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Miami Vise
Peter King
September 09, 1996
The Dolphins made Jimmy Johnson's return to coaching a success by putting a squeeze on the Pats
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September 09, 1996

Miami Vise

The Dolphins made Jimmy Johnson's return to coaching a success by putting a squeeze on the Pats

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Two hours later Johnson, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, walked out of the complex for his daily three-mile jog. Alongside was team trainer and Johnson confidant Kevin O'Neill. Funny thing, this jog. It's often the only time during the day that Johnson exposes himself to the outside world. The interaction can be downright weird. Sometimes people drive by and yell, "Super Bowl!" Sometimes they hold things out of car windows and ask for an autograph, which never comes. One day a mom shoved her young son out of the car, and the kid began jogging next to an annoyed Johnson. The woman drove about 300 yards ahead, pulled over, got out and snapped a picture.

On this day Johnson and O'Neill talked about the injury to Spikes. They discussed the Cowboys. They talked excitedly about the news they were trying to keep quiet until Monday—that free-agent quarterback Craig Erickson had agreed to a two-year deal, perhaps putting him in position to become Marino's heir. About then, a passing car slowed. Some yahoo craned his neck out of the window and yelled, "J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! They're going to get you, Jimmy!"

Johnson did not look frightened at that threat, but he had reason to be a little edgy about Sunday's game. Dolphins media-relations director Harvey Greene served in the same capacity under Shula for seven years. "But this game," Greene said on Friday night as he dined in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant, "has generated more interest than any game I've seen here, including when Don was going to break George Halas's record for career wins."

The maître d' stopped by to weigh in with his observations. "Every table I've visited tonight, they're talking about Jimmy and the Dolphins," he said. "The anticipation for this game and this season is tremendous.

"As much as Shula is revered, people didn't want to go through the losing thing again. No one could understand why, with Marino, a team drenched in Super Bowl history couldn't win."

Johnson believes he can win—doing it his way. He scoffs at the notion that he has made the Dolphins too young too fast. Salary-cap constraints made it easy to wave goodbye when free-agent defensive stalwarts Marco Coleman, Bryan Cox and Troy Vincent got $3-million-plus-a-year offers elsewhere; Miami's cap was already stretched to the max. Johnson chose to keep 13 rookies and first-year players. These were personnel decisions that may well be the right ones, long-term. But at some point this season the Dolphins will pay for Johnson's devotion to youth. This is a team facing massive growing pains.

No wonder Johnson sounded as if he were talking to a Pop Warner team when he addressed his players again on Saturday night. "Be prepared for momentum swings," he told them. "The crowd will be loud, and you can get caught up in the emotion. The game's never over, no matter how much you're ahead or behind. Half the games in this league are decided by seven points or less."

Afterward, outside the meeting room at the resort hotel where the Dolphins were spending Saturday night, Johnson was asked what worried him most. "Oh, I'm just anxious," he said. "It scares me a little that everyone's picking New England. I'm not accustomed to that. I hope we can keep Martin in check. He's one of the best backs in the league, and I think he's the key to their offense. And I hope we don't have a lot of mental mistakes with three rookies playing a lot on offense and two on defense.

"My heart will be beating a hundred miles an hour tomorrow. Whatever happens, I'm doing what I want to do. With some jobs, for whatever reason, you have to do it. It's been that way for me at certain points in my life. But now the great thing is, I don't have to do it. And I still want to do it."

Johnson laughed and turned to leave. Then free safety Gene Atkins walked up. Johnson put Atkins in a bear hug and began dressing him down for missing the team meal earlier in the evening. On Johnson's Dolphins, missing a team meal costs you $1,000.

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