DAVIE, Fla. — Perhaps the Miami Dolphins one day will win enough to popularize their own motto. But for now owner Stephen Ross is having to borrow from late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.
“I think you really want to see that you’re committed to winning, you’re committed to excellence,” Ross told reporters Wednesday at the team’s practice facility.
“Commitment to Excellence” was, of course, the phrase the Raiders used while winning three Super Bowls in the 1970s and ’80s, although they have continued to use it long after they fell off the NFL map.
As far as the Dolphins are concerned, Ross emphasized he’s not committed to mediocrity. There are signs at Miami’s practice facility that read “Champions Practice Here,” but the Dolphins haven’t won a championship since 1973 and haven’t played for one since 1984.
“What I really care about is winning football games,” Ross said. “When you make moves, you want to really create and bring back the winning tradition of Florida.”
Ross stopped shy of saying it’s imperative the Dolphins make the playoffs this season after spending plenty of money during the offseason on free agents. And even if they do, Ross doesn’t want it to be a cameo appearance.
“We certainly want to make the playoffs,” Ross said. “(The offseason moves were) all done with that in mind. But I want to see growth in the team and building the foundation for this season and the future seasons as well. I don’t want to be a one-shot wonder.”
Ross knows about that. The only Miami postseason appearance since the start of the 2002 season was one in 2008, when Ross was in his first year of owning 50 percent of the team and the Dolphins bounced back from a 1-15 campaign.
Ross upped his stake to 95 percent in 2009. But since then the Dolphins have had four straight losing seasons and an overall record of 27-37.
He is really hoping this year will be different and delivered that message to his team before practice Wednesday.
“He just wants us to get back to being a good franchise,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace. “He wants us to be a good football team, and that’s what he expects. And he shouldn’t expect anything less.”
Ross doesn’t like to lose. He’s still stinging from being rebuffed earlier this year in his effort to gain public funding to renovate Sun Life Stadium, which is 26 years old and is unlikely to get another Super Bowl unless changes are made.
His bid for state and county financing for a possible $350 million project was killed when Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford declined to put the bill up for a vote during last spring’s legislative session in Tallahassee. That meant citizens could not vote on whether to allow funding.
“I was very disappointed that we lost that,” Ross said. “I think the fans and the community deserve to have a right to vote, and I think that was taken away from them. … Have I given up? The answer is no.”
For the immediate future, Ross is most concerned with absorbing fewer losses on the field. Expectations are high for the Dolphins, who went 7-9 last season, due to the addition of several key players.
The most notable addition has been Wallace, believed to be the deep threat who can take second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the next level. Wallace recently missed more than a week of training camp due to a groin strain and Tannehill has been up and down, but Ross still gushed Wednesday about his signal-caller.
“In pro football, you need to have a great quarterback and we certainly believe and hope that we’ve selected the quarterback,” Ross said. “He understands his position, his role. He’s doing everything he can. I love the guy. I think he’s the right person to lead the way, but you have to make the rest of the moves as well.”
If Tannehill doesn’t live up to expectations, it remains to be seen what will happen with the Dolphins. General manager Jeff Ireland, in his sixth season, will get plenty of additional scrutiny if Miami doesn’t win soon. For now, Ross is standing behind him.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Ross said. “I’m committed to general manager Jeff Ireland.”
Ross also speaks of being committed to excellence. Stay tuned to see is if his Dolphins can win enough in the future to get their own motto.