The Strange Case of Dr. Dave and Mr. Hyde

Fred Harper

Forget politics, corruption, and crime. This week, it's about sports. You and I have the wild-card Marlins in the playoffs and the Dolphins coming off two big wins. That's right, Jack McKeon is smoking, Jeff Conine is barking, and Ricky is running.

It's too sweet, but think of this: If George Walker Bush had his way, the Marlins would have been wrapped in old newspaper months ago. And they wouldn't have won the 1997 World Series either. "History will prove me right," the future president said in 1993 after casting the lone vote against adding the wild card to the baseball playoffs.

Don't it make you feel confident about Iraq and the economy?

Somebody stop me. I'm not writing about our halfwit-in-chief this week. I'm here to celebrate our suddenly sublime sports scene, where the only negative thing to happen in a long time was the Dolphins' season-opening loss to the Houston Texans. But even that was strangely satisfying; it broke the boredom of routine. Eleven straight season-opening victories had equaled nothing but futility, after all. Teams, like people, sometimes fall into destructive patterns, and I figured the loss in September might just equal a win in December.

Which brings me to the real subject at hand. When I opened the Sun-Sentinel the morning after the game, the buzz kill came courtesy of sportswriter Dave Hyde, who opened his column thusly:

"What a waste. There's nothing else to say. You can sum up the Dolphins' opener in one simple sentence, so long as that simple sentence includes the words dreadful, humiliating, inexcusable, inexplicable, ominous, atrocious, penalty-filled, mistake-strewn, mind-boggling and, most embarrassing of all, Houston Texans.

"Excuse me now while I throw up."

Not on your keyboard! This had the mark of Mr. Hyde, the columnist's ridiculously morose dark side, who went on to write that the Dolphins were at "Gloom Street and Doom Boulevard."

Might sound like a bit much after just one game, but before you could say "premature speculation," he metamorphosed back into the chirpy Dr. Dave, his optimistic other half. It's a biochemical reaction that occurs in him whenever the Dolphins win -- and the inexcusable, atrocious, embarrassing team won back-to-back games over the Jets and the Bills right after the ominous and humiliating calamity with Houston.

Being a sports fan is all about feeling the highs and lows of your team, but you expect more from a sportswriter than a seesaw ride of shrill emotion. You want analysis, criticism, humor, and maybe, just maybe, some perspective. Dave Hyde leaves that stuff for the other columnists (hell, I found out about Bush and the wild-card vote from junior Sentinel columnist Ethan J. Skolnick). But what Dr. Dave and Mr. Hyde lack in journalistic worth, they make up in sheer manic-depressive drama.

Just look at this July 2002 commentary about Dave Wannstedt's trade of defensive lineman Daryl Gardener. "One way [to win] is chemistry. That's why Gardener is gone. Wannstedt listened to players' gripes about Gardener, saw he wasn't working out... weighed the back injuries and the strained personal life, and decided he wasn't worth the risk anymore," Dr. Dave wrote. "Wann-stedt has made so many proper personnel decisions across two years he gets the benefit of the doubt."

Mr. Hyde, however, would have none of this "benefit of the doubt" nonsense. He emerged five months later to complain that Gardener was sorely needed. "This isn't a second guess. It's a first guess," the dark one wrote. "Back in the summer, when Gardener was cut by Wannstedt, it was an easy decision to track: If Gardener was playing better in December than the collection of maybes in his place, it was a mistake. Well, folks, it was a mistake."

If that sounds dishonest, think again. It really was a first guess -- for Mr. Hyde. The other first guess was Dr. Dave's. And, clinically speaking, it's clear that those crazy bastards are oblivious of each other.

Through this freakish prism, we follow South Florida sports. Consider this chilling time line of the two-headed columnist's coverage of the Wannstedt era:

August 6, 2000: Every sensible football person pointedly ignores the preseason. But not Mr. Hyde. He wallows in it. "Uh-oh," he wrote after a loss to Pittsburgh in the first preseason matchup. "This game that meant nothing was still scary. It was still revealing. It was still -- can I say this already? -- what you feared most if you were a Dolfan looking for answers."

Yes, it was what you feared most. Think Mr. Hyde writes in the dark with a flashlight glowing under his chin? Bet he has an evil laugh too.

December 27, 2000: The Dolphins overcame the horrific preseason to win the AFC East and beat the Colts in a great wild-card game. Which brought back Dr. Dave: "Dolphins fans should take a breath and admire Wannstedt's work today. It's surely the greatest, quietest job a Dolphins coach has ever done."  

So much for Don Shula. I told you Dr. Dave was happy.

August 6, 2001: He was still buzzing as the new season was about to begin: "If you're going to doubt Wannstedt, you have to remember this: A lot of people doubted him last year and looked silly by December. He pushed all the right buttons."

Mr. Hyde had been a first-row, silly-looking doubter, but Dr. Dave had no way to know that.

August 13, 2001: Just a week later, Mr. Hyde was sucked back into the fray with a column that was, no joke, headlined, "This Is Just the Start... Uh-Oh."

"You had that sinking feeling right from this preseason's first steps," Mr. Hyde wrote. "Tampa Bay's Frank Murphy took the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Uh-oh... You entered Monday with the hope for a glimpse of the upcoming season. You left with the fear -- uh-oh -- that's maybe just what you got."

Is it me, or is there an echo of uh-ohs around here?

But this was a landmark column, as Dr. Dave chipped in parenthetical remarks to make fun of Mr. Hyde in the very same space. Who could forget quips like, "(Hey, don't pay attention to any of this, folks. I'm just getting ready for the regular season... this game doesn't mean anything, everyone knows that)."

It was both eerie and not quite funny all at the same time.

September 9, 2002: Despite Mr. Hyde's sinking feeling, the Dolphins made the playoffs again, which sprung Dr. Dave from the parentheses that shackled him. The team came back strong last year, prompting the good doctor to write, in midseason, that, "Wannstedt keeps making the right moves, keeps pushing the right buttons."

With all this button-pushing going on, you'd think the coach was a stenographer. But it goes to show that two poles of Dave Hyde have one thing in common: Both repeat stupid clichés and phrases. For instance, a Nexis search shows they've called the readers "folks" in 102 columns during the past decade.

December 31, 2002: After a disappointing loss at New England that kept the Dolphins from the playoffs, Mr. Hyde emerged with a vengeance, calling for the hiring of Bill Parcells to replace the guy who just a few months before was pushing all the right buttons and had fairly recently done the greatest coaching job in world history. Mr. Hyde ranted that "South Florida has dibs on the un-coach of the year... This is how the autopsy looks today. Everything gets back to the head coach."

The evil Mr. Hyde likes to refer to corpses, but you have to give him props for originality this time. Who ever heard of a sportswriter calling for a coach to be fired?

May 1, 2003: Dr. Dave detected the hypocrisy and penned a column titled "Time to Give the Guy a Break":

"Isn't it time to stop pounding Wannstedt like tenderized steak over this off-season? Well? Come on, folks, check out how the new team picture is developing for the Dolphins."

Take that, Mr. Hyde.

September 8, 2003: Which brings us up to the Texans loss and the horrible return of the dark half. "The Wannstedt Watch is about to begin," Mr. Hyde wrote after the opener. "The question, after this disaster, isn't whether he survives the season. It's whether he survives September.

"All his Up With Dolphins optimism in the offseason didn't work, obviously. All his free-agent buys, as sound as they look, didn't fix anything... It's the same game, the same non-surprises, as last December. There were again so many leaks, in so many areas, that you don't know where to start."

Apparently, Wannstedt found the right buttons to push, since his team has won impressive back-to-back games. That plus the Marlins' success has brought Dr. Dave back in all his gleeful glory. Just listen to this gush of treacle he wrote after last week's sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies: "The story was more remarkable than winning. It was of being loved in return," wrote the apparently Moulin Rouge-addled columnist. "The author said there are no second acts in America. But he wrote that from another generation, back before seeing how many there are in love, in life and in the love of a baseball life, as this Marlins season has shown us."

Excuse me now while I throw up.

But you know Mr. Hyde is lurking in the shadows, folks, ready to pounce as soon as the slightest thing goes wrong.  


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