Had some fun in our Random Evidence blog this week, inviting readers to vote which athlete has had the greater Miami sports career: Dan Marino or Dwyane Wade. In a separate poll we offered Pat Riley vs. Don Shula for the coach/executive crown.
It was not a surprise to me that the two Dolphins icons prevailed over their Heat challengers – Shula with around 60 percent of the vote and Marino with about 53 percent – perhaps partly because Riley and Wade aren’t done yet. The close results credited how admired and beloved Riley and Wade have become.
What interested me even more than the results, though, was how easy it was to arrive at these four as the Mount Rushmore of South Florida pro sports. Whomever might be in fifth place would not be near that echelon or in the same conversation.
It also struck me it may be time to start asking and wondering and imagining:
Who’ll be the next Miami sports figure who stays so long and accomplishes so much and is so loved that we must make room on that mountain?
Who … and when?
Shula is 85 now and has been retired from the Dolphins 20 years. As if you needed a reminder time flies, his glory days are now more than 40 years past.
Riley still is going strong but, at 70, surely is in his career’s winter.
Marino is 53. This will be his 16th season retired, only one fewer than he played.
Wade is 33, still good but fighting time, a career now well into its fourth quarter.
It is time to identify our most likely “Who’s Next?” candidates, and two names jump out:
Giancarlo Stanton and Ryan Tannehill – in that order.
Their mix of youth, early success and potential put them on a trajectory that makes their climb to the Miami mountaintop plausible, if not anything you’d bet on yet.
The race to beloved is a mysterious thing. It is unknowable, unpredictable and steered by luck and happenstance, by serendipity.
On April 26, 1983, Dolfans wondered why Marino had fallen in the draft and worried about drug rumors long before realizing they’d struck oil.
On June 26, 2003, few Heat fans even knew how the newly drafted Wade spelled his first name, let alone that he’d become an enduring franchise icon.
Maybe Dolphins rookie DeVante Parker or Heat rookie Justise Winslow will break records and stir imaginations and become special to us.
Maybe Erik Spoelstra – long beyond LeBron James, Riley and Wade – will still be in Miami, fronting Heat championship parades, homing in on Shula territory.
Maybe Jose Fernandez, with an inside lane to popularity as a Cuban-born Marlin, is a contract extension and a couple of Cy Youngs from the elevated place we describe.
Maybe the Panthers will discover someone magnetic enough to lift hockey to broad, lasting relevance here. Maybe it will be a 50-goal scorer whose name we don’t know … because he might be 11 years old at the moment.
Maybe Miami’s new Major League Soccer team will have a home-grown star who wins our hearts.
Maybe Al Golden will be Lazarus, returning the Canes to national prominence and heroically staying and winning for decades, becoming the Bobby Bowden UM has never had. (Maybe someday it will be hard to even remember that, way back in ’15, many fans were calling for his job).
Anything is possible, which is why sports keeps us watching.
For now, though, put your money on Stanton or Tannehill as Miami’s best bets to someday climb into Marino/Shula/Wade/Riley territory – and for very different reasons.
Stanton, 25, can do it with awesome power and individual accomplishment. His career 162-game averages project to 41 homers and 107 RBI. If he can stay healthy (something that has been maddeningly elusive), 50-homer seasons are in play. Stanton is built like a Greek god and crushes home runs the length of which make crowds gasp. And his long-term contract assures his prime and perhaps entire career will be spent here. Stanton might already be the most popular player in Marlins history, and it would not be foolish to wager on him being the club’s first home-grown Hall of Famer.
That’s stuff that can haul you up onto that ultimate echelon.
Tannehill, turning 27 this coming Monday and with a new, extended contract, has improved by leaps each of his three seasons, but for him, the climb won’t be based on statistics. He can’t be the Next Marino by topping Dan’s prolific numbers. But he can get there by doing what Marino never could: Winning a Super Bowl. Dolfans are starving for that, and quarterbacks get disproportionate credit. Win two Super Bowls here and you’re a saint. One might be enough.
Stanton can become a local legend with sheer Brobdingnagian skills.
Tannehill can get there by ending a decades-long championship drought.
No guarantee either will, but “could” is a pretty good starting place.