There could be stubborn pride, wistful sentiment or even a touch of anger in how Tim Robbie refers to this place after all these years, and you’d forgive him any of those emotions. He didn’t even realize he had said it as we spoke Wednesday evening at the place his father built.
“JRS,” he still calls it.
Joe Robbie Stadium, though it hasn’t been that, at least not officially, in years.
“I guess it’s force of habit,” he said, smiling. “It’s ingrained in my brain.”
The stadium the Dolphins and Hurricanes call home bears the latest rented corporate names we’re supposed to use, of course, but it has seldom felt more like Joe Robbie’s name still fits — like it still deserves to be front and center — than on this night.
The place filled with soccer fans in near-record numbers to watch Spanish power Real Madrid impressively beat England’s Chelsea 3-1 on two gorgeous goals by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in the title match of the first International Champions Cup.
Ronaldo bent one shot in and headed the other and in the 67th minute and earned a lengthy embrace from a young fan who darted onto the field wearing his jersey and left to an ovation by the second-largest crowd, 67,273, ever to watch soccer in South Florida.
The night was a reflection of the vibrant diversity of Miami, where sports means so much more to so many than the Heat, Dolphins or Hurricanes.
Mostly, this night was a fulfillment of one man’s vision.
“I don’t think he would be surprised,” Tim Robbie said of how his father might have viewed Wednesday night. “Dad loved the game. He could foresee that South Florida could be a Mecca for international soccer.”
He foresaw it 30 years ago, as he conceived the stadium that would open in 1987. Robbie’s legacy is as the Dolphins’ founding owner, and building this stadium through private funding, which makes him more heroic with every modern owner who begs for public money to build or renovate his playground. What also separates this place, though, is that Robbie built a major NFL stadium with soccer in mind at a time that was unheard of.
The private funding would bury Robbie’s heirs in estate taxes and force them to eventually sell the stadium and team. But the family’s loss has been Miami’s gain — in fútbol as well as football.
We know how to rise up for big events here, and this was one.
Thousands arrived hours before the doubleheader began (A.C. Milan beat L.A. Galaxy 2-0 in the third-place game) for a glimpse of their arriving heroes, forming a massive corridor through which players passed. Everywhere you looked, fans wore the No. 7 jersey of Ronaldo, or waved the blue-and-white-checked flags of Chelsea.
It is freeing to step out of what we think of as the mainstream once in a while and appreciate anew that sports in Miami is a broad and inclusive thing. There are legions among us whose first love is soccer, fans who can discern spellbinding action in even a 1-0 result because they see poetry in it.
Nights like Wednesday are part of what make Miami diverse and wonderful.
Nights like this are what I think of whenever I hear — as I do incessantly — what a lousy sports town Miami supposedly is. Why, because a run of mediocrity has whittled Dolphins attendance? Because Heat fans sometime show up late?