Do You (Not) Believe in Miracles?

The Miami Dolphins beat the Jets Sunday to win the division and make it to the playoffs. It's a great achievement for a team that went 1-15 last year and a nice gift for the fans. But a miracle?

That's what a headline on the the Sun-Sentinel's front page called it this morning -- a "miracle turnaround." That's right, this season was authored not by the Big Tuna, our local newspaper tells us, but by the the Big Guy himself, God almighty.

Of course, I'm adhering to the strictest definition of the word. People abuse and stretch the word all the time and sometimes I agree with it. For instance, it's fine by me if you call Christian Laettner's last-second score against Kentucky a miracle. It had that feel about it. Kirk Gibson's home run. Everyone agrees with Al Michaels about the U.S. hockey team's victory over the USSR in 1980. Joe Montana to Dwight Clark. Some of Lynn Swann's catches and Gale Sayers' runs are divine in my book. Michael Jordan's soar. Hell, even Dwyane Wade's almost single-handed comeback to beat Dallas in Game 3 could be construed as having at least a strong whiff of the supernatural about it.

But you have to be ingesting some pretty strong hallucinogenics to believe this Dolphins' season is anything near a miracle. The only real uncanny thing about it was the weakness of the team's schedule. They have only beaten two teams with winning records, New England and the Jets, both of whom also beat the Dolphins. They eked out hold-your-breath wins against lowly teams like Kansas City, St. Louis, Seattle and Oakland (I swear, I still think of that Raiders game as a loss for some reason). The teams they played this year had a combined schedule of 117-137.

So it's no miracle. It is, finally, competence. And I don't mean to demean this team, because in the NFL mere competence is no small feat. Chad Pennington has played masterfully with an inconsistent and inexperience receiving corps. The wildcat offense has been a revelation. Joey Porter has brought a much-needed fear factor to the defense and the secondary has played inspired football. And Tony Sparano? He deserves Coach of the Year, along with that guy from Atlanta (another Sun-Sentinel miracle?). 

Now, where the Dolphins go from here might change things a bit. If they went from 1-16 to world champions, no superlative the silly Sentinel could throw at them would seem overcooked. Why? Because such an accomplishment just doesn't seem possible. Honestly, the only reason I give them a chance against Baltimore is because Miami has a solid history against that team (though they lost to the Ravens earlier this year by 14) and the game is at home. Even that seems a stretch, but Pittsburgh? Tennessee? Both of those teams seem to play at another level. San Diego, too, with their arsenal of receivers and the way it has gelled.

You see? We aren't talking about the Rams and the Chiefs anymore. We're talking about the Steelers, Titans, and Colts. And after that the team that emerges from the tougher NFC (I'm picking the Panthers). It seems preposterous that Miami could beat those guys or the odds. It would be a ... oh hell, you know the word.