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Dolphins dominate sports landscape ... for now

There have been some changes since I left on vacation in June.

Before I left, I shared with you my ranking of NFL teams No. 32 to No. 1 in which I rated the Dolphins the No. 10 team in the NFL. Many scoffed at the idea Miami was already that good despite the offseason additions of Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby and a seeminly fruitful draft.

Well, since then the NFL Network's Mike Lombardi has categorized the Dolphins as a blue chip team, meaning he not only expects them to be good, but expects them to be Super Bowl material. Sports Illustrated, meanwhile, ranked the Dolphins No. 6 on their countdown from No. 32 -- (which kind of blew me away.)

And even while on vacation, I did some radio interviews with stations in places such as San Diego and Seattle and New York and they seem to have high expectations for the Dolphins also.

I am told the Dolphins brass isn't upset folks expect good things from them.

Tony Sparano isn't going to predict titles or publicly set the Super Bowl as the team's goal -- even if that is exactly what owner Stephen Ross did in June. But the coach isn't afraid of facing a bar set high. He often sets the bar quite high for his players, albeit in private.

The amazing thing in all this is that while folks around the country are looking forward to this Dolphins team being a big deal, being playoff caliber, and perhaps championship caliber (if you believe Lombardi), folks locally have allowed their gaze to wander away from the Dolphins.

Basketball, you see, now dominates the front pages, the TV and radio airwaves, and the purse-strings of South Florida sports fans.

The Heat added the Three Kings to their lineup and are seemingly building a championship machine so folks down here have happily jumped on the bandwagon while barely mentioning the Dolphins.

Suddenly, Pat Riley is much smarter than Bill Parcells according to some knee-jerking columnists. Suddenly, the Heat is the team on everyone's lips. Suddenly, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are the biggest local sports stars while the Dolphins have some guys that might or might not get recognized in clubs and restaurants.


It is my humble opinion that one NBA offseason -- regardless of how mega-productive, and definitely the Heat have had a great one -- does not erase 40 years of tradition. It is my opinion that once the games begin, and even as early as when camp opens, the Dolphins will again be at the forefront of South Florida's attention.

This all comes with a caveat, of course.

As we all know, the Dolphins face a difficult schedule the early part of the season. After what, on paper, promises to be a victory at Buffalo (new coach, same old bad QB situation), the Dolphins then embark on a killer stretch at Minnesota, against the Jets and Patriots, at Green Bay, back home to face Pittsburgh, then trips to Cincinnati and Baltimore.

The Dolphins play seven playoff-caliber teams the first eight games of the season.

And unless they prosper against that tough lineup that will carry them through the first week of November, the Dolphins may find themselves the second-tier story locally to the Heat as that team begins its season.

What I'm saying is that, locally at least, the pressure is on the Dolphins to win early. The pressure is on them to start fast, something they have not done since 2003.

The requirement is not just about keeping the attention on them, it also has a lot to do with making the playoffs.

If the Dolphins go into their bye weekend Oct. 10 winless or 1-3, not only can you deem their playoff chances on life support but the attention span of locals will diminish as the attention-grabbing Heat begin their season.

Clearly that won't be the case for Dolphins fans living outside South Florida. A majority of national Dolphins fans have no rooting interest in the Heat. But down here? That's just the way it might play out.

It will be moot, of course, if the Dolphins are the team we all hope for and expect. If the Dolphins are a 12-4 team, or an 11-5 team, one assumes they won't be 1-3 at season's start.

And if they are a 12-4 or an 11-5 team, I would say they will still be the dominant sports story in South Florida, even beyond the Heat.

Just like they were before I went on vacation.

[BLOG NOTE: Come back this afternoon, as I have some minor news that I'll be posting at that time.]