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 It might be harder to go through an NFL season losing every game than winning them all. Especially now.
But neither the odds nor the era are providing any comfort for the Miami Dolphins.
``Who's the guy from Charlie Brown who has the gray cloud following him around? Pig Pen?'' defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday asked, and then answered his own question. ``We're like Pig Pen.''
No kidding. The Dolphins did just about everything right at home Sunday afternoon against the Bills, but lost on a late field goal and fell to 0-9. Worse still, they experienced one of those defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory moments that spectacularly bad teams rehash endlessly at beer-soaked reunions. After Buffalo's only touchdown of the game, Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kickoff 86 yards for the apparent go-ahead score, when his end-zone celebration was interrupted by a holding call against Greg Camarillo.
``I'll take the blame for it,'' Camarillo said afterward. But he was giving himself way too much credit. For a team to flirt with historic lows, usually everyone from the owner down to the janitor must be doing something wrong.
The last team to go winless over the course of a season at least had an excuse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were making their NFL debut n 1976, yet no matter how low coach John McKay set the bar, his ragtag collection of players found a way to limbo beneath it. Three weeks into the season, McKay quit talking to his players. Soon after, he was asked about the team's execution in a particularly inept loss and McKay replied, ``I'm in favor of it.''
But he was onto something. After going 0-14, the Bucs dropped their first 12 the following season, prompting changes in the league's expansion policies. And several teams have come close since, despite a salary cap and the advent of real free agency, changes that have encouraged parity by limiting the number of top players any team can stockpile.
The running joke about the 1990 New England Patriots, whose only win in a 1-15 season came by two points, was that ``they would be no better than even money in an intrasquad scrimmage.'' A year later, Indianapolis put up the same 1-15 mark while setting records for the fewest points and TDs scored in a 16-game season. ``No way I'd pay,'' running back Eric Dickerson said memorably, ``to see someone play the way we are.''
If the Dolphins were held to the same standard, their stadium would have emptied out long before this weekend. Owner Wayne Huizenga has thrown money around since the day he acquired the team in 1994 - ``millions and millions and millions,'' he recalled ruefully just last month - but has precious little to show for it.
The two worst player personnel decisions centered on finding a replacement for quarterback Dan Marino (still waiting) and giving up a pair of first-round draft picks in 2002-03 to get running back Ricky Williams, whose value, like his NFL career, have gone up in smoke. But the front-office hires haven't worked out much better.
The closest Huizenga has come to firing a coach was early in his tenure. Since nudging Don Shula toward the exit, he's tried nice guys, like Dave Wannstedt and current coach Cam Cameron, and tough guys, like Cameron's predecessor, Nick Saban. There hasn't been a keeper on the Dolphins' sideline since Jimmy Johnson departed in 1999, and all that instability has taken its toll.
You can count the Dolphins' playmakers on one hand and right now, four of them are in questionable health. Quarterback Trent Green and linebacker Zach Thomas are still recovering from concussions, running back Ronnie Brown is sidelined with a bum knee and defensive end Jason Taylor limped off the field against Buffalo.
Whether and when any or all four return could spell the difference between mediocre and historically bad. The St. Louis Rams, after all, shed their collar Sunday against New Orleans as running back Steven Jackson, recovering from a back injury, sparked a resurgent offense. It didn't hurt, either, that the Rams' defense finally contributed a few big turnovers.
That could happen to the Dolphins. With a few healthy stars and a few turnovers, they might beat the Jets or more likely, the Bengals at home the Sunday after Christmas in the season's finale. If not, it begs a question that even Shula is bound to get right: How best to denote the only franchise in NFL history to go through one season without losing and another without winning?
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.
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