TAMPA — The intrastate rival Miami Dolphins come to town this week to practice with the Bucs on Tuesday and Wednesday before another meaningless exhibition game.
You say the game matters? Yeah, sure it does. And they served baby franks and potato chips at the Miami owner’s Hamptons fundraiser for President Donald Trump.
Practices and scrimmages are the way to go at this point in NFL history, contact to a degree, but not to the point of injury. Here’s hoping our children one day live in a society where there are no preseason games, only controlled scrimmages, two bye weeks and an extra round of playoffs, per chance to dream.
But we get to say ''Hey, Fitz!" And that’s worth it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the bearded wonder whose two weeks of fame was the talk of the Bucs and the NFL, returns as the current Dolphins No. 1 quarterback, just as he was once upon a time with the Bucs.
It’s hard to forget how dizzying those first two weeks were last season: the upset at New Orleans and the home-opening win over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, all sprinkled with record Fitzpatrick performances. It’s hard to forget all that fun, like Canton calling for Fitz souvenirs, like Fitzpatrick wearing DeSean Jackson’s bling and sunglasses to a postgame interview.
What a time it was.
Then came the re-entry.
But Fitz is back to his old magic, or at least he will be until the Dolphins come to their senses, just like the Bucs did. Jameis Winston is the Bucs quarterback. Josh Rosen is the future in Miami. It’s just a matter of when Fitz turns into a pumpkin.
The Bucs and Dolphins are similar in some ways. They have the worst teams and worst quarterbacks in their respective divisions, though sometimes I think the Bucs would have at least a fighting chance in the AFC East as opposed to the NFC South basement When you’re the worst in your division, what chance do you have?
Thing is, only the Dolphins seem to know it. The Dolphins realized this year what the Bucs should have realized last year, that they weren’t set up for a playoff run. They have jettisoned veterans and payroll. They are in a complete rebuild under first-year coach Brian Flores, even as the Bucs look for a quick fix with Bruce Arians. Sometimes the best quality you can have is self-awareness, and the Bucs couldn’t come up with that last season, and they probably won’t until someone in that building hands GM Jason Licht a mop.
At least the Bucs were never deluded by Fitz’s magic to start last season. It will be hard for him to replicate that in Miami. In Tampa Bay, he knew the offense and he had talent all around him, especially at receiver, and Fitzpatrick orchestrated it. In Miami, Fitz will have shaky receivers and no tight end.
As far the main sidebar, as we say in this trade, that would be the reunion of Ndamukong Suh with his old team. Miami, when it was in the process of going all in for several years, made Suh among the highest-paid defenders in football and sometimes he was unstoppable. Even Tom Brady lived in fear. Suh became rich, invested wisely and now, in a full mercenary mode in Tampa Bay, he is part of what wrong when Miami went for it.
Fitz might play along this week, but Suh probably won’t. He won’t light any fires. He won’t give us anything. He’s way smarter than the answers he’ll give. Besides, he’s free of the double teams he faced as a Dolphin, unless, of course, Vita Vea gets injured again.
Bucs-Dolphins used to stand for something. The Bucs were flyspecks to be knocked off the Dolphins shoulders, even in preseason, like in 1978, when the teams waged battle with starters staying in nearly the whole game, a 24-20 Miami win.
Bucs-Dolphins used to stand for something, like when a young Bucs draft pick named Warren Sapp kept trying to pick fights with the Dolphins’ Dan Marino during summer scrimmages. “That’s when we began to finally stand up,” former Bucs GM Rich McKay said.
Cut to 2019. These are two bad teams but in different ways. The Dolphins should be the worst and are planning to be the worst. The Bucs are in the middle, in a hellish hole, not good enough for the postseason, not bad enough to tank. The Dolphins lived the lie for several years, signing veterans, thinking they had a shot at catching the Patriots, but never came close, wasting Suh ad quarterback Ryan Tannehill stalled. They have decided to stop fooling themselves and start from scratch.
For now, the Dolphins might very well be the worst.
The Bucs can see them from where they are.
It’s just a matter of realizing it.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly