There are few things sports fans like debating and discussing more than which teams are the best of all-time. Part of what people love about sports is greatness. That’s why we keep hearing about the ’72 Dolphins and the ’85 Bears and the Niners of the ’90s and the Patriots of the ’00s. The great teams are the ones that stretch across history, that will live on forever.
Not every franchise gets to be great, though. Some teams are condemned to not just mediocrity, not just run-of-the-mill badness, but infamy. By the nature of things, there are teams that have to be the worst of all-time. That’s just a cruel fact of life.
As we gear up for another NFL season, we decided to chronicle some of those teams that are amongs]t the worst to ever take the field. We are not here to lampoon these teams for their incompetence. No, we are here to try and chronicle how things went so horribly wrong.
Up next, the implacably bad 2007 Miami Dolphins
When a team has a truly terrible season, their greatest hope is that people forget about it. When thinking of teams to write up in this series of articles on spectacular NFL failures, some came to mind right away. Nobody has ever forgotten the 2008 Detroit Lions, least of all Lions fans like me. I remembered the awful Chargers team of 2000, and they had a clear hook. They had Ryan Leaf.
Then I started looking at teams with the worst records in recent NFL history. Naturally, the 2007 Miami Dolphins, who went 1-15, were included. It’s not that I had forgotten about it; It just wasn’t foremost on my mind. It was more like, “Oh yeah, the 2007 Dolphins. They had a terrible season.” Even so, it feels weird. The Lions were awful for years before they hit their nadir. Lots of teams have years of struggles. There is something memorable about their failures. The Dolphins sort of failed in an unmemorable fashion. They’re probably happy about that … but it won’t save them from scrutiny here.
When you look back, and you start to piece together the details with hindsight, it starts to make sense. Nick Saban resigned so he could go coach Alabama, leaving the team in need of a head coach. They ultimately went with San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. At the time, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said about Cameron, “He definitely is committed to winning … and we are committed to winning, whatever it takes, whatever it costs, we want to win.” Those words, in hindsight, are pretty rich. In the ensuing years, Cameron has become a whipping boy for the football literati, and for good reason.
In the NFL Draft that year, the Dolphins selected Ted Ginn Jr. ninth overall, which was considered a reach at the time, and looks even worse now. In the second round, they took John Beck to be their quarterback of the future. He was called upon much earlier than anticipated.
They traded for an aging Trent Green to have him compete for the starting quarterback job with the delightfully named Cleo Lemon. Meanwhile, they traded away an undersized wide receiver who had showed some promise named Wes Welker. The Patriots gave them a second-rounder and a seventh-rounder. It was one of the bigger draft steals of the modern era.
So yes, this team had questions under center, as all these teams do. Green had a fine career, but he was 37 and was coming off a rough, shortened year in Kansas City. Their wide receiver corps could have really used Welker, especially since they ended up trading Chris Chambers during the season, leaving Marty Booker as their top receiver.
However, they did have Ronnie Brown, who rushed for over 1,000 yards the prior season, and the team had talent on defense. It at least had notable names. Jason Taylor was on the team, as were Rob Ninkovich, Vonnie Holliday, and a rookie Paul Soliai on the defensive line. Joey Porter was on the team. It definitely didn’t look like a good team, and they were breaking in a largely new coaching staff coming off a 6-10 season. Still, to go 1-15 …
The team started the season with a 13-10 overtime loss to Washington, which wasn’t good, but also wasn’t necessarily reason for concern. Then the losses kept coming. The bad omens began in Week 5, when they lost 22-19 to the Houston Texans, and Trent Green went down for the season with a concussion. Admittedly, he had only thrown five touchdowns to seven interceptions, and he was completing 60 percent of his passes. Also, he wasn’t Cleo Lemon or John Beck. A couple weeks later, they were blown out by the New England Patriots by a flattering score of 49-28 (they scored 21 of those 28 points in the fourth quarter). They fell to 0-7, and they lost Ronnie Brown. Their offense was basically devoid of talent at this point.
If not for their terrible record, the Dolphins team would be remembered for being in the first NFL game in London. Remember that giant Jason Taylor that was paraded down the street? Londoners got stuck with a winless team that would remain winless, thanks to a dull 13-10 loss to the New York Giants. Somehow, the appeal of the NFL in the UK didn’t die on the spot.
The team returned from the break with a pair three-point losses. In one of my favorite Monday Night Football games of all-time, the Dolphins played the Steelers at Heinz Field in a terrible rainstorm. The game was delayed by lightning, but more to the point the field conditions were pure sh*t. It was hilarious. I remember I needed a good start from Ben Roethlisberger to win a fantasy game, and the game was such garbage I had no chance, but it was just so funny to me. Punts were getting stuck in the ground. Jeff Reed managed to make a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the game to give the Steelers a 3-0 win. One weird bounce of the ball in their favor, and the Dolphins could have had a win. Of course, in good conditions, they would have probably been beaten soundly. Oh, also Ricky Williams returned for his first game after being suspended for marijuana use. He rushed six times for 15 yards, left the game with a torn pectoral muscle, and missed the rest of the season.
In Week 15, the Dolphins avoided ultimate ignominy. Miami was hosting the Baltimore Ravens, and the game went into overtime tied at 16 points apiece. There, Cleo Lemon, who had the first 300 yard game of his career, hit Greg Camarillo, who had eight catches on the season, for a 64-yard touchdown. Miami had won a game. Then they were beaten soundly in their last two games to finish 1-15.
The trio of Green, Beck, and Lemon threw 12 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. Only Lemon didn’t throw more picks than touchdowns. Brown led the team in rushing yards even though he only played in seven games. No receiver had more than two touchdowns. Meanwhile, on defense, the team gave up 437 points. Poor Jason Taylor had a very good year, notching 11 sacks and making the Pro Bowl, for a very lackluster defense. It was a truly terrible season.
However, as surprising as it was to see the Dolphins go 1-15, what happened in 2008 was even more unexpected. In the offseason, the team made Bill Parcells the Executive Vice President of Football Operations. He hired Jeff Ireland as General Manager, who then proceeded to fire Cam Cameron and every coach except two. They hired Tony Sparano and then began turning over the roster. Zach Thomas was released. Jason Taylor was traded. They used the first overall pick on offensive tackle Jake Long, which is all well and good, but they didn’t get a potential franchise quarterback, which tends to lead to a quicker turnaround. Instead, they drafted Chad Henne, Long’s college teammate at Michigan, in the second round. Under center, they turned to the reliable, when healthy, Chad Pennington.
Pennington stayed healthy all season, starting every game and playing well. The team had both Brown and Williams healthy, and also brought a little something called the Wildcat to the NFL. Remember that? When the Wildcat was the biggest thing in the NFL? That all started with this Dolphins team. Miami made the biggest turnaround in NFL history, going 11-5 and making the playoffs. Yes, the Dolphins improved by 10 wins in one season. All the bad luck they had in 2007 was turned into good luck in 2008.
Perhaps that’s why the 2007 Miami Dolphins aren’t as infamous as other bad teams. It was a one-year blip. Cam Cameron and Cleo Lemon were given the boot and suddenly they were winning. Maybe Cameron is the linchpin here, in terms of what’s remembered. The 2008 Lions had Matt Millen. The 2000 Chargers had Leaf. The 2007 Dolphins had Cameron. Yet even he seems to have avoided being tarred by this disaster of a season. It’s almost as if we collectively agreed to forget the 2007 Miami Dolphins were one big pass away from going winless.