Dolphins-Bucs spells Disaster Bowl
It almost seems like a joke, the idea that, at this point in the season — at this point in the lives of these franchises, a horrible, soul-crushing low — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins are about to play each other.
That’s right: in the middle of Greg Schiano’s disastrous year of reportedly demoralizing his team, ostracizing his starting quarterback, and failing to win a single game, and the Dolphins' week of Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito becoming the poster boys for all that is wrong with how the NFL treats masculinity, mental heatlh, and issues of race and sexual preference, the Bucs and Dolphins face off on Monday Night Football.
I don’t really have a catchy name for it, but something as sad and lackluster as this doesn’t need a flashy name — it needs something direct and explicit. Something like the Disaster Bowl. So let’s go with that.
Merely in football terms, the Disaster Bowl is a morbidly interesting game, pitting the winless Bucs, who nosedived out of what appeared to be a guaranteed win last week by giving up a 21-point jump on the Seahawks, against the cratering Dolphins, a team that started 3-0 before losing its next four.
The Dolphins halted their tailspin with an impressive 22-20 win against the Bengals 10 days ago, but it still leaves them third in their division and looking at an uphill battle.
The Buccaneers’ hope at this point is purely individual. Neither of these teams is in good shape on the football field.
But! If this were just a football game, we wouldn’t be talking about it.
We’re talking about it because of the fact that it involves the two most disastrous franchises in the NFL right now. Forget the Jaguars and Vikings and Giants and Steelers; their only problem is with how they’ve been playing the game. That can be solved.
The Bucs and Dolphins are dealing with institutional rot that needs to be excised before either team — and the NFL, really, because it would be foolish to pretend that either of these situations is exclusive to either team — can move forward.
The elemental truth about sports is that it encapsulates the human narrative on an isolated stage. The Boston Red Sox represent triumph and resilience and bouncing back from atrocity. NFL teams have been the same way; the Saints after Katrina were a symbol not only of New Orleans’ endurance but also its defiance.
And what the Bucs represent is the tendency of men in positions of power to exploit that power and become tyrants, particularly when their job is at risk. Schiano seems to embody the worst of the dour-coach archetype embodied best by Bill Belichick, except that when you don’t win, and you aren’t a genius, you can’t get away with that.
The Dolphins represent something worse, the tendency of sports to exhibit the worst stereotypes of macho culture and disregard mental illness because you can’t see its effects on the skin. Hopefully, Jonathan Martin will be able to reach peace and health, whether that means him coming back to the NFL; he clearly has the ability, so he should be able to do what he wants to do.
Of course, both of these teams, despite their massive issues, are still playing football. Because they’re football teams. Even better, they’re bad football teams, and they’ll be playing bad football on Monday, almost certainly. And one of them will win, and the other will lose; if the Dolphins win, they’ll still have a shot at being a playoff team, albeit a slight one; if the Bucs win, they’ll be slightly less terrible than they were before, maybe saving Greg Schiano another day as the team’s head coach, maybe not, because at this point, it seems unlikely that he will last the year, much less into next season.
These things change. Just ask Gene Deckerhoff, Jr., the voice of both the Bucs and Florida State -- one team that’s 0-8, the other that’s 8-0. But the issues the Bucs and Dolphins are facing isn’t so easy as flipping a switch. And they might involve making football the secondary focus, but that shouldn’t be a big deal: it’s already happened, just not by choice.