Mike Dee: Farewell South Florida, a special place

In the four years I have lived in South Florida and served as CEO of the Miami Dolphins, I’ve often been asked what Miami is really like. People want to know about the beaches, the culture, the sun, the music and entertainment, the highly-competitive sports environment and the South Beach lifestyle. They all want to know if South Florida is the sun-splashed paradise they envision.

My answer often surprises them. I tell them that what makes this place special is its people; folks who, despite the area’s growth, absolutely insist on making this fantasy land a community — and one that cares.

When Steve Ross asked me to join him in 2009 to make the Dolphins the model franchise in professional sports, I knew the market was vibrant, that Dolphins fans were ferociously loyal, and that the storied history and tradition of football in South Florida would serve his dream well. I knew from living here years ago that the team’s rich past offered us a strong foundation upon which to build. I knew that the NFL’s only “perfect” team had grown generations of perfect fans, too. I felt reassured that the passion and commitment to this iconic franchise was as deeply-rooted as it was when I first fell in love with it as a diehard Dolfan nearly 30 years ago.

Our goals were clear. Ross intended to build a perennial winner on the field. Off the field, he expected me to create the very best game-day experience at Sun Life Stadium and to make the Dolphins a meaningful contributor to the community. While we didn’t always get it right, he insisted then, as now, that we strive for the best.

Working with Ross has been a privilege and a great experience. I have absolutely no doubt that he will succeed in bringing another Super Bowl Championship trophy to South Florida. This is a great sports region and the excitement of watching the Heat the last few years can only be described as inspirational. I know Dolfans are eager to see the Dolphins again begin competing for championships year in and year out. I think that will happen.

I believe our fans and our community share our commitment to excellence, and, while we have not yet succeeded in creating a partnership to modernize Sun Life Stadium — and ensure the future of Super Bowls and college championship games for South Florida — I have never doubted, and continue to believe, that our fans and leaders will one day demand that this controversial issue be resolved. It is too important for South Florida to ignore.

Without question, my proudest moments have come from working alongside others in South Florida to make a difference in the lives of others.

While we were unable to achieve the level of success on the field that we had all hoped for, we were a championship caliber team off it. Inspired by Ross’ direction, we set out to build an aggressive off-the-field charitable organization that would not just contribute dollars, but actively engage to advance the interests of South Florida. I’m grateful to our extraordinary alumni, players, fans and a very talented Dolphins staff that continue to dedicate themselves to that mission.

Four years later, I can tell you the Miami Dolphins Foundation is one of the best — and most impactful — in sports. In addition to our literacy and hunger programs, the Dolphins Cycling Challenge has raised more than $4 million for Sylvester Cancer Center and our 9,680 Special Teams volunteers have logged more than 163,000 hours working in our neighborhoods.

The Dolphins and South Florida will enjoy championships in the future, but nothing will match the day-in, day-out commitment of the people who care enough about their neighbors to make Miami not just the most exciting city in the Americas, but also one of the most caring. South Florida will always thrive because this community won’t accept less.

Thank you South Florida. I will miss you.

Mike Dee is leaving as CEO of the Miami Dolphins to take the top job with the San Diego Padres in California.

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