candidate to go.
Multiple sources in the extended Dolphins family believe Monday night’s events — first Ross’ lack of public support over the bullying scandal, and then the humiliating 22-19 loss to Tampa Bay — perhaps foreshadow Ireland’s eventual exit.
However, it is unlikely that any major move will be made before Ted Wells finishes his review of the organization.
Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel, with the franchise for just a couple of months, has been thrust into a near-untenable situation. One of his top priorities: finding a way out of the current morass.
“I think we recognize that there’s a lot of dedicated and passionate fans … who are not satisfied by the results on the field,” Garfinkel told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “To be clear, no one has higher expectations for us than the owner, the front office, coaches and players. Steve Ross has routinely expressed his desire in being the best in class.”
Added Garfinkel: “Our fans should know we’re working to get better.”
Many have already spoken with their wallets. Each of the past three Dolphins home games had a smaller crowd than the one that preceded it.
The Dolphins are so worried about the attendance for Sunday’s game against the Chargers, they’ve reached out to season-ticket holders who skipped the previous game to encourage them to attend.
That’s what happened to William Quigley, who identified himself as the owner of six seats in Section 449 at Sun Life Stadium. Quigley, a 50-year-old landscaper from Davie, passed on the Bengals game, and told his account manager why.
“I explained I was not happy how the team was playing and didn’t want to get home on Halloween and a work night and be aggravated with another loss,” Quigley said. “I also offered the tickets to several customers and employees and no one wanted them.”
The Dolphins sales employee then asked if he planned to attend the next game — and if not, what the team could do to change his mind.
“Start winning and managing the team like a football team,” Quigley responded.
This is no fair-weather fan. Quigley estimates he has spent $50,000 in the past eight years on tickets, parking and merchandise. But unless the Dolphins make wholesale changes, he’s dropping his season tickets in 2014.
Before he jumps ship, Quigley might want to catch Sunday’s game against the Chargers, if for no other reason than it is bound to be a spectacle of angst.
Before the game, there will be a plane flying over Sun Life Stadium with a banner demanding Ireland’s job.
It’s a stunt organized by Roger Paul, who raised the necessary $1,000 from similarly disaffected Dolphins fans last week. It only took him an hour to do so.
“Obviously, the banner itself is not going to elicit a response,” Paul said. “It’s a way for some of the fans to vent.”
When asked about the anger among rank-and-file fans Tuesday, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he was glad that his team had such a passionate and loyal group of supporters.
“We all want the same thing,” Philbin said. “We want to have a football team that’s consistently competing for championships and represents the organization the right way, on and off the field. I’m glad that they’re passionate and want to be great, just like we do.”
Just how loyal they’ll remain if the Dolphins’ slide continues, however, remains unclear.
Adam Silverstein, a writer from Boynton Beach, has owned a season-ticket package since 2007. That’s the year the Dolphins had the worst record in football, a preview of his hard times to come.
Like Paul, he has lost confidence in Ireland to find talent, and the only reason he doesn’t sell his tickets is because he would take a huge loss.
Silverstein plans to save himself the money (and the heartache) in 2014 unless one of three things happens: 1. The Dolphins make the playoffs; 2. They win nine games; or 3. They fire Ireland and find a capable replacement.
“The fans are simply becoming more disillusioned with each passing day,” Silverstein said.