Suck For Luck Revisited

Note: This post has been updated periodically since November 6, 2011, the day the Dolphins secured their first win of the season, as more and more information has become available to prove out my point. It has been a source of great frustration for me since that time. 

The Miami Dolphins were 0-7. Despair had long since set in.

No team in NFL history had ever rallied from such a dreadful start to the regular season to make the playoffs. It simply wasn’t going to happen.

It was a familiar story. The Dolphins didn’t make the playoffs the prior season either. Or the season before that. In fact, they had only made the playoffs once in the previous ten years. After a decade of failure from which to rebuild, the Dolphins were still among the worst teams in football.

Andrew Luck, then finishing out a record-shattering college career at Stanford, was widely considered the ultimate prize in the next NFL draft. He was the most highly rated quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning. A can’t miss prospect. A sure thing.

A small group of frustrated Dolphins fans connected the dots and began endorsing a radical concept: Why not tank the rest of the 2011 season to ensure they get him?

The “Suck for Luck” campaign quickly took off by word of mouth. The “Miami Dolphins Suck For Luck” movement took off on Facebook. The #suck4luck movement exploded on Twitter. Signs were made. T-shirts were printed.

Eventually, just about all of South Florida embraced the concept.

Fans started actively rooting against the team so that it could land their prized quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper said it best, saying that if he were a Dolfan, he would be “celebrating losses as a victory.”

Even Dolphins owner Stephen Ross embraced the concept. Ross told his friends he would be willing to deal with short-term losses if the end result would be the franchise quarterback he so desperately wanted. 

As one anonymous general manager from the NBA so eloquently described the theory of losing intentionally:

“Our team isn’t good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to… get … in position to grab a great player [in the NBA draft]. The best way for us to do that is to lose a lot of games. This draft is loaded. There are potential All-Stars at the top, maybe even franchise changers. Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.

“I know that sounds crazy, but if you’re an NBA general manager like me, the last place you want to be is in the middle. There are only two outcomes there: Either make the playoffs and be first-round fodder for one of the premier teams or miss the playoffs and pick somewhere around 11th to 14th in the draft. Either way, the odds are that you stay in that middle range. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Dolphins, however, wouldn’t have it. They were appalled by the notion. The coaching staff was fighting for jobs. The players were fighting for roster spots. They were all fighting for pride. And so they went out valiantly, and won 6 of their last 9 football games.

The result? Head coach: fired anyway. Offensive coordinator: gone. Defensive coordinator: gone. The vast majority of team’s top talent: gone. Any chance at Luck: gone.

And so the Dolphins did what they had to do: they overreached on an underdeveloped quarterback and hoped for the best. It didn’t work. Now two years later, another two years of mediocrity, the team finds itself still among the worst in the sport.

All of it made worse by the fact that the team which did embrace the concept, the one which did suck all the way through the 2011 football season, seemingly intentionally, became a playoff team the very next season, going from worst in the NFL to perennial powerhouse on the strength of one quarterback – a quarterback whom the Dolphins themselves could have had, a quarterback we all knew would do exactly what he is doing.

It’s still early. But Luck looks every bit the future Hall of Fame quarterback capable of becoming the face of his franchise for the next 20 or so years – in Indianapolis, the next Peyton Manning; put him in Miami, the next Dan Marino.

The question needs to be asked: What if the Dolphins had adopted such a pragmatic approach?

For a team ranking among the league worst in offense… Could the Dolphins have had among the best and most dynamic in football – with among the game’s best and most dangerous quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, among the game’s best possession receivers in a not-traded Brandon Marshall, among the game’s best speed receivers in future acquisition Mike Wallace, and among the game’s most dangerous running backs in Reggie Bush?

For a team now struggling to sell tickets… How many fans would that kind of offensive firepower have put in the stands? Would Dolphins stadium have been sold out to maximum capacity for the next 20 or so years?

For a team struggling to generate wins… Would the Dolphins have secured themselves double-digit wins for the next 20 or so years?

For a team that hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 30 years… Would the Dolphins have had another in its sights?

How much more revenue would the Dolphins have generated over the next 20 years?

How much more valuable would Stephen Ross’ billion-dollar purchase be right now?

A sure thing might come along maybe once per decade across the NFL. The Dolphins chose not to swallow their collective pride and lose nine games intentionally. It was a noble stance. But was it worth the 20-year consequence?

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