Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Days, everyone!
I want to wish you and yours the best, brightest and most prosperous days as we celebrate today, tomorrow and heading into the New Year.
Can I share some football thoughts with you?
It is about this time three years ago that the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons, two franchises in similar terrible states, made a bold and hopeful reach for finding credibility and excellence and a new dawn to what had been a very dark night in their histories.
They both made a play for Bill Parcells in late 2007.
Before I get to that ... a little history.
These two teams seemed strangely similar for a couple of years before December of 2007. The Falcons were 7-9 in 2006. The Dolphins finished 6-10. The Falcons fired Jim Mora. Nick Saban fired the Dolphins.
The Dolphins hired Cam Cameron and the Falcons hired Bobby Petrino to coach in 2007. Neither was NFL head coach material. Both seemed overmatched. Both lost their locker rooms as the season progressed.
Neither team had a quarterback to speak of. The Dolphins cut a one-legged Daunte Culpepper and signed a diminished Trent Green. Culpepper had been a terrible mistake because Saban asked him to play despite the fact his knee would never allow him to play at a Pro Bowl level again. Green was a mistake because his concussion while with Kansas City the year before had made him a candidate for more concussions in the future.
The Falcons were dealing with their own quarterback issues and, in most respects, their issues were more serious.
Michael Vick, talented but troubled, was suspended by the NFL after he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his now infamous dog fighting ring in Virginia. The Falcons were sunk.
Their quarterback situation was so terrible to begin the 2007 season, Petrino handed the starting job to Joey Harrington, who the Dolphins had discarded after he failed with them in 2006.
And so as the 2007 season got underway, both teams then set off on what could be optimistically described as disasters. Neither won with any regularity and, in Miami’s case, regularity was defined as all but once.
Players on both teams quit well before the failed seasons ended. But the Falcons had the special added bonus of having Petrino quit on the players three games before the season ended so he could take the job coaching Arkansas.
Petrino left his playes a note in the locker room telling them he was cruising.
Well, let's put it kindly. It is Christmas. Cam Cameron was a mistake.
By December, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and Falcons owner Arthur Blank were shopping for help to fix their broken franchises. Both focused on Parcells.
Huizenga talked to Parcells first, actually, but couldn't land him because he planned to sell the team and Parcells wanted stability in ownership. So Blank swooped and had Parcells all but signed to come to Atlanta. Blank actually went to Parcells' home in Saratoga, New York expecting to get a deal signed with Parcells after the football man had told him he was ready to return to football.
But Huizenga came back and offered Parcells everything Atlanta could, plus an opportunity to be closer to his Jupiter home, plus a longer-standing relationship than the one Parcells had with Blank. Let me be clear: Parcells preferred to come to Miami the entire time. But he had initially rebuffed Huizenga when the Miami owner told him of his intention to sell the club.
It wasn't until Huizenga changed his tune and told Parcells he would keep the team that Parcells refocused his interest on Miami.
The Dolphins got Parcells and by December 20 when they announced he was hired, they were enjoying instant credibility again. The Falcons, seemingly cast aside and beaten to the punch, settled on former New England director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff as their general manager.
Sure, everyone knew Parcells wasn’t going to be around very long because his history guaranteed as much. But no one gave the relatively unknown Dimitroff any advantage in the pairing against Miami’s new football boss.
That didn’t last.
Dimitroff signed running back Michael Turner and traded for tight end Tony Gonzalez. And when Parcells, owning the first overall pick of the 2008 draft, selected future Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, Dimitroff did him one better by drafting future Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan.
Yes, that is hindsight. At the time, the Long pick was the more logical, safer selection. And Long might turn into a Hall of Famer some day.
But a Hall of Fame left tackle does not trump a franchise quarterback. And that is precisely what Ryan has become in Atlanta.
Both teams seemed to turn it around instantly. The Dolphins won their division with an 11-5 record in 2008. The Falcons similarly went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
But the Dolphins, benifitting from an easy schedule, were something of a mirage while Atlanta had actual staying power. Even though both teams regressed in 2009, Miami's took several steps back to 7-9 while Atlanta dropped to 9-7 while playing in the same division with the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
And while the Dolphins got about the business of finding their all-important QB in 2009, the Falcons were already certain Ryan was their man. They also had a good, albeit not great left tackle in Sam Baker, an Alpha wide receiver in Roddy White, and consistent pass rusher in John Abraham, and a full complement of draft picks for 2010.
The Falcons have filled in with trades and free agency, but they have really been built through the draft. That's the New England way that Dimitroff learned.
All six draft picks made the team this year. In fact, on the day teams set their initial 53 man rosters this season, the Falcons had 31 of their own draft picks on the team, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That was fourth highest in the NFL.
The Dolphins had 21 of their own picks on their roster which was tied with the Jets for the league’s second lowest total.
The Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins – organizations that have often set the standard for how to mess up in the NFL – had the league’s lowest total of draft picks on their respective rosters. They each had 17.
And while the Falcons were building slowly and surely, the Dolphins at the start of 2010 found themselves rebuilding once again. Parcells quit as his contract allowed him to do. Huizenga had sold the team despite indications to Parcells he would not and so Parcells made his counter-move by stepping down as Miami's football czar.
It has been portrayed that Parcells walked out on the Dolphins. I would tell you if Huizenga was still the owner, Parcells would still be the football czar. Period.
No, there isn't a rift between Parcells and new owner Stephen Ross. The two men still speak but their relationship is not a friendship. They talk about the labor issues facing the league. It's business. Huizenga and Parcells were more friends.
Obviously, neither Huizenga nor Ross wanted to take the PR hit for losing Parcells immediately following an 11-5 season when they announced the sale of the Dolphins. So they gave Parcells the sweetheart deal he enjoys today of basically getting paid until the end of 2011 without really working for the team if he doesn't want to.
This year, Parcells began to use his option. He stepped back from daily operations, handing them to general manager Jeff Ireland. And now he is only a consultant. He doesn't make decisions about the team. He isn't involved in the daily grind. He doesn't have an office in the football facility in Davie and hasn't visited since he moved out, best I can gather.
Does he talk to Ireland? Sure. Does he text coach Tony Sparano? Sure. Does he tell either what to do? Nope.
And so while the Falcons are hitting their stride with their front office and coaching set up in Year Three, the Dolphins are kind of starting over with an independent Ireland and Sparano working without a Parcells net for the first time.
On the field, the differences are obvious. The Falcons are fast, they make plays, they're dynamic, and yes, they win at home. Atlanta is 6-0 in the Georgia Dome this year. They're 19-1 in their house the last 20 games.
The Dolphins are great on the road with a 6-1 record, but incredibly disappointing at home at 1-6. Miami lacks speed, dynamic playmakers on offense and special teams and even its No. 4 ranked defense needs work because it has had a chance to win -- WIN -- a couple of games this year and didn't do it. Cleveland comes prominently to mind.
The Falcons are 12-2 today, three years after they missed out on Bill Parcells. The Dolphins are 7-7 today, three years after they landed Bill Parcells.
The Falcons, by the way, are doing it with a Dolphins flavor. They have five former Dolphins coaches on their staff – offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, receivers coach Terry Robiskie, linebackers coach Glenn Pires and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
In that regard also these teams are strangely connected.