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Occasionally, I like to go outside the box with my columns. Maybe focus on some area of football that you just don’t read much about.
Like The Pile. You know The Pile. It forms as soon as the ball is fumbled. It starts with one or two guys and then it breeds from there. It takes on its own life. Before things are through, you’ve got a seven or eight person scrum going on. They poke. They scratch. They lunge. They do everything humanly possible to take the ball away from that poor soul who had it from the start.
And it usually changes hands. Maybe once. Sometimes twice. But you never see what is happening until The Pile is cleared. Even the television cameras can’t zoom in that close.
“It’s a battle of wills down there,” said veteran guard Richie Incognito.
A few weeks ago against Atlanta, The Pile may have won the Dolphins the game. Interested now? You should be.
It was on a punt return late in the third quarter. Dolphins rookie Don Jones delivers one of those hits on Harry Douglass that make you wince. The ball comes loose. At least two Falcons dive in first. Then came Dolphins long-snapper John Denney. Somehow, when the bodies were cleared Denney was left holding the ball. Denney should be charged with grand larceny. He stole the ball right before the officials finished sorting through the pile. It was a huge turnover that resulted in a touchdown and set the stage for a dramatic comeback.
“Weird things happen at the bottom of a pile,” Denney said with a smile. “Let’s just say a lot of players want the football.”
Added rookie cornerback Will Davis: “Watching the tape, you just don’t know how Denney ended up with the ball.”
Nine years of experience, that’s how. This wasn’t Denney’s first pile; he knew exactly what to do.
Everybody seems to have a P.S. – Pile Story. They’ve all been there. They all know what it feels like. It’s scary down there, a bunch of huge sweaty men fighting for the same thing, digging and churning until the officials have enough strength and will to finish peeling off The Pile.
“I don’t like it, but I have to do it,” said Davis. “I got poked in the eye once and I could hardly see. I’m not sure if it was on purpose or not, but it really messed me up. It’s tough breathing down there too. Anything goes in The Pile.”
Incognito, meanwhile, has always had a reputation as a highly intense, tough-minded player. You would think The Pile would be his perfect canvas, a chance to really battle it out without the cameras there to chronicle his every move.
“The whole focus,” said Incognito, “is holy (bleep), the ball is on the ground. Get the ball. So you’re down there digging. I have been on the bottom of a pile and a guy is laying across my chest and you can’t breathe and that’s when you see people really squirming.
“Truthfully I love it down there. I don’t like when the ball is on the ground, but if the ball is on the ground I’m going to get it.”
No matter what it takes? “Yep.”
Cornerback R.J. Stanford says there is a special skill associated with stealing the ball at the bottom of The Pile. “You’ve got to close your eyes, grab and hold,” he said. “You have to be smarter than the other guys. You have to keep grabbing.”
Or as linebacker Philip Wheeler put it: “It just challenges your manhood. You’ve got a mass of bodies fighting for the ball. It’s crazy, man.”
Crazy and often very important. Joe Philbin practices every situation known to man, but it’s hard to believe you can practice what goes on in The Pile. It’s mayhem. It’s every man for himself. It’s not for the faint of heart.
So the next time you see The Pile at a Dolphins game, pay special attention. Keep your binoculars focused until the very end. Don’t lose sight until the last body emerges. What happens underneath that mass of humanity could very well turn out to be the most important moment of the game.
Coming Friday, A.C. in the A.M. writes about the challenge of beating the Ravens.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.