The truth has set in this week: Football is gone in Miami, and it's not coming back for a long time. The Dolphins' playoff exit at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers ended a good run for the Fins, one that came out of nowhere after a brutal 1-4 start to the season.
But we've mourned enough. Let's remember the five best things that came out of a terrific 2016 season.
1. Hard Rock Stadium debuted.
Before a terrible Dolphins season turned into a relatively successful one, fans were introduced to the finishing touches of
Joe Robbie Pro Player Dolphins LandShark Sun Life Hard Rock Stadium. Renderings showed us years ago what the improvements would look like, but HOLY CRAP, they were so much better in real life.
It's not like the Dolphins played in a dump before renovations began, but now they play in one of
2. Jay Ajayi blossomed into a star.
So yeah, mark "running back" off the list of Dolphins needs this offseason. Ajayi started the season as the starter by default, and he ends it in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. That actually happened: Ajayi had 75 rushing yards after four games and 1,272 when it was all said and done. If you expected that to happen, you're smarter than the Dolphins' front office, because they tried everything possible to make sure Ajayi was nothing more than a part-time player this season.
Shit happened. Ajayi got a shot. He made the most of it. Now the Miami Dolphins have an elite running back, something they haven't had in years.
3. Young Dolphins fans finally got a taste of success.
The last Miami Dolphins playoff win came in 2001, or the year some current high-school juniors were born. Miami fans over the age of 40 still have the undefeated season under their belts. The under-40 crowd has the Dan Marino era and all the close-to-successes that came with those fun teams. Everyone under 30 is screwed. Nothing. Just a desolate land of nothingness.
For those high-school juniors, the peak of Miami Dolphins football before this season was the wildcat-fueled, Chad Pennington-led 2008 playoff team that got its ass similarly handed to it in the playoffs. That's it. It's high time the Fins gave a new generation of fans a taste of something other than utter disappointment.
4. Ryan Tannehill finally looked like a franchise quarterback.
Forget what your buddy says: Matt Moore isn't challenging Ryan Tannehill for the starting position next season. Tannehill is the Dolphins' quarterback for the foreseeable future, after head coach Adam Gase turned Tannehill into more than just a serviceable QB. Before his injury, Tannehill had become an above-average signal-caller in the NFL.
Tannehill finally showed signs of harnessing the skills that fans have seen in flashes over the previous four years. Numbers aside, 2016 was Tannehill's best season in Miami. It's not always about pure stats; many of Tannehill's past stats came in garbage-time situations or comeback attempts. This season, the Dolphins had a consistent quarterback who was capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs.
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5. Miami is a football town again.
Some cities are undeniably partial to a particular sport, but Miami isn't like most cities. Miami clings to a winner and rolls with it until someone else is hot. For upward of a decade, this was an NBA town while the Heat rolled to NBA finals like clockwork. That doesn't mean Dade is bandwagon territory — fans never abandoned the Fins in those lean years — but South Florida flocks to see a winner.
This year, the franchise on top was the Dolphins.
The Heat is a mess. The Marlins are the Marlins. And the Panthers are down after someone decided