From the New York Times:
DAVIE, Fla., Oct. 22 — Cam Cameron felt horrible Monday morning when he hung up the phone after learning the news: Ronnie Brown, his Pro Bowl-caliber running back on the winless Miami Dolphins, was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament. But as the day wore on, Cameron was reminded that there are worse disasters than the one he parachuted into when he accepted the job as Dolphins coach in January.
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Cameron spent the previous five seasons as an offensive coordinator with the Chargers, and as he pored over game film Monday, trying to salvage something from this lost season, he heard from friends and former colleagues in San Diego who were among the hundreds of thousands evacuated from their homes because of raging wildfires.
He was in contact with one friend who had lost his home and all his belongings in another wildfire four years ago, during which Cameron evacuated to Arizona with the rest of the Chargers. The friend rebuilt and is in danger of losing everything again.
“In no way would I ever minimize the difficulties we’re going through, because it’s hard on the fans and the organization,” said Cameron, who has a house in Coronado, Calif., that is unaffected by the fires. “At the same time, there are challenges in life, and you have to meet them head-on.”
A man-made disaster like the Dolphins’ season affects everybody differently. Cameron’s fingernails are bitten to the quick, and his cuticles are bleeding. Linebacker Zach Thomas says he has become a recluse.
“I don’t get out of the house,” Thomas said Sunday after the Dolphins lost to the New England Patriots, 49-28, to fall to 0-7. “It’s not that I’m embarrassed. It’s just that people try to tell you to keep your head up and things like that. I don’t need to hear that. I don’t need the self-pity.”
Thomas and defensive end Jason Taylor are survivors of the last really bad tropical depression to form in August, intensify in September and batter the Dolphins well into October. They were on the 2004 team that lost its first 6 games and 9 of its first 10 behind an offense that was flimsier than a corrugated metal roof.
The abrupt retirement before training camp that season of running back Ricky Williams, the league’s leading rusher in 2002, was the rogue wind that became a perfect storm and swept Dave Wannstedt from his head-coaching perch in midseason.
Quarterbacks Jay Fiedler and A .J. Feeley took turns commanding an offense that averaged 17 points a game and so alienated its defense that during one game, safety Sam Madison, who is now with the Giants, berated Feeley on the sideline and had to be restrained from going after him.
“We were 4-12 that year, but it was never like this, mainly because we had a good defense,” Thomas said. “I’ve never been on this side of the coin, because we’ve always had a proud defense even when we weren’t winning.”
Wannstedt’s departure created the opening that was filled two months later by Nick Saban, who left to coach at Alabama after compiling a 15-17 record in two seasons.
This season, defense has been the Dolphins’ undoing, its veneer of talent further exposed by injuries to four safeties. Before the Patriots’ Tom Brady posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on Sunday, there was the Cleveland Browns’ Derek Anderson, who posted a 142.5 rating against Miami. In Week 4, Oakland’s Daunte Culpepper, a former Dolphin, helped beat Miami with his best passer rating of the season, 102.4. It would appear that one hour on the field against the Dolphins is better for a quarterback’s self-esteem than an hour in therapy.
“I know we’ve lost some players,” Thomas said. “But we can’t use that as an excuse. We’re just not very good on defense, and I don’t know how we get this thing turned around.” He added: “The one thing is you can’t let all this snowball because it could get even worse. It could even get uglier.”
Thomas’s mind no doubt was fast-forwarding to the next game and images of Giants quarterback Eli Manning throwing to his favorite receiver, Plaxico Burress, who poses Randy Moss-like matchup problems.
Moss was the recipient of two of Brady’s five touchdown passes in the first half as the Patriots opened a 42-7 lead. Thomas and Taylor had found themselves in worse holes. They were on the 1999 Dolphins team that was defeated by Jacksonville, 62-7, in the first round of the playoffs.
“That’s probably the only game you can compare this one to,” Taylor said Sunday. “And it was different because that team in Jacksonville kind of hit a wall. We were out of gas.”
Those Dolphins were led by the 38-year-old Dan Marino, the Hall of Fame quarterback who grew creaky waiting for the franchise to find a premier running back to complement him. He played an abysmal game against the Jaguars to usher in his retirement and Coach Jimmy Johnson’s resignation. The post-Johnson, post-Marino era was predicated on defense, with Taylor and Thomas as its pillars.
Now it is their turn to grow old waiting for the franchise to build a championship-quality team around them. Thomas, 34, a fifth-round pick of the Dolphins in 1996, and Taylor, 33, a third-round selection in 1997, were the last rays of sunshine before a cold snap.
Between 1998 and 2003, the Dolphins drafted 47 players, only one of whom — safety Yeremiah Bell — was on the 53-man roster at this season’s start. (Bell is on injured reserve after getting hurt in the opener.) The Giants, by comparison, have four players from those draft classes on their roster: Jeremy Shockey, Osi Umenyiora, David Diehl and David Tyree. (A fifth, William Joseph, is on injured reserve.)
Taylor, the reigning defensive player of the year, was not credited with a tackle against the Patriots. He was asked after the game if he was envious of receiver Wes Welker, who was traded from the Dolphins to the Patriots during the off-season.
“I’m a Miami Dolphin,” Taylor said. “It’s my job to help this team get this thing turned around and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Quickening his steps toward the locker room exit, Taylor added, “We have a lot of issues, none of which I want to sit here and talk about.”