Let me start off by saying thank you to all of the great PFL coaches who are not only stiff competition but as classy a group as you will find. I normally don’t write articles due to time constraints with work and the fact that I am not into self promotion but I felt that I owed this to everyone in the PFL.
My story begins back in 2002 when I first began playing Madden 2K2 with a childhood friend of mine whom many of you know as “Gelvez”. We had just moved to Miami from New York and were living together as roommates and decided it would be fun to have our own offline franchise. As you can imagine after five seasons and many tweaks, we realized that the computer was no longer a challenge and that we needed human competition. I began my research, and low and behold I found my very first online Madden Coaches League and it was the Paydirt Football League.
Gelvez and I joined, and we immediately fell in love with the league. I remember saying way back then that I wanted to some day be on the wall of champions in such a great league. Well one thing led to another and I played online Madden for about two years winning two Superbowls in two leagues that have long since come and gone. I remember that a fellow named “Shiftee” ran one of the leagues that I won the Super bowl in. I actually played my Dolphins against his Eagles to win. In that league I first met the likes of long time coaches like “Frob” and somewhere along the line “Sir Willie” as well. I had so much fun back then, but as madden versions came out and I changed jobs I got away from Madden for several years. I made a brief comeback sometime in 2006 but that didn’t last long and I once again gave up playing Madden.
Finally sometime at the end of 2007 when people were about to move onto 2K8 I decided to make a comeback and vowed I would stick with Madden this time through thick and thin, partly because I had made so many great friendships. I actually have had visits from at least three owners that I met through online play here in Miami. Of course when I got back involved I was shocked to see that the PFL was still around after so many years and by a stroke of luck I was able to grab the Dolphins whom I had never had before in the PFL. Well rather than bore you with any more history if you are not sleeping already I will move onto a re cap of my most exciting and first championship year from my perspective.
After playing two seasons in the PFL and having a lot of success and making the playoffs twice, I realized that I would always be remembered as a good coach who won a lot of games but not a great coach unless I won a championship. It all started where a good story should start, at the beginning, with week 1 of that faithful season. In Week 1, I played the prior season’s reigning Super bowl Champion, New England Patriots. You can imagine I was thinking to myself that I wanted to get into a groove before facing the toughest team in the league, but instead I was thrown into the fire. In the prior season, besides winning the Superbowl, the Patriots had also won the AFC East Division title, swept me in our divisional games and then beaten me a third time in the playoffs. Well, season XVI would start off a little different for these Dolphins. Yes, we won a close and hard fought battle week 1 defeating the Patriots in an upset win, by a score of 17-16. It seemed like we were off to an impressive start.
Then came week 2 and we played the Cleveland Browns who we had not faced since season XV in which the Dolphins routed the Browns 54-0. That was my biggest margin of victory since I had joined the league. There were also rumors flying on the PFL radio show that “Buck” had not done enough in the offseason to improve his team, and it was believed that the Browns were on the decline. Well, turns out the Dolphins got a wake up call as we were beaten 17-6 by those same Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins then had a bye week to lick our wounds and figure out if this was our season or not.
Since taking over the Dolphins in the PFL in season XIV, I had a different Quarterback in each of my first 3 seasons. Trent Green retired after season XIV leaving Byron Leftwich as the incumbent starter in season XV. I felt that Leftwich was doing a decent job, but soon realized that he might not be capable of bringing a championship to Miami. As luck would have it, a coach named “Lightfoot” took over as the new head coach of the PFL Kansas City Chiefs. Upon taking over the team, coach “Lightfoot” was unhappy with the teams recently acquired first round draft pick, rookie QB Matthew Stafford. Well, I was familiar with Stafford because while the Chiefs were ownerless, I handled their draft and actually chose Stafford for them with their first round pick. Being that I thought he had great potential I approached the Chiefs with a trade offer. The Miami Dolphins 1st round draft pick the following year and starting QB Bryan Leftwich for QB Matthew Stafford and the Kansas City Chiefs 2nd round pick. That my friend’s, was the defining moment in PFL Miami Dolphins history.
The moment that rookie quarterback took the field in Miami we knew great things would come. Despite rough beginnings, he brought a swagger into the Dolphins locker room which would not soon be forgotten. The Dolphins made one other key move that season, a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals who were looking for a stout defensive tackle but had a stockpile of good defensive backs. We acquired CB Jonathan Joseph, who had already quietly amassed four interceptions for the Bengals and was having a standout year. In return, we sent the Bengals a young stud defensive tackle we had drafted a season earlier. That trade not only made sense for the Dolphins, but CB Joseph went on to collect five more interceptions that season, tying for the league lead. He was also selected to the pro bowl at the conclusion of the year. Now with those final two pieces of the puzzle added, the Dolphins appeared to have the potential to get deeper into the playoffs, and who knows, even make a Superbowl run.
The next challenge came in week 6, when the Dolphins faced the Buffalo Bills who were turning things around under coach “Bill Walsh Jr”. Walsh was looking to make a name for himself and wanted to prove to the league that the Bills were on the rise. Coach Walsh proved his point by leading his Bills to a victory over the Dolphins 31-14, bringing the Dolphins back to reality. The Dolphins were now 3-2 and knew that to challenge for the division we would have to start winning more games. The next game, week 7 was against veteran coach “Sir Willie” and his Colts. Willie had a long standing reputation as a great coach and one who won wherever he went. The Dolphins knew that we needed to beat a top caliber team like the Colts to prove that we could get far in the playoffs. Another thing looming over our heads, making this a must win game was the fact that we would have to face the Bills, who we had just lost to, again the following week. The thought of a three game losing streak was unacceptable if we wanted to compete for a title this season. The Dolphins went on to win that game versus the Colts 27-24 and felt the confidence coming back. The next match up was week 8 in a re match with the Bills.
The game was much closer this time, but the Bills were able to out coach the Dolphins again, and escape with a 1 point victory 35-34. The Dolphins were now 4-3 and had been swept by the Bills making it a huge uphill battle to win the division. The next week the Dolphins defeated the Carolina Panthers to go 5-3 and get back on track. Week 10 was the first time the Dolphins would face Coach Mellon who was the new coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers had just appeared in back to back Superbowls under coach “Lightfoot” before he left for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dolphins played a tough game against the Buccaneers but lost in overtime 27-24. Not only had the Dolphins fallen to 6-4, but we began to experience huge special teams problems as our rookie placekicker Jason Reda began missing fied goals left and right. In the pre season he had gone 8 for 8 winning the starting kicking job from veteran Jay Feely. We began asking ourselves if anything else could go wrong. Just as things were at their worst, I recall listening to the PFL radio show that week. As the commentators talked about potential playoff teams in the PFL, the Miami Dolphins were never even mentioned. It seemed with the rise of the Bills and the resurgence of the Patriots, the pundits believed, and rightfully so, that the Dolphins might not compete for the division title much less a playoff berth.
The following three weeks, the Dolphins went on a three game win streak to bring us to 9-4 and back into contention for the division. Then came the biggest challenge of the season so far. We were slated to face the #1 ranked Houston Texans, who were the PFL radio commentator’s favorite to win the Superbowl. The Texans were coached by Kyle Croft, another long time winning coach in the PFL. That contest proved to be a tooth and nail battle. With the Dolphins down 12-10 in the last seconds of the game, we got a huge break when a pass interference penalty put us into field goal range allowing us to kick the game winning field goal. The contest ended 13-12, and the Dolphins savored the victory. At that point in the season, going 10-4 and beating the #1 ranked team, we felt that the league might take notice. Meanwhile, “Bill Walsh Jr” was already under the impression that he and his Bills had already clinched the division. The PFL radio show was now taking notice of the Dolphins, but its toughest critic, “Lightfoot” was certain the Patriots turnaround was in full swing and that they would sneak up and win the division. Well as fate would have it, the Dolphins would win their next game, bringing our record to 11-4 on the season. Now, we were faced with a re match against the defending Superbowl Champs in week #16. No game could have had more tension than this one.
The Dolphins would now have an opportunity to win the division, eliminate the Patriots from making the playoffs and sweep the Patriots for the first time since I had taken over the Dolphins. The Dolphins came to play and were able to come away with a 38-30 victory over the Champs in a game that started out with the Patriots attempting to punch the Fins in the mouth by going for a two point conversion on their very first touchdown of the game. Needless to say, the Dolphins denied that two point conversion and were placed on high alert. The Dolphins, after falling behind 9-0 early in the game, began a comeback, forging ahead 35-23, and that lead would never be relinquished the rest of the game. The Dolphins then went on to win their last game of the season finishing with a mark of 12-4, winning the AFC East division, and were the #3 seed in the AFC going into the playoffs.
As the playoffs approached, the Dolphins were fortunate enough to have faced all three of the AFC teams that they would face in the playoffs during the regular season. That familiarity would help us prepare for each match up. The first game up was the Bills. Now remember, the Dolphins had been swept by the Bills during the regular season. This may have helped the Dolphins in that the Bills would be overconfident, at least that is what we had hoped. The Dolphins prepared for the Bills knowing that we did not want a repeat of last year when we lost to the same team twice in the regular season and then again in the playoffs. History once again proved to shine on the Dolphins as we were able to defeat the Bills 24-17 in the Wild Card Round and avoid a three game sweep. The following week things would not get any easier. We were once again tasked with facing the #1 ranked Houston Texans, who we had been very fortunate to beat in week 14 by a score of 13-12. This time the Dolphins would be much better prepared. The game started off as a defensive battle with the Dolphins up 7-3 at the half. The second half was a different story however as the Dolphins offense caught on fire, while the Dolphins defense continued its success from the first half. The Dolphins went on to defeat the Texans 31-3 and felt pretty good, until they saw who there next opponent was.
The Conference Championship featured the Dolphins against “Buck” and his Browns. Not only had we lost to the Browns in week 2 by a score of 16-7, but the Browns defense absolutely manhandled the Dolphins offense that week. There was however, one distinct difference this time around. The Dolphins had acquired rookie QB Matthew Stafford after playing our week 2 match up against the Browns. Stafford had been looking good for the last 8 weeks or so, and had the Dolphins playing with our heads high. As the Dolphins and Browns clashed, the Dolphins jumped out to a 14-0 half time lead and even “Buck” commented at the half that he was surprised and impressed by our first half dominance. The Dolphins knew however not to be overconfident against a great coach like Buck, so we remained humble. After the half we increased our lead to 21-0. The Browns however, weren’t done and marched back to within 21-14. Fortunately for the Dolphins that’s as close as they would get and we held on to win 21-14.
Holy Cow!!! The Dolphins were in the big game for the first time since coach Hatzis took over, two seasons earlier. Now we would have to face another great coach in the Superbowl. “Harlem”, who most PFL radio show commentators had picked right from the start of the season as the favorite to represent the NFC in the Superbowl would be my opponent. The Dolphins who had been underdogs to make the Superbowl all season, had shocked the critics. Now we had to face the biggest challenge of all if we really wanted to prove ourselves. After all, who remembers a struggle to be the Champion if you fall one game short? This story never would have been written, and history never would have been made, had the Dolphins not won the coveted PFL Lombardi Trophy. Finally, this story comes to a close, with Dolphins versus the Giants in a Superbowl for the ages. Coach “Harlem” came into that game well prepared, but so did we. The game started out as a huge defensive battle. With the score 3-3, and to my dismay, Dolphins Kicker Reda missed an early Field Goal which would have put the Dolphins up 6-3. In the biggest game of my PFL career, at that moment I knew, this game could not come down to a game winning field goal. Reda had just been too inconsistent all year and had already missed his first field goal in the Superbowl early in the contest. To my delight my friends, that would not become a factor in this game. Matthew Stafford, Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins defense each began to play like this was the game of their lives. Stafford soon hit a streaking Greg Jennings on an 82 yard bomb for a Touchdown as the half began to dwindle down. That put the Dolphins up 10-3, as the scoring then started to open up. Immediately thereafter the Dolphins and Giants exchanged touchdowns. The teams would go into the half with the Dolphins leading 20-10. As the teams came out for the second half, we felt the Giants would begin to rely on the deep ball. Even with that in mind, somehow Giants TE Jeremy Shockey was able to get behind our defense for a long touchdown to start the third quarter, and just like that the Giants were only down by a score of 20-17.
We felt at this point that our offense was rolling and we needed to continue to control the ball and put points on the board, even if they were field goals, to keep the pressure on the Giants. That strategy worked as the Dolphins continued to pound the rock and eventually pulled ahead by 19 points causing the Giants to basically abandon the run, and go on an all out aerial assault. Fortunately for me, the Dolphins defense was more than ready for the challenge and only allowed one more touchdown the rest of the game. The Giants tried for a two point conversion attempt, but were denied, keeping the Dolphins up by 13. The Dolphins were able to score another touchdown and went ahead by 20. The game would eventually end with a final of, Dolphins 43 and the Giants 23. Coach “Harlem” coached a great game that day, and was a tough opponent.
In closing, I faced four incredible coaches en route to winning my first coveted PFL Lombardi trophy. Each and every one of those coaches, were not only great competitors but class acts as well. I want to say thank you to each of them for making me a better coach. The radio show and its hosts, “Mark, Lightfoot, Jerry & Mellon” were great all year long and were a big part of my inspiration. When they talked about me on the show and began rooting for me as the underdog in the post season, I began to feel like the PFL son who didn’t want to disappoint his father.
I have finally won the Superbowl in the first madden league that I have ever known. I have made it to the top of the mountain and I have done it in front of the people I respect and admire the most in the madden community. Thank you to the PFL, all of its great coaches, and of course to Lenny who started it all!!!