When the Miami Dolphins kick off against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night inside Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday Night Football, it will be a rematch of the 1972 AFC Championship Game, a game in which the Dolphins got past the upstart Steelers, reached the Super Bowl and closed out a perfect 14-0 season — the only one in NFL history.
Miami will hold a celebration for the 50th year of that undefeated team, which will attempt to overshadow the return of former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, now with the Steelers as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach under longtime head coach Mike Tomlin.
Currently, Flores is embroiled in a lawsuit against the Dolphins, Giants and Texans, as well as the NFL, citing discrimination in its hiring and firing practices. Flores also claimed that Miami owner Stephen M. Ross incentivized him to tank, offering $100,000 per loss, but the league found no evidence of that.
For many, this game could be viewed as a bit of a revenge game for Flores, who went 24-25 in Miami in three seasons as the head coach.
Speaking with ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, Flores isn’t viewing the Week 7 matchup in primetime as that, stating he has a lot of good memories and relationships from his time in Miami, but that his focus is strictly in-house on the Steelers and their preparation.
“I don’t have bad memories of the place,” Flores stated to Pryor, according to an article on ESPN.com. “I have a lot of good memories, but my focus is here right now.
“When I think of that place, I think of all the relationships that were built there that are bigger than football and will go a long way beyond football. There’s a lot of those that like that there, players, coaches, support staff. That’s kind of where my thought process goes.”
Even if he won’t say it, this one has to mean just a bit more for Flores, compared to some other games on the schedule.
Considering all he’s gone through publicly since filing the lawsuit and making his claims about Ross and his ownership style, Flores has been dragged through the mud, criticized for his actions and seemingly about to be blackballed from the league until Tomlin stepped in and offered him a job, getting an elite-level defensive mind onto the staff.
Knowing he’s making his return to a place that told him he wasn’t good enough, which then led to him essentially being used as a workaround for the Rooney Rule in New York, there has to be some added fire for his return to Miami.
While he isn’t going to provide much insight schematically into what Miami is doing this year, he knows the players well and still has some great relationships with guys on the Dolphins. He undoubtedly wants to get a win and spoil Ross’ big night celebrating arguably the greatest team in NFL history, sticking it to the man who pulled the rug out from underneath him despite back-to-back winning seasons in South Beach.
He’s taking the right approach publicly though, downplaying the matchup and putting the focus back on preparing the Steelers. It’s wise to not make it much of a big deal through the media, but there’s a good chance he has that linebacker room revved up ready to go before kickoff, wanting to make plays to help the Steelers win a big game for their position coach.