Two years ago, the Dolphins opened at Sun Life Stadium with a noisy night and a nationally-staged game against New England. Hope settled considerably after Tom Brady threw a 99-yard pass to Wes Welker.
"That was my first game and the only time here I thought it was really loud like you think a home-field advantage should be," center Mike Pouncey said.
Three years ago, they started with the same two wins on the road as they have this season and provided raucous hopes for the home opener against the Jets. The day, then the season, deflated after the Jets' Dustin Keller scored two early touchdowns.
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"That was one of the few games I've noticed the crowd here," Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said.
This is why Sunday's homer opener matters. The recent history of the Dolphins is loud hope yielding to home openers that explain why fans began wandering elsewhere for the last decade.
You want to go to 2009 when their only playoff trip in 10 years was followed by an uninspired loss to Indianapolis?
Or how about the 2006 home opener, which came with such promises after five straight wins to end the previous year that Sports Illustrated picked them as a Super Bowl team. Nick Saban began his final year with an ugly 16-6 loss to Buffalo.
If the Dolphins want to demonstrate what's different this year, winning this opener in Sun Life Stadium would be another nice step forward. A loss won't break the season. It's just September. There's so much season to go.
But a win against a beat-up Atlanta roster would underline change is afoot. For the first time in a decade, the Dolphins have flashed the idea through the opening weeks of being a legitimate team with credible playoff hopes.
It isn't simply the record. It's Ryan Tannehill's 94.5 quarterback rating. It's Brent Grimes' game-changing cornerback play. It's the threat of Mike Wallace, the development of Nolan Carroll and Charles Clay, even the subtle promise of Dion Jordan suggesting there's much more to come.
Now you need to see more. What we're going to start finding out Sunday — really over the next three weeks until the bye — is which Dolphins are for real:
The Dolphins we've seen for the last six quarters, who ever since the first half of Cleveland have played the kind of football that suggests a nice season is developing?
Or the team you've seen too much of this past decade, the one that teases fans in flashes and ultimately explains why Sun Life Stadium hasn't been the place to go during football seasons?
"We'd like to get it to the point that home-field advantages are in other cities," Pouncey said.
To which Cameron Wake, the one proven star on the team, says, "Winning is the way you have to make people excited. And I get that. Winning is always what matters."
Wake was asked what a 3-0 start would mean to a team that hasn't won much lately. He shrugged and said it was too early to look at records. He pointed to a sign that's on every door out of the Dolphins locker room.
"It's about '1-0', " he said.
That's coach Joe Philbin's way of saying one game matters. If Dave Wannstedt does this in the middle of his spin cycle out of town, everyone scoffs, including the players.
But words or messages or even Philbin's force of personality don't matter Sunday. His game does. And he has his team on the cusp of making the Dolphins interesting in South Florida again, of having people sit up and notice them.
They've been here before, several times, over the past decade. Each time they spit back any sense of change in this exact home opener at Sun Life. As much as a win, that's the stake Sunday.
For the last, lost decade the home opener has proved indicative of the Dolphins team. It's up to them to keep that same idea Sunday in an entirely different way.