DAVIE, Fla. -- Tim Murphy vividly remembers the first time he felt the magic.
Ryan Fitzpatrick quickly rose from No. 5 to No. 2 on the depth chart as a freshman quarterback. Murphy, Harvard's longtime coach, decided to put Fitzpatrick in for his first game because the Crimson were up three scores and set to run a four-minute drill.
"I told him, 'We're going to run 48 Naked, 48 Nevada. I just want you to keep the ball. They think we're going to run the ball up the middle to run the clock out, so they'll bite,'" Murphy recalled. "'You'll have a clear field. No matter what, stay inbounds, don't take a hit, and maintain ball security.'"
Everyone bit on Fitzpatrick's play fake, he ran 10 yards in open field, and he saw a safety aiming to light him up.
"I'm looking for him to slide like he's supposed to. Instead, he hits the guy so hard they had to stop the game for 10 minutes," Murphy said. "I turned around to my assistant and said, 'What the hell do we have here?' That was [Fitzpatrick's] way of saying, 'I'm a tough guy, you can count on me, and I'm here to stay.' That was my 'a-ha' moment. I knew he was the real deal."
Eighteen years later, Fitzpatrick leads the rebuilding Miami Dolphins (1-7) with the same Pop Warner style, as he showed by running over a Buffalo Bills defender for a touchdown two weeks ago. The 36-year-old Fitzpatrick has opened up about the special football moments that have kept him playing and why the daily lessons he shares with his kids about the game have been invaluable.
Even in a Dolphins season filled with losing and criticism, Fitzpatrick is an example of stability, positivity and leadership.
Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins won their first game on Sunday against the New York Jets. The veteran QB brought his elder sons to the locker room after the game for the first time as a Dolphin so they could soak in the celebration and hang all over Dad's shoulders.
"Those are the reasons -- at least for me in Year 15 -- that feeling, that's why you still play," Fitzpatrick said. "I know we didn't just win the Super Bowl, but I also know that the things that we have gone through already this season and just trying to deal with it with a smile on your face and remaining positive and to have my two boys sitting there watching this, I mean, those are the lessons that are hard to teach in other aspects outside of sports.
"They're going to remember some of these moments, and they make friends with a lot of the guys in the locker room. It's just neat for me to be able to share the experience with them."
Fitzpatrick has seven kids ranging from 12 years to 9 months old. For the first time in his NFL career, he has to live apart from his family during the season because they reside in Tampa, Florida, where he played for the Buccaneers in 2017 and 2018. Ryan's wife, Liza, loads up the 12-passenger Nissan Envy van to attend some Dolphins home games, and sometimes she collects the group for a flight. Fitzpatrick sometimes drives his Tesla to Tampa on days off, but a lot of his in-season time with the family has been spent on FaceTime.
His older sons have their dad as the starting quarterback on their fantasy football teams, and they often talk to him about how many points he got on a given week.
"Their whole life has been the roller coaster of Dad's career, so they're excited for me to be out there playing," Fitzpatrick said. "It's been very difficult in that regard and the roller coaster of playing and not playing and playing. It makes it a lot easier when I'm playing because I'm so busy and focused and into it, but it's not the easiest thing in the world. ... Going into this season, I knew there were certain sacrifices that had to be made, and they're my biggest fans."
Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick by the Rams in 2005, says he hasn't thought much about if this will be his final NFL season. Under contract with the Dolphins until 2020, he could compete with or back up whomever the Dolphins draft as their quarterback of the future. Liza, Ryan says, is fully supportive of whatever decision he makes.
When he does call it quits from the league in which he has played for eight teams, coaching is an option. A few Dolphins coaches mentioned that Fitzpatrick already seems like a coach in team meetings. Fitzpatrick is quick to point out that he owes Liza some time catching up on the chores he has missed through the years. Plus, he wants to be a full-time dad for a while.
But for now, Fitzpatrick is guiding the Dolphins in 2019. He has said that he is the perfect man for this rebuilding Dolphins team because he brings an ego-less energy that can galvanize a team.
"Fitz is made for any situation, so that's why I'm smiling," coach Brian Flores said.
Fitzpatrick has led the offense to 10 touchdowns in the past 13 quarters since he reentered the starting lineup in the fourth quarter of Week 6.
"It really helps our team when Fitz does what he does," Dolphins offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea said. "That is also something that is really contagious to the team. His ability to play off-schedule some and make plays on his own is something he's always had the ability to do. The team rallies behind him."
Dolphins quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinksi added: "He's just a really good communicator with everybody. There's a confidence standpoint that comes with him that you can't teach."
Fitzpatrick has been arguably Miami's best player. He loves the game and the lessons it has taught him and, in turn, his family.
"The one for me in my career has been the adversity and fighting through it and never giving up on myself and always remaining confident and always working hard," Fitzpatrick said. "Those are some of the lessons I think that will get passed on -- or at least that they'll see and try to emulate in some way."
Murphy learned some of those lessons from Fitzpatrick, too, plus another one: Your circumstances are defined by how you handle them.
Now when he watches Fitzpatrick, the only unanimous captain he coached in his 26 years at Harvard, he often recalls that "a-ha" moment.
"The reality is this is a very challenging season for Miami on many levels. But no matter what, Fitz is going to find the good. That's who he is," Murphy said. "He tells me, 'I'm playing in the NFL. There's a lot of great guys on this team. I have a great family, and boy, life is good.' He thinks he's the luckiest guy in the world."