Florida Turmoil Bowl is on
TAMPA, Fla. — Here we go again. That splash you just heard was the Miami Dolphins being thrown back into the turbulent pool of controversy for another day as the nation watches and judges.
The only difference today is they play a game, an actual game, on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," which is good and bad news considering the Dolphins' current plight.
First, the bad news, of which there's been a lot lately: There will be three nationally televised hours during this game to navigate the acidic finger-pointing, explosive legal statements and various ugly sub-plots of the Jonathan Martin saga that took another surprise twist Sunday.
The good news: The Dolphins' opponent, Tampa Bay, is covered in a layer of misery of its own. Even if Tampa Bay's winless season is only a football story, it might take a few minutes of televised conversation away from the Dolphins.
Call it the Turmoil Bowl. Or the State of Confusion. Either way, when this intrastate game kicks off tonight, there are two teams who can't really win for winning. And everyone will be watching.
The Dolphins' narrative of bullying, locker-room culture and acceptable use of profane language stayed on center stage again Sunday. Guard Richie Incognito, suspended for calling Martin the n-word on a threateningly-worded voicemail, said in a FOX-TV interview it was delivered as a joke and Martin sent him a similar one.
"I will (expletive) kill your family," Martin's text to Incognito said, one of 1,142 messages the two players traded in the past couple of years by FOX's count.
Martin's high-profile lawyer, David Cornwell, responded later Sunday afternoon with a tweet that read: "JMart's text 2 Richie Incognito. U decide ..." It included a picture of a woman and her toothless dog, both wearing tortured smiles, with the "I will (expletive) kill your family" quote imprinted on them.
So Martin's message to Incognito, the lawyer suggests, was a joke? But Incognito's message to Martin evidently wasn't taken as one at all?
Is that the conflicted idea here?
Can I call for my check, please?
This story grows stranger by the day. And there's no hopping off this merry-go-round at this point. For nearly two weeks, it has dominated all the normal sports talk shows, many of the mainstream news shows and now gets three prime-time hours of "Monday Night Football" like a cherry on top.
ESPN announcers Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden say they will talk about the Martin story amid the play on the field. And any attention to the play on the field is what the Dolphins would prefer, of course.
"We also have a football game in 48 hours, as you might be aware," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Saturday amid the non-stop questions involving Martin and Incognito.
They won their last game against Cincinnati. They can go to 5-4 on the season with a win against Tampa Bay. And, again, Tampa Bay is winless at 0-8, so why shouldn't the Dolphins win?
The Dolphins' players seemed united by their anger of this runaway story, too. To a player, they backed Incognito. To a player, they didn't think Martin was bullied or harassed.
The question leading into this game is which team fears being on "Monday Night Football" more. Tampa Bay, at home, will have fans wearing paper bags and asking for the firing of coach Greg Schiano.
That's bad for the Bucs. But, again, that's a football story. The Dolphins are caught on a story that involves so much more than football that Philbin actually felt the need to deliver the following quote on Saturday:
"I think our guys want to play football," he said. "They want to get back. They are professionals. That's why the Miami Dolphins exist. We are a football team."
Tampa Bay is a football team, too. And these two football teams will play a football game before the televised nation on "Monday Night Football."
The only question is how much actual football will be discussed.