In a season full of losses, something finally went right
Go ahead and exhale, south Florida. Your Dolphins will not go down as the worst team ever, writes Elizabeth Merrill.
In a season with so many bad breaks and losses that stretch from summer to mid-December, that's what you come to expect, especially if you're the quarterback of an 0-13 team. One good thing, inevitably, must be followed by something bad.
But the flag never came, and now south Florida finally can exhale. The Miami Dolphins will not be the first team to go 0-16 in an NFL season and will not join the lonely ranks of the winless '76 Buccaneers.
On a day when everything seemed to be going wrong -- again -- something finally went right, as backup receiver Greg Camarillo caught a quick post route and sprinted for a 64-yard touchdown in a 22-16 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
It should be noted that Camarillo had just one career reception before Sunday, and that the only other time he has drawn any postgame attention was in November, when his late holding penalty helped doom the Dolphins in a 13-10 loss to the Bills.
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It also should be mentioned that Camarillo, undrafted and cut from the Chargers, had a $20 bet with his old roommate, Luis Castillo, over who would first score a NFL touchdown. Camarillo wins the bet.
Oh, did we mention that Castillo is a defensive lineman?
"I'm calling him tonight," said Camarillo, who had 61 text messages on his phone approximately an hour after his game-winning TD. "I'm going to have him sign [the $20 bill], and I'm going to frame it."
There was hardly anything worth framing earlier this week when word leaked that owner Wayne Huizenga, frustrated with the Dolphins' winless record, might be looking to sell the franchise.
His team's ill fortunes came under even more scrutiny during a reunion of the 1972 Dolphins, as a horde of 50- and 60-somethings converged on the Miami area to celebrate the NFL's only undefeated season.
They were there on the sideline before halftime, looming as a reminder of how far the franchise has fallen but ultimately just wanting to offer encouragement. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich said the grizzled heroes offered no pep talks before the game. It was something the current players had to work through themselves.
"Big speeches from old, grumpy men, I don't think would inspire this team," Mandich said. "You know what? The stench of 0-16 is on you forever, and you never wash it off. And nobody wanted to be a part of that. I'm so happy for these guys.
"One-and-15, [that's] just another forgotten, bad season. But the perversity and the coincidence of being in this building today when you had the perfect-season Miami Dolphins, and the fear in the back of your head that it could be the winless Miami Dolphins in the same building, was something I didn't want to talk about for a long time. And thank God I don't have to."
If record books came with footnotes and explanations, it would say that these Dolphins don't appear nearly as hapless as the '76 Bucs. Tampa Bay was shut out five times in 1976 and gave up 412 points over 14 games. The Dolphins had lost six games by three points heading into Sunday.
"Some people wanted us to lose them all and make history for all the wrong reasons," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. "I think we disappointed some people."
Taylor said he never had a doubt that the skid would end at some point this season. Some of his teammates didn't sound as confident. When Miami took its first lead of the game with 1:56 to go on a Jay Feely field goal, the veteran kicker proceeded to boot the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the Ravens the ball on their own 40-yard line. Feely flung his helmet to the ground in disgust.
And deep inside, at least a couple of Dolphins were wondering whether this team was truly cursed.
"Every close game that we had," Camarillo said, "something went wrong. Kind of like what was happening today. We kick a field goal to go up, and things just kind of start falling apart."
To be sure, the Ravens did have their own problems, losing Ray Lewis, their defense's emotional leader, to a dislocated finger in his left hand. Then quarterback Kyle Boller was knocked out with a concussion, putting rookie Troy Smith at the controls.
In most venues, it would appear that all the momentum had shifted to the home team. But not in Miami.
Smith drove the Ravens 59 yards in the final seconds, hitting Devard Darling on the 1-yard line with 12 seconds left. Most of the stadium, about two-thirds full, thought the Ravens would go for it on fourth-and-1. But Matt Stover ran onto the field and nailed an 18-yarder to send the game to overtime.
Stover had a chance to win it five minutes later when he lined up for a 44-yard field goal. But it sailed wide left, and the Dolphins started to believe.
Facing a third-and-8, Lemon found a lonely white jersey up the middle. Camarillo -- who says his name has been mispronounced and butchered to the point that he's been called Caramello -- caught the pass and glanced to either side, checking for defenders. But his only thought was simple -- "Run, man, run."
He ran all the way to the end zone, then leaped into the stands, where his teammates soon pounced on him.
"I got beer thrown all over me I thought the barricade was going to drop, but safety was the last thing on our minds," running back Samkon Gado said. "It felt like we won the Super Bowl."
Lemon, satisfied that there was no penalty flag on the play, pointed to the sideline, smiling at coach Cam Cameron. They embraced on the field, and Cameron told his quarterback he liked the way he kept fighting. The locker room was at a playoff roar. A bucket's worth of ice was smashed onto the floor. Camarillo's phone kept flashing with messages. Even Camarillo's dad, Al, was surrounded by reporters.
They'd talked just a week ago, and Camarillo had told his dad the losing was taking a toll on his psyche. Al Camarillo didn't really give his son any advice. It was something he and his teammates had to work through on their own.
Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.