MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins conducted workouts the past few days with loudspeakers blaring crowd noise, a common practice by teams bracing themselves for hostile treatment from fans.
The timing might seem odd, since the Dolphins open the season at home.
But because South Florida is a favorite weekend retreat among Northeasterners, there will likely be plenty of cheers Monday night for the visiting New England Patriots.
And if the Dolphins play the way they did at home last season, there will be plenty of jeers for the home team.
The Dolphins’ 1-7 record in their own stadium a year ago was the NFL’s worst, and it was especially glaring because their 6-2 road record was the second-best. That home-road disparity was the league’s largest over a full season in 50 years, according to STATS LLC.
To gain ground on the Patriots and New York Jets in the AFC East, the Dolphins know they must stop laying eggs on their home turf.
“You always have to defend your home,” Dolphins newcomer Reggie Bush said. “This is our city. When somebody else comes into our stadium, they’ve got to know that this is a place where it’s almost impossible to win, and they’ve got to know they’re in for a long day.
“That’s something we’ve got to change around here. Obviously it’s going to start Monday night.”
Beating the reigning AFC East champions at home would be a change. Last year the Dolphins went 0-3 at home against division rivals, including an embarrassing 41-14 defeat by New England 41-14. They also lost at home to lowly Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit, who went a combined 3-18 in their other road games. Miami played before thousands of empty seats, and the fans who did show up did a lot of booing.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins won on the road against the Jets, who reached the AFC championship game, and against the Green Bay Packers, who won the Super Bowl.
“There’s no reason you should win only one game in your backyard,” safety Yeremiah Bell said. “It was one of those freak things — we just couldn’t get it done at home. I don’t know what it was, but it’s definitely going to change this year.”
To trigger a turnaround, they could have picked an easier opener. Over the past decade the Patriots have the NFL’s best record, and they’re 55-25 on the road.
At Miami they’ve won three of their past four games while averaging 40 points.
“We’ve had our struggles down there; we’ve had some great wins,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s going to be fun — a fun way to start the year.”
The matchup’s a sellout, and a fair number of the spectators will be rooting for the visitors. That’s the reason Dolphins coach Tony Sparano decided to pipe crowd noise into practice, something he hadn’t previously done before a home game.
“I’m not naive. I know there are going to be a lot of New England fans,” Sparano said. “Somehow they make their way into our stadium. We have to prepare for it.”
Otherwise, Sparano said, he planned no alteration in his team’s routine leading up to the game. Last year he bused his players to the stadium for a tour of the locker room and field, and the next day they lost to the woeful Browns.
If Sparano could change one thing, it would be the 7 p.m. kickoff. He likes starting home games at 1 p.m., when subtropical temperatures that wilt South Florida visitors are at their peak.
“It’ll be hot,” Sparano said. “But it won’t be 1 o’clock hot.”
There was a time when sweltering weather helped make the Dolphins almost unbeatable early in the season in Miami. From 1994 to 2002 they won 16 consecutive home games in August and September.
But the Miami sports market is different now. Rather than Dan Marino, the city’s most famous athlete is LeBron James. The Dolphins were once perennial playoff contenders, but they’ve been to the postseason only once in the past decade, and season ticket sales are the lowest in nearly 30 years.
It’s a vicious cycle: Losing leads to fewer fans, which means less of a home-field advantage. And since Christmas 2009, the Dolphins have lost nine of 10 home games.
“It’s something we talked about, and guys are definitely conscious about that,” Bush said. “We want to change the culture around here, in this division, with this city, and bring the passion back to football in the city of Miami.”