The chatter of the exuberant bar full of NFL fans dropped to a murmur as we made our way through the Desperado last October. We took a seat at a table near the biggest of the big screens, she in her Tom Brady #12 jersey and blue New England Patriots hat, me in my Miami sweatshirt and aqua-and-orange lid with the old school Dolphins logo. It may as well have been Heinrich Himmler and Benjamin Netanyahu sitting down over a basket of hot wings and a few Miller Lites.
One of the most heated rivalries in the NFL for the last twenty years has been between the perpetually-rebuilding Dolphins and the brutally efficient Patriots, who are currently securing financing for a second stadium just to hold all their Super Bowl trophies. There are many things that can test the bonds of holy matrimony, and rooting for division rivals is definitely one of them. (So is peeing in the back yard, but that’s a blog for another day.)
I’ve been a Dolphins fan since watching my first Super Bowl in January 1972, when they lost to the Cowboys. I was living in Pensacola, and my buddy Kevin had invited me over to his house where his mom served us hot dogs, pork ‘n beans, and a washtub of Lay’s potato chips while we took in the game on his 19” color Zenith. NFL was good. I swore my allegiance to the young south Florida team with the goofy colors, and the following year they rewarded me by beating the Redskins in the Super Bowl to become the only team in pro sports history to run the table. The Perfect Season. I was twelve. I just assumed they’d do it every year after that.
Barb’s devotion to the Patriots goes back to her undergrad days in the Northeast, twenty-something years ago. Her team loyalty may not be as old as mine, but it is no less solid. She lived through the early years. Victor Kiam. Steve Grogan. Douchey logo. She’s earned her die-hard status.
Lots of married couples root for different teams, but when both teams are in the same division, it makes for a pretty intense home life. I have to act like I’m happy when the Pats win, even though I’m secretly hoping that FBI agents will storm the field during their game and arrest Bill Belichik for being a robot from the future, and Tom Brady will be overcome with hair product fumes and have to be carried off the field.
But of course, all they do is win. They are the only team since the Dolphins to achieve a perfect record, winning all 16 games in 2007. (Yeah, that’s the year the Dolphins went 1-15 and I developed a mild addiction to painkillers.) The Pats lost the Super Bowl to the underdog Giants, when Eli Manning completed a last-minute TD pass to Plaxico Burress, who later celebrated by shooting himself in the leg. So the Dolphins’1972 Perfect Season remains unmatched.
I congratulate Barb on the Pats’ victories, but what I usually get in return is sympathy. The Fish have floundered since Dan Marino retired eleven years ago. Every September brings fresh new hope that I can do a little chest-pounding, talk a little trash. The last fist-thrusting moment I’ve enjoyed with the Fins, though, was their victory against self-portrait enthusiast Brett Favre and the Jets at the end of the 2008 season to reclaim the AFC East title over the Pats. Oh, believe me, I savored the hell out of that victory. I savored it until my family could not stand to be around me. The Dolphins, being the Dolphins, went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs against some junior high school team or something.
Our teams play each other at least twice a year, and Barb and I always have some sort of wager, typically the loser giving the winner foot rubs for a week. Let’s just say Barb hasn’t touched my bare feet since I stepped on a fishhook three years ago. Her feet, on the other hand, have been rubbed more than a busload of happy ending recipients at a Bangkok massage parlor.
When our teams play it’s always a big deal in the Wire household, last Monday night’s season opener was no exception. The game was on ESPN so we could watch at home. Barb laid out a massive spread of chicken wings, pigs in a blanket, seven-layer dip, veggie sticks and homemade salsa. I sipped cold Red Hook from a bottle covered by a Dolphins jersey beer coozie, and asked her who was coming over. “No one. Just us.” It was like the Super Bowl at Kevin’s house, only better.
I’d lost track of the Dolphins roster, except of course for the ex-Griz players: Lex Hilliard, Dan Carpenter and Jimmy Wilson. Ricky Williams is gone, presumably running a medical marijuana dispensary in Nepal. Ronnie Brown is gone, hopefully telling his new Eagles teammates that the Wildcat offense is a gimmicky piece of shit. Chad Pennington, the best hope they’d had at QB since Marino’s departure, is gone. I knew they’d signed Reggie Bush, so all I could hope for was a Williams-like resurgence at running back.
But of course, it was not to be. As the Patriots are wont to do, they spent the first half performing the rope-a-dope, giving the Fish (and us faithful followers jumping and yelling and spitting chicken wing bits at the TV) some hope. It ended like it always does, with Belichik trotting off the field with an annoyed look on his mug, and me sitting on the couch, dejected, taking out my frustrations on Barb’s feet.
“OW! You’re going to break my toes!”
“First and goal on the one-foot line and Henny Penny throws a pass 25 yards sideways! Goddamn, who’s their offensive coordinator, Pauly Shore?”
She pulled her feet away. “Why don’t we postpone this foot rub ‘til tomorrow. Besides you’re getting chicken grease all over my feet.”
I threw my hat on the floor in disgust. “Oh yeah? Fine. That’s fine.” I got off the couch and walked into the kitchen for another beer. “Well, I’ll always have 1972,” I said over my shoulder. “Seventeen and oh, baby! Seventeen and OH!”