|Sunday, September 22
McMichael shining in the spotlight
By Len Pasquarelli
MIAMI -- The name, tattooed on his left arm, has nothing to do with scaling summits or preserving the ecological balance of the planet.
It says simply Sierra in big, bold, black letters, a daily reminder that he has a five-year-old daughter who lives in Fort Valley, Ga., and who he isn't about to abandon. That is important for Miami rookie tight end Randy McMichael, who has met his father but two times, one of those occasions at a family funeral last year.
The way the former University of Georgia standout figures, he's apt to hear a lot more from his daddy these days, now that McMichael is on television most Sundays as the Miami Dolphins starter. With his standout performance on Sunday afternoon, in fact, it would not surprise McMichael if his father calls sometime this week.
"He wasn't there to share in some of the bad times, so I'm sure he wants to be a part of the good times," said McMichael, following Miami's 30-3 rout of the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon. "And these are definitely getting to be some good times. Ah, yes, good times, indeed."
Forgotten by most franchises in the draft, McMichael lasted until the fourth round, and watched 113 players go off the board before his name mercifully was called. Those teams won't overlook him anymore.
McMichael had five receptions for 79 yards and his second touchdown in the 30-3 victory that snapped the Jets' eight game winning skein in this series. In three contests, he now has 11 receptions for 186 yards, and is arguably playing better than any rookie tight end not named Shockey.
After the game, he drew the praise of head coach Dave Wannstedt and also offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and the plaudits were well deserved. It marked the first time since Christmas Eve 2000 that a Dolphins tight end led the team in receptions. His receiving yardage was the most for a Miami tight end since 1997. And McMichael's 36-yard catch in the second quarter, when he beat New York safety Sam Garnes deep up the left seam, was the longest by a Miami tight end since September of 2000.
Said an enthusiastic Wannstedt: "Randy McMichael! Are you kidding me? You see that rookie rising up and making plays, guys?"
The tight end has long been an invaluable component of the Turner offense and, while other teams passed on McMichael in the draft after he posted some pedestrian 40-yard times in spring workouts, Miami continued to keep an eye on him. Early in his career at Georgia, he was regarded as a certain first-round draft choice. But the more scouts watched him, the more they came to view him as one-dimensional, a solid receiver who didn't block.
The Dolphins were still enamored of his overall athleticism, though, and the gamble on McMichael seems to be paying off handsomely.
Beyond tailback Ricky Williams, who allows Turner to run his inside power running game that erodes a defense as a game wears on, the acquisition of McMichael might be the biggest key to the unit. Last season, for instance, the Dolphins tight ends combined for 22 catches and 242 yards. McMichael could eclipse those measly numbers in a couple weeks. His two scores are as many as the Miami tight ends totaled in 2001.
"He's a big guy who runs well," said Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, himself a onetime Georgia star. "And he's learning pretty quickly. He seems to have a knack for getting open."
On his first-quarter touchdown, McMichael took advantage of a play-fake by quarterback Jay Fiedler and the underneath swing pattern run by fullback Rob Konrad in the right flat, to gain separation in the corner of the end zone. The Jets jumped the Konrad pattern and McMichael was open as soon as he got a clean release into the secondary.
McMichael celebrated the score by handing the ball to a fan. But in keeping with his new vow not to do so much woofing during a game -- he has been known to offer an unsolicited filibuster -- McMichael did not taunt any of the Jets defensive backs. Then again, they were so far away from him that most wouldn't have heard him anyway.
"I'm trying to set a better example," said McMichael, who sat up talking to friends until 6 a.m. after he wasn't chosen the first day of the draft. "I want my little girl to know her daddy and be proud of him. I think she was pretty proud of me today."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.