Why Tua Already is The Man in Miami

Alain Poupart

All it took was for Tua Tagovailoa to settle on a number for him to have the best-selling jersey in the NFL.

Actually, make that the top two.

It speaks to his popularity that his jersey is even more popular than four different versions of the new jersey that will be worn the most accomplished player in the league, Tom Brady.

Tua is a star.

He might have been the No. 5 pick in the draft, but his No. 1 ranking in terms of jersey sales speaks to his status as the main attraction among NFL rookies.

Joe Burrow might have won the Heisman Trophy and national title last season and been the first overall pick this spring, but Tua is the bigger star.

He hasn't played a down for the Miami Dolphins yet, but it's no stretch to say he's the face of the franchise.

Actually, he just might already be the franchise's most popular player since Jason Taylor ended his Hall of Fame career after the 2011 season.

Tua was the guy that Dolphins fans wanted the team to select with that fifth pick to such a degree that some fans went on social media to publicly declare they no longer would support the team or spend any money if the choice was anybody else. The fans' reaction to his selection on draft night (some including mature language) said it all.

“I’ve never seen anything like it and there’s nothing close as far as a drafted player," said Joe Rose, who played tight end for the Dolphins from 1980-87 and has been a color commentator for the team's radio broadcasts since 2005. "Just crazy.

"That was the guy. They wanted him at 5. I just think (General Manager) Chris Grier and the gang, that was the pick that really took care of the appetite of our fan base.”

The drafting of Tagovailoa also got a public shout-out from the most popular professional athlete in South Florida over the past 15 years, longtime Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade.

As fate would have it, Wade also was the fifth overall pick in his draft, in his case in 2003.

After the vast majority of Dolphins fans got their wish and Tua was selected, the focus moved to his jersey number.

It, too, became an obsession.

It actually was suggested by some fans that the Dolphins should let him keep his number 13 from his days at Alabama, even if that meant un-retiring the number previously worn by Dan Marino, who merely happens to be the unquestionably greatest player in franchise history.

The announcement of Tagovailoa's number came last week, much to the relief of fans who had been wondering, guessing and speculating for days.

What makes Tua such a popular figure, more than anything, is his ability, which jumped out in his national coming-out party.

After all, there aren't too many true freshman who come off the bench at halftime of a national title game, rally their team from a deficit and cap it off with a 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime — on a second-and-26 no less.

But there's more than just the great accuracy and playmaking ability. Tagovailoa has the personality to go with it, with a great mix of charisma and humility.

"Hey, listen, he’s the total package," Rose said. "He’s played in a zillion big games, played in the SEC and he’s just got that ‘it.’ He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He’s got it. The way he carries himself, his confidence.

“Our marketing department is all excited and all the potential things you can do with this guy. Now we’ve just got to get him to be that good once it’s his turn to play quarterback.”

Head Coach Brian Flores isn't concerned about Tagovailoa's marketability or star power, strictly what's going to help his team win games.

But he did mention at the combine that he wanted a quarterback with the "it" factor to lead the Dolphins.

"I mean the good ones have it, so yeah (it's important)," he said.

Tagovailoa spoke at the combine the day after Flores, and he patiently asked all kinds of questions dealing with the health of his right hip as well as touch on every angle of being left-handed and what that entails at the quarterback position.

The one thing Tua didn't do was sing his own praises, even though reporters tried on a couple of occasions to have him talk about his qualities or compare himself to other quarterbacks in the draft class.

That same modesty was on display when he navigated the question of his jersey number with the Dolphins.

“For me, I’m not too worried about what number I have," he said. "I understand number 13 is retired and it should be. Dan Marino, he's the GOAT. He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him. Whatever number I’m given by that organization, if it’s 78 or 99, I’ll wear it. It doesn’t matter. I just want to have an opportunity to go out there and …”

Tagovailoa didn't finish the thought, but Dolphins fans would be happy to do that for him.

They expect him to go out there and, quite simply, be another Marino.

That's what Dolphins fans have been dreaming about since the whole "Tank for Tua" thing started in 2019 after the team decided to reset the course of the franchise and began trading away high-profile players to accumulate assets for the long term, whether via cap space or draft capital.

Tua's hip injury at Mississippi State early last November only temporarily derailed the dream for Dolphins fans, who were fully back on board once reports this spring offered encouraging news regarding Tagovailoa's recovery.

The Dolphins have taken a quarterback in the first round four times since the start of the common draft in 1967, but none brought with him the kind of fanfare and anticipation as Tua has.

Not even Marino, who somehow lasted until the 27th pick in the 1983 draft after he followed a brilliant junior season at Pitt with a sub-par senior year.

There certainly wasn't this kind of excitement after the Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick in 2012.

Tannehill became an immediate starter as a rookie for the Dolphins — in part because veteran David Garrard sustained a knee injury in training camp — but he never really elevated the team, nor did he energize the fan base.

That's what fans are anticipating for Tagovailoa, even if Coach Brian Flores was sure to temper expectations after the Dolphins drafted the lefty.

This is what he said when asked whether he anticipated Tagovailoa competing for the starting job right away: “I’d say my kids are expecting him. They are big fans. They were excited to get on a phone call with him. (laughter)

"Look, we haven’t even seen him. Obviously with the pandemic and all that’s going on, our doctors haven’t seen him. We have a long way to go before we can say who’s doing what … We have to just get him and have a meeting first. I think it’s way too early to speculate on this year and how this is going to go. You guys know we like to take a one day at a time approach anyway. That’s going to be the approach I’m going to have him take as well.”

Rest assured, Dolphins fans are going to be chomping at the bit for Tagovailoa to get into the lineup, regardless of the fact that 2019 team MVP Ryan Fitzpatrick might be a better option at the start of the next season.

“Every team needs a building block, and every fan base needs a jolt after years of mediocrity,” Tadd Schwartz, owner of Schwartz Media Strategies, told The Miami Herald. “A first-round quarterback may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Is Tua a once-in-a-generation talent? Maybe; it’s too soon to tell. But he’s got the pedigree coming from Alabama, the college stat line and championship chops, the unforgettable name, and the comeback story after being carted off the field last year with a career-threatening injury. All of that makes for a compelling story that fans can rally around.”

Dolphins fans haven't seen the likes of Tua in a long time, if ever.

Tua was a star long before the Dolphins made him the fifth overall selection in the 2020 NFL draft.

Days before the draft, he already had endorsements deals with adidas, FedEx, Bose, Gillette, Muscle Milk and Wingstop.

On draft night, Tagovailoa's parents wore long-sleeve Hulu shirts, and Verizon also got in on the action on draft night.

Tua has found to stay in the spotlight since the draft, and that includes putting on social media a video showing him giving his mother a Cadillac Escalade for Mother's Day.

All that fame won't matter, though, once Tagovailoa gets into regular season action.

Dolphins fans are expecting him to deliver — and deliver big.

They're expecting him to succeed where the 21 Dolphins starting quarterbacks since Marino retired in March of 2000 failed.

Sure, there were some good seasons here and there — Chad Pennington had an MVP-caliber performance in 2008 — but no sustained success.

To be fair, only two of the 21 were drafted by the Dolphins — Chad Henne in the second round in 2008 and Tannehill. Both of them ended up with losing records with the Dolphins (42-46 for Tannehill, 13-18 for Henne).

Both of them were low-key, unassuming quarterbacks who didn't stand out.

They were the opposite of Tua. He's arriving in South Florida as a star and fans expect him to play like one.

Comments

News

FEATURED
COMMUNITY