Behind the closed doors of a meeting of millionaires and billionaires Tuesday, two men together helped finally bring the Super Bowl back to South Florida:
Larry Csonka warmed the crowd up. Then Stephen Ross sealed the deal.
“Where would you rather be in February, any place in the United States?” Ross told his 31 fellow owners here Tuesday. “That’s what it boils down to. Everybody would rather be [in South Florida] in February.”
Ross, naturally, was right. And a majority of NFL owners agreed, awarding South Florida the right to host Super Bowl 54 — a landmark game, as it will conclude the league’s centennial anniversary.
So it’s only fitting that one of the league’s flagship franchises — and still the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era — will host the league’s biggest game of its 100th year.
“You present and I write the check,” a celebratory Ross told Csonka when the two men embraced after the announcement.
That check, of course, is Ross’ half-billion dollar pledge to fix his crumbling stadium — without which Miami might never get another Super Bowl.
But by funding a top-to-bottom renovation, which should be completed by August, Ross removed the last roadblock keeping the Super Bowl from returning. The Dolphins in 2020 will host the NFL’s title game for a record 11th time but for just the first time in a decade.
“I think Steve has a real passion for Miami, for South Florida, making a $500 million investment in renovating the stadium,” Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel said. “This is a bit of a reward for him. Certainly, the most important thing is being in the Super Bowl and winning it, to everybody in the organization and certainly Steve.”
Garfinkel’s phone wouldn’t stop beeping after the announcement. Don Shula, the Hall of Fame coach who was recently hospitalized, was the first to send along his congratulations. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wasn’t far behind.
“I love Super Bowls,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said after a ceremonial bill signing in Miami. “I want all of them either in Miami or Tampa or Jacksonville.”
In the end, the vote went exactly as expected. First Atlanta won the right to host the 2019 game, then Miami in 2020 and Los Angeles in 2021. All three cities will soon have new or refurbished stadiums.
But there was just enough drama to keep South Florida’s delegation sweating.
The South Florida bid committee’s war room buzzed with nervous energy during the league’s quirky voting process. The group felt good about its chances before making its 15-minute presentation and even better afterward.
“You hit it out of the park,” host committee chair Rodney Barreto told Csonka.
Csonka responded: “I was a little shook up when I went in, to be honest with you. I guess I need to hit something before we go in.”
That feeling didn’t change once the voting began.
Miami was on the ballot of all three years awarded but was quickly eliminated from consideration for the 2019 game. Super Bowl 53 was ultimately down to two finalists — Atlanta and New Orleans — and the vote surprisingly went to a fourth ballot.
At last, Atlanta prevailed with a simple majority, and the South Florida delegation exploded in excited relief. New Orleans wasn’t up for any game but Super Bowl 53, so by Atlanta winning, Super Bowl 54 became a contest between Miami and Tampa.
“You make the choice,” Ross later said with a grin.
The owners did, selecting Miami on a third ballot.
Moments before the announcement, Broward tourism czar Nicki Grossman nearly shredded the carpet from all of her pacing.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” Grossman murmured as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approached the podium to announce the vote’s outcome.
“OK, we have a winner,” said Goodell, whose remarks were broadcast to each host committee via closed-caption television. “Congratulations to South ...”
And that’s it. That’s all that could be made out. The rest of Goodell’s statement was lost in a cacophony of jubilation.
“We did it man, we did it,” Barreto told the room.
“Now I can retire,” added Grossman, who will step down after more than two decades as head of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Ross’ work, meanwhile is just beginning. He’s not satisfied with just hosting Super Bowls. He wants to appear in them.
“I want a Super Bowl winner,” Ross said. “That’s my legacy. That’s what I would love. This is great for the community. I didn’t win anything. The community won. I think that’s what’s important, to bring everybody together. That’s why you own a football team, to bring South Florida together and make them proud. It makes South Florida proud.”
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.