Friday, November 12, 2010
'07 Dolphins know power of one Bills win
By Tim Graham
The 2007 Miami Dolphins flirted with 0-16 before beating Baltimore in overtime in Week 15.
When the 11 o'clock news came on that night, Vonnie Holliday sat back with a smile on his face and relived the glorious moment.
He watched his teammates go bonkers in celebration. They jumped. They hugged. They raised their fists -- even a few index fingers -- in self salute.
The Miami Dolphins hadn't won just any game. They had won their first game. It was Week 15.
"I remember watching how crazy we were acting out there," said Holliday, the veteran defensive tackle. "I don't know if people could really appreciate it. If you weren't a part of that team or one of those guys who went out every day and worked as hard as we did to get it, you wouldn't understand it."
"That was just one win, but it was our Super Bowl."
The power of one victory is immense.
Members of that '07 Dolphins team know what the Buffalo Bills are going through this year -- and then some.
The Bills are the NFL's only winless team. They're 0-8 heading into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The '07 Dolphins lost their first 13 games before they pulled out a dramatic victory, beating the Baltimore Ravens when undrafted quarterback Cleo Lemon connected with undrafted receiver Greg Camarillo for a 64-yard touchdown in sudden death. Camarillo hadn't scored a touchdown since high school.
That's how thin the Dolphins' margin for error was.
"That day, we made a play," said Lemon, now playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. "It was a great moment. But as a professional you never want to have a season like that."
The '07 Dolphins lost six games by a field goal that year. The Bills have lost each of their past three games by three points, two of them in overtime.
Bills tight end David Martin tells his teammates how much a single "W" can wash away the pressure, the doubt, the feelings of inadequacy and the ridicule that builds with each passing defeat.
Martin played on the '07 Dolphins, too.
"One win would make a big difference," Martin said by phone Thursday from One Bills Drive. "We have a young team, and I'm sure right now it feels like we're doing all this for nothing. But one win will lift everybody's spirits.
"Every game you lose is heartbreaking. That first win in 2007 felt like the Super Bowl. That's what one win will do."
In speaking this week with some players from the '07 Dolphins, I heard them unapologetically compare winning their first game to the feeling of winning a championship. They insisted they weren't being hyperbolic.
I thought the best way to quantify achieving victory late in the season would be to ask somebody with a Stanford engineering degree. I put the question to Camarillo in algebraic terms.
If the value of any victory is "x," then what is the exponential value of a victory when a team is 0-8 or, in the '07 Dolphins' case, 0-13?
I'm not sure if Camarillo pulled out a pad of paper and a slide rule, but he paused for a few moments to weigh the equation.
"If you get it in your first five weeks, it's not that big," Camarillo said after Minnesota Vikings practice Wednesday afternoon. "When you're 0-8, it starts getting really bad. When you're 0-5, you still have time to get things rolling.
"That one win in our 14th game was the equivalent of winning 10 games. That win for us was as good as winning a playoff game."
At 0-8, Camarillo thought a victory might be worth five to the Bills.
Camarillo bemoaned that losing so many close games is mentally grueling. He sounded exhausted just talking about 2007.
Without inside knowledge of the Bills, Camarillo surmised how they're feeling right now. He said they're working hard each week, sacrificing and stressing over that first victory. To repeatedly come close and then have the game slip away on the final play -- or in the waning moments -- becomes torture.
"You go into each week actually thinking 'OK, this is going to be the week. We're going to get our victory this week,' " Camarillo said. "As the season wears on, you're still a professional. You might turn from thinking you're going to win to hoping you're going to win. But you're ready to compete.
"Then as soon as something goes wrong -- you're 0-8 and throw a pick six or fumble the ball -- you drop your head and say 'Oh, no. Here we go again.' It's that mentality that causes you to lose more games."
The '07 Dolphins dealt with greater pressure than this year's Bills are encountering. Imagine what it must've felt like to get so close to becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 -- the Lions didn't pull their oh-fer until a season later -- when your franchise's claim to fame is being the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots were making their run at surpassing the '72 Dolphins' perfect season.
Miami was plagued by significant injuries in 2007. They lost their starting quarterback (Trent Green), best two running backs (Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams), star linebacker (Zach Thomas) and several other starters to major injuries. They traded top receiver Chris Chambers. First-year head coach Cam Cameron seemed overmatched.
"Week in and week out ,you're the butt of the joke," said Holliday, a 13-year pro who's now in his first season with the Washington Redskins. "It gets frustrating.
"These guys are tremendous competitors, and everybody's watching. Every conversation you're having with your friends, your family, the media, the fans is about you losing. That gets very tiring."
Jay Leno already is using the Bills as a punch line in his monologues.
"If you're 1-9, they will stop talking about you and that 0-16 talk," Camarillo said. "As soon as you've won you're just a bad team. You're not the worst team."
In Western New York, however, there's an undercurrent of support for the Bills to avoid winning. Talk-radio shows, message boards and my e-mail inbox are inundated with aspirations of 0-16 to ensure the top pick in next April's draft.
For those who feel that way, know the players don't agree with you.
"If you're thinking about going 0-16, there's going to be some major changes on that team," Camarillo said. "Players aren't planning for next year because half the people won't be back."
Another recurring concept in my conversations for this story was the idea of momentum. The Dolphins didn't win again after stunning the Ravens in December 2007. They had only two more chances, though, and Cameron became a dead man coaching when Bill Parcells was hired to oversee football operations right about then.
"We have more pieces to the puzzle here," said Martin, comparing the teams. "I think when we get that first one we can string a few in a row and get that winning feeling around here."
"These guys are fighting hard," Lemon said. "They just haven't been able to finish games and just seem to find a way to lose. Unlike us in 2007, they're healthy. They're making plays. If they can get just one win, they can easily turn it around and have a respectable season."
Even if the Bills can't win half of their remaining games and cobble together a 4-12 record, they still have something to look forward to every Sunday for the next two months.
One win at this stage won't earn the Bills any kind of trophy. But they probably will run around the field in jubilation like they'd just won the Super Bowl.
"I did feel like it, though," Holliday said with a laugh. "It felt really, really good."