Sport Cote: How Flores' 1st win made him reflect on biggest loss of his life
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MIAMI — Can we forget about the 2020 draft for just a second? Can we table the “tanking for Tua” talk for a minute?
Can we remember that these are players and coaches who’d seen their pride battered relentlessly? And heard their integrity questioned nationally with all the tanking talk — as if they were intentionally losing. Throwing games.
So as it ended, this 26-18 Miami Dolphins home victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, maybe the celebrating was a bit over the top for a team whose record had just improved to 1-7.
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But maybe every bit of it was deserved. Long-awaited and damn well earned.
The orange Gatorade ice bath surprised coach Brian Flores.
“Fun moment for them,” he said of his players. “Fun moment for me.”
This was the first NFL head-coaching victory for Flores, 38, who is black, and of Honduran heritage, and who walked into a franchise hell-bent on trading away its best players to accrue future draft picks.
Flores was thinking of someone special as he walked across the field after the win to shake hands with the opposing coach — Adam Gase, of course, whom he replaced as Miami coach.
Flores thought of his mother, Maria, who he lost to cancer this past March.
“The person I’m thinking about right now is my mom,” he’d said later, in his postgame press conference. “She’s been my good-luck charm for awhile. This one’s for her.”
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His players awarded Flores the game ball.
“I didn’t give it to myself,” he kidded.”
On the field just after the clock hit :00, club owner Stephen Ross embraced Flores with a bear hug.
This meant something. It was special.
For Flores, perhaps more so. This was a coach who’d been eviscerated just six days early, on Monday night, when his third-down blitz call at Pittsburgh backfired badly. It was criticized as an overt indication of tanking — of Flores trying to intentionally lose.
It was an egregious, unfair insult.
Besides, with half a season yet to play, Sunday certainly did not mean Miami won’t end up with the overall No. 1 draft pick anyway. This win certainly did not mean the Fins won’t still end up with prized Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
What Sunday meant was that a bunch of players and coaches who kept the faith through months of derision could finally exhale and celebrate a little. They needed to.
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“The work we put in it, the adversity we’ve been through, all the negativity from the outside looking in — that’s what makes this one so special,” said QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was splendid with 288 yards passing and three touchdowns. “This feeling, that’s why you still play. We didn’t win the Super Bowl. But after all the things we’ve gone through all season … “
Two of Fitzpatrick’s sons sat in the back of the interview room wearing matching No. 14 Fitzpatrick jerseys. They’d been in the postgame lockerroom — a reward that happens only after victories.
The kids won, too, after putting up all season with “people asking them (about all the Dolphins losing) at school, or how my fantasy numbers aren’t very high,” said their Dad, a smile creeping through his luxurious beard.
In the closing minutes, when it became apparent the Dolphins would win at last, signs were everywhere you looked that, while tanking may make theoretical sense, winning is visceral — and a sensation that cannot be replaced.
DeVante Parker, hopping up after a catch and pogo-ing up and down amid the cheering din.
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Davon Godchaux, his fist pumping the air after a sack of Sam Darnold.
Dolfans, chanting and cheering as if it were a playoff game, not a maiden regular-season win over a bad opponent.
That Gatorade bath.
Loud hip-hop music beating through a postgame lockerroom that had been quiet, too quiet, after all of the losses.
It wasn’t celebration or noise that you thought of first after this win, though.
It was a rookie head coach, fighting tears, thinking about the mom he’d just lost as he jogged across the field — emotion and thanks intertwined in his first career win.
“To represent my family, my parents, it means a lot,” he said.
In every way you could possibly mean, the Miami Dolphins and coach Brian Flores deserved this win.
©2019 Miami Herald
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