Alabama in the Pros

Tua Tagovailoa looks healthy again in NFL debut for Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa drops back to pass for Miami Dolphins in NFL debut
Jasen Vinlove - USA TODAY Sports

His ears are probably still ringing, but in a good way.

A joyous, yet deafening sound came in the fourth quarter of the Miami Dolphins/New York Jets matchup on Sunday with 2:27 remaining on the clock. Hard Rock Stadium could not contain itself as Dolphin fans watched one backup player enter the game, and it was at quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick pushed the team to a 24-0 victory over the Jets; however, in that moment he reflected on what he told reporters in the summer.

“I am a placeholder for Tua Tagovailoa,” Fitzpatrick said.

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With a 37-year-old leading the cheers, Tagovailoa entered the game with a huge smile.

Many things went through his mind, but the main one was fighting through adversity for the opportunity to play football again. It has almost been a full year since his devastating hip injury versus Mississippi State. Tagovailoa was in his junior season at the University of Alabama and was looking like a potential Heisman winner, until a matchup with the Bulldogs. He suffered a dislocated right hip with a fracture to the posterior wall, a concussion and a broken nose on one play. As he was carted off the field on Nov. 16 of last year, he carried the emotions of Alabama fans with him. The first thought was whether or not he would walk again, let alone play football.

He went through a grueling rehab after surgery, but the faith of the native Hawaiian never failed him.

Tagovailoa put in a lot of time with Trent Dilfer in preparing for the 2020 NFL Draft and despite the climb to return to the game he loves, he was still selected No. 5 overall by the Dolphins.

In the two passes he made against the Jets, fans saw the footwork, maneuvering of his hips and accurate ball placement. He looked healthy again, which is exactly what the Dolphins organization wanted. He executed some hands-offs to running back Matt Breida and ended the game with hugs from his teammates.

Christian Wilkins, a defensive lineman, competed against Tagovailoa in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. As a member of the Clemson Tigers, he got the better of the former five-star. Now, Wilkins is overjoyed to see his friend in the National Football League make a return to the field. He provided Tagovailoa with the biggest hug after the win.

According to Josh Tolentino, Dolphins beat reporter for The Athletic, Wilkins is just very excited for Tagovailoa.

“He’s a guy who I built a relationship with,” Wilkins said of Tagovailoa. He works hard everyday. It was just a blessing. It’s a glimpse of what’s to come, hopefully.”

On Monday, Nick Saban, Patrick Surtain II and Najee Harris all took part in interviews.

All three were asked about Tagovailoa’s moment and they were proud.

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“Since I have been here, the team has never had a better ambassador for Alabama football than Tua Tagovailoa,” Saban said.

In three years at Alabama (2017-19), Tagovailoa won a national championship, an SEC title and was a Heisman finalist.

He also won a host of individual accolades, changed the perception of Alabama football, and even touched a part of Saban that made him a softer person. Not even injuries could stop Tagovailoa from ranking as one of the top quarterbacks in school history for the Tide.

He finished his tenure at No. 3 for passing yards (7,442), No. 1 for touchdown passes (87), No. 1 for total scores (96) and No. 3 for total yards (7,782). His teammates left the facility after the win over New York; however, Tagovailoa stayed behind and sat down on the 15-yard to reflect on everything. He has been given a second chance to minister to his family, his teammates, the Dolphins organization, and those who have helped him on this journey in the best way he knows how and he is blessed for it.

He will get the franchise to a Super Bowl one day, but he is just happy to play again.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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