It was a pleasant afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday, January 15 of 2000. 61 degrees, a pleasant breeze and a packed stadium holding its breath for the first ever “Battle of the Sunshine State” in the second round of the NFL playoffs between the hometown Jaguars and the formidable Miami Dolphins.
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What the Dolphins didn’t know, what they couldn’t possibly had fathomed, was that the following three hours would be the biggest embarrassment in the history of a franchise that still hasn’t recovered from that blow 15 years later, as they prepare to face the Jags on the road this Sunday afternoon.
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The Dolphins would lose that day by a score of 62-7, but the final score wasn’t even the worst aspect of it all. The saddest part was that that debacle was Dan Marino’s last game ever. Marino defined an era and probably is the best quarterback in NFL history that never won a Super Bowl, but that is a discussion for another time.
Miami had reached the postseason for five straight years and seven of the past eight with Marino at QB, but ever since then things went south in a hurry and a once proud franchise forged a path to what it is now, questioned locally and irrelevant on the national stage after just one playoff win since 2001 and just one postseason game after that, a 27-9 blowout loss at the hands of the Ravens in 2008.
The Dolphins’ record in the 1990’s up until that fateful day in Jacksonville had been a stellar 106-70 (.602) with Marino as the undisputed starting quarterback, but the 21st century hasn’t been so kind to South Florida with a 104-130 (.440) mark and just three seasons with double-digit wins since 2001, never more than 11.
If Marino had been the continuation of the stability the Dolphins once cherished with Don Shula at the helm as head coach for 25 years between 1970 and 1995, that 62-7 loss to Jacksonville broke something at the core of a franchise that has had seven head coaches and 11 different starting QBs since 2000.
So what exactly happened that afternoon? How did it all go so wrong, so quickly for the Dolphins? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
A NIGHTMARE IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
The Jaguars were actually the top seed in the AFC that year after compiling an impressive 14-2 record under Tom Coughlin’s watch. In fact, their only two losses in the regular season had been at the hands of the Tennessee Titans (epic foreshadowing).
Jacksonville was fresher, but the Dolphins were the ones with the momentum after a thrilling 23-17 overtime win against the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
Marino was 38 years old at the time, and victories like that made it hard not to believe that he wouldn’t emulate John Elway and ride off into retirement with a Super Bowl ring in his finger.
In fact, he may not have been the golden boy he once was, but Marino still was arguably the best of the four quarterbacks remaining in the AFC Playoffs: Mark Brunell, Steve McNair and a young Peyton Manning in his second year in the league were the other three.
However, everything went so wrong, so quickly for the Dolphins that afternoon.
Brunell found Jimmy Smith, the best receiver in football at the time, for a 10-yard TD that set the tone for the day after a five and a half minute drive to open a wound the Dolphins defense would not be able to close as they allowed 520 total yards in the game.
As if this was a script straight out of a horror movie for Miami, Marino would come in and not only misfire his first seven pass attempts, but immediately throw an interception in the first play of the game. That would be the first of seven Dolphins turnovers.
Fred Taylor’s astounding 90-yard run.
The longest in playoff history and a postseason record that still stands to this day. Amazing, isn’t it? The Jaguars went up 17-0 with that magical dash and the score was 24-0 at the end of the first quarter. By halftime, it was 41-7 and game over.
It seemed to be a college football game between Oklahoma and Texas State, not a clash between an expansion team hosting one of the most prestigious franchises in the league.
Miami actually currently boasts a 4-2 head-to-head advantage and a three game winning streak against their opponent this Sunday, including a 27-13 shellacking last season in Jacksonville.
However, the pain of that 62-7 playoff loss still stings in South Florida because it derailed the path of a once proud club and eventually paved the way to the New England Patriots dynasty we all know nowadays.
Neither of these two teams would ever reach the AFC Championship Game ever again, but the Dolphins actually have reasons to believe that they will be able to put that bad memory to bed in the near future to make way for a better future.
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