On football

There’s nothing new about talking Dolphins

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / November 3, 2009

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After the week-long verbal jabbing between the Jets and Dolphins, Miami coach Tony Sparano made something clear to his team in a victorious locker room Sunday.

“We had a lot of questions,’’ Sparano said to his players. “I told you during the week, the only way to answer all those things is to bring it into the arena, and square it up.’’

That’s the great thing about football, and sports in general. At the end, there’s a winner, and a loser, and people who were right, and who were wrong, and everything gets tied up in a neat little package.

The greater question is this: Does the talking really matter?

Surprise - Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter thinks it does.

“I wish you could hate every team the way you’re gonna hate your rival. That brings your best football,’’ Porter said after the Miami win. “You’re gonna get your best fight when you hate him and he hates you, because there ain’t no running from one another.’’

Over the next five weeks, the Patriots tangle with these two teams - hosting the Dolphins Sunday, playing in Miami Dec. 6, and hosting the Jets Nov. 22.

The Dolphins say they plan on taking the chirping down a notch, following the lead of a strong-willed coach. The Jets have no such plans, likewise taking on the personality of the man in charge.

The Patriots wait quietly, as they usually do. Coach Bill Belichick is an honors student in the Lou Holtz School of Pregame Fodder, making each opponent sound like it’s got the ’86 Bears defense and the ’99 Rams offense. And he’s usually got all his players on message.

“From the start of the spring practices and the offseason program and minicamps and all that, you guys [in the media] bring up that kind of stuff a lot, so it’s always there,’’ Belichick said yesterday. “It pretty much goes on all year round - somebody did something, or somebody said something.

“That’s good competitive spirit. In the end, the talking gets done on the field, during the three hours the game’s being played.’’

But don’t take that as the coach being above poking his players with pieces of motivation.

In fact, former Patriots quarterback Jim Miller said, “Bill’s one of the best at it. He really is.’’

Miller cited the week leading up to a game against Seattle in 2004. The Patriots were coming off 19 consecutive wins, yet Darrell Jackson said on his radio show in the Pacific Northwest that New England was “beatable.’’

Inane enough? Not really. Belichick got the audio and played it for the entire roster in the team meeting room at the outset of the week.

Then, before a playoff game that year, Belichick played tape of Mike Vanderjagt saying earlier in 2004 that the Colts were “playing so good, they ought to just give us the rings now.’’ He then showed his own ring, and said to the players, as Miller recounted, “Guys, you know how hard it is to earn these. They don’t just give them away.’’

Miller recalled it as “Probably one of the greatest things Bill did. As a player, it pissed me off that Vanderjagt would say that.’’

The bottom line, Miller said, is “The coaches who always say all the talking doesn’t matter are the first ones to put the stuff up; they’re the ones that always use the little motivational tactics, whether it’s playing something off radio, or putting someone’s comments on the bulletin board. They all do it. That’s across the board, every coach I’ve been with.’’

It’s fair to think that hasn’t changed in New England. And it also may be fair to say that all this can work both ways.

Early in the season, the swagger that Rex Ryan instilled seemed to fuel the Jets’ aggressive, attacking, super-charged approach. Then losses came, and the perception has changed.

Take the pregame situation Sunday at the Meadowlands.

Jets safety Kerry Rhodes crossed the midfield line into the Dolphins’ warm-ups, and made his presence there known, as if to mark his territory. Win, and it looks like a show of confidence. Since that didn’t happen, Rhodes looks silly.

Remember, the Giants got off the plane at Super Bowl XLII in Arizona dressed in black for the Patriots’ “funeral’’, and after it played out that way, the stunt became part of their lore. Conversely, the 1986 Miami Hurricanes deplaned in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl wearing military fatigues, and Penn State’s subsequent win made it look like a clown act.

That’s to say it’s a fine line Rhodes walked.

“[Rhodes] was down there and we let him know he wasn’t welcome,’’ Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. “It’s just little dumb mind games. We just let him know this isn’t his end, and he needed to go back to where he was supposed to be . . . I don’t want to stoop to his level.’’

By making that point, Taylor proved another - motivation comes differently to different people.

Porter was legitimately angry about some of the comments the Jets made during the week. Taylor wasn’t. So all this matters for Porter, and not for Taylor, meaning there’s no hard-and-fast rule here.

Should the Jets have kept their traps shut? “It’s up to Rex, it’s his call,’’ tight end Dustin Keller said. “But I’ve always been a firm believer that you don’t change yourself for anything.’’

As for the Dolphins, Sparano said after the game that he’s “not a big fan’’ of the trash talk that permeated Sunday’s showdown.

And you can bet with a trip to New England looming, that wasn’t the last time his players would get that message.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at

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