At the first sign of a real fight, when forced to publicly defend their actions, with lights shining on their warped culture, the bullies did what bullies always do.
The bullies curled up, covered up and quit.
This week, on one of the most delightful nights in the history of "Monday Night Football," the vulgar and abusive locker-room culture fostered by the Miami Dolphins was rendered appropriately incognito by the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 22-19 shaming.
Did you see it? Did you find yourself cheering every time some sweating and panicked Dolphins offensive lineman was steamrollered? Did you find yourself gloating at the sight of Dolphins Coach and enabler Joe Philbin looking pale and alone on the sideline while his team was being torn to shreds in front of him?
There is no end in sight to the bullying scandal that has engulfed the Dolphins for more than a week. But Monday's game was a reminder that the bully has lost, and karma is winning.
It was Miami's first public appearance on a field since the news about why tackle Jonathan Martin left the team was reported. It is alleged Martin was being bullied in a harassing locker-room culture commanded by guard and renowned troublemaker Richie Incognito. The incident led to the suspension of Incognito, the opening of an NFL investigation, and, most notably, the sparking of a misguided national sports debate about the handling of bullies.
As usual, the phony tough guys had the first word. The Dolphins players and many others around the league openly backed Incognito and criticized Martin for not fighting back. There were reports Dolphins officials and coaches not only condoned Incognito's alleged actions, but supported them by urging Incognito to toughen up Martin. Jimmy Johnson, a Super Bowl winning coach and Fox Sports analyst, wondered about Martin's mental toughness on national television.
All of which led to Sunday's crowning moment of delusion, when Incognito gave an embarrassingly buddy-buddy interview to Fox reporter Jay Glazer — his former martial arts instructor — during which Incognito claimed the bullying was actually about "brotherhood." Incognito said Martin was his closest friend on the team, even though they haven't spoken since Martin's departure. Incognito also claimed a racist, vulgar and threatening voice mail that has become the incident's smoking gun was actually a joke.
The joke, of course, was the actual interview, a softball-lobbing parody, an open attempt of one friend to cover the back of another friend, and you have to wonder what Fox producer was bullied by Glazer to get it made. But in stories like these, perception is often reality, and thus the interview ended with Incognito being the misunderstood teddy bear while Martin, who still has not spoken publicly, comes across as a mentally distressed weakling.
So, yeah, entering Monday night, those phony tough guys were winning.
Then, for more than three splendid hours filled with wondrous symbolism, the bullies were bullied.
The Incognito sycophants on the offensive line were such tough run blockers against the Bucs, the Dolphins' offense gained a total of two yards rushing. Two yards! It was the most pathetic rushing display in franchise history, which was humiliating even for a team missing starting linemen Martin and Incognito.
This so-called band of fun-loving, teasing brothers never even put up their fists. They gave up a safety. They gave up early. The offense gained only 31 yards on its first four possessions while quickly falling behind, 15-0, to the last team in the NFL to win a game. Then when the Dolphins had the ball in the last three minutes with a chance to tie, the line allowed consecutive sacks to end it.
Before the game, the story line was about how the team would rally around the memory of their sturdy leader Incognito. But this once again showed bullies never bring groups together, they tear them apart.
Tyson Clabo, the Dolphins tackle who blamed the issue on Martin, was steamrollered. Brian Hartline, the wide receiver who basically said Martin couldn't take a joke, caught only a handful of passes and wasn't a factor. Philbin, the coach who incredulously said he didn't know anything about the bullying, spent three hours looking as if a couple of playground toughs were giving him a wedgie.
Then there was the fun plight of Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, the guy who allegedly goaded Incognito into pushing Martin over the edge. He has already been pushed so far aside, his name was never even mentioned by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross during a halftime interview about the situation.
Ireland will surely be fired. Philbin should also be fired. The NFL investigation will undoubtedly treat this with the seriousness of the New Orleans Saints' Bountygate incident and issue more fines and suspensions. And here's guessing the Dolphins will never publicly support Richie Incognito again.
But you knew that already. You surely figured the bullies would lose, because bullies always eventually lose, whether its in an accounting office or law firm or assembly line.
This story was never about football, was it? It was always about the sort of harassment that occurs in every workplace. Everyone, it seems, has encountered a bully somewhere. Everyone has probably been occasionally overwhelmed by some poor insecure soul who builds self-esteem through crude taunts and bellicose tests, a lout who creates a world of conflict and demands that co-workers either play along or be branded as weak.
There are many ways to handle the cretin. Some people quietly seethe. Others fight back. Still others, such as Jonathan Martin, simply snap.
It is unfair to judge someone on how they handle the stress of bullying. The only truth here is that, in the end, no matter how eternal the harassment might seem, the bully eventually always loses. The bully eventually bullies himself out of a job, or out of a home, or out of a meaningful life into irrelevancy.
It happens everywhere. After a week, it finally happened in Miami. As the sports world awaits Martin's first public words and the NFL's findings, the story will continue. But the bully has lost. The score was 22-19.