Miami Marlins

Michelle Kaufman: South Florida sports fans have plenty for which to be thankful

OK, so it hasn’t exactly been a perfect year for South Florida sports fans.

The Dolphins are 5-6 and the locker room mess between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin remains unresolved. The last-place Marlins finished 62-100 and their home attendance was second-lowest in Major League Baseball. The University of Miami spent much of the year under the Nevin Shapiro investigation cloud. The FIU football team is 1-10 and has been outscored 423-111. And the Panthers are an unexciting 7-13-5, one spot out of the Atlantic Division basement.

But don’t let those troublesome stats curb your appetite on this Thanksgiving Day. There is plenty to be thankful for, plenty of reason to be in a festive mood as you gobble down turkey and fixings and enjoy a heaping helping of NFL action — Detroit vs. Green Bay, Dallas vs. Oakland, and Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh.

Be thankful for the Heat. Whenever other local teams get you down, just remember we still have the back-to-back NBA champions with all their glitz and glamour. We still have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That’s enough to make that pumpkin pie taste a little sweeter.

Be thankful for the heat. Have you looked at a U.S. weather map this week? If not, do so. It shows almost the entire country in blue and purple, signifying chilly to freezing temperatures, snow, blizzards, heavy wind. There is only one tiny corner of the map in orange and yellow, and we are lucky enough to live in that corner!

Be thankful for Jose Fernandez. The energetic, fun-loving Marlins pitcher was one of the few bright lights in an otherwise dismal season. He went through a lot to get this country from Cuba, being sent back three times and having to rescue his drowning mother in the Florida Straits, so it was especially sweet to see him win National League Rookie of the Year. Want to get really sentimental? Check out the video of his recent tearful reunion with his grandmother, Olga. Surely, Fernandez will treasure this Thanksgiving.

Be thankful for David Beckham. The British soccer icon loves our city as much as we do (maybe more). He is determined to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami’s “urban core,” and seems to truly believe that this city’s international flavor, weather, natural beauty and passion for The Beautiful Game will make MLS work here this time. If he can find the right spot for a stadium, lure big-name players, and convince our savvy international soccer fans to transfer some of that passion to our domestic league, this could be something special. Nobody can Sell It Like Beckham.

Be thankful for the soccer we do have. While we wait for Beckham, let’s be thankful for all the soccer that’s already here — the huge, near-sellout Sun Life Stadium crowds for international friendlies, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Miami United, Copa Latina. And, of course, youth soccer, where my daughter and her U14 teammates inspire me every time they step on the field with their pony-tailed confidence.

Be thankful for NFL parity. There are six teams in the AFC with 5-6 records, including the Dolphins, which means a playoff wild card spot is still within reach. If the Fins can manage to win four of the next five games, Miami fans will be celebrating in early January.

Be thankful for the Sony Open tennis tournament, considered by most players the fifth major behind Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open. Not only is the field fantastic, the festival atmosphere lures even the non-tennis folk, and the ride to Key Biscayne over Rickenbacker Causeway (while slow at times) offers the most amazing vistas of our city.

Be thankful for the Cadillac golf Championship at Doral, Homestead-Miami Speedway, the ING Miami Marathon, horse racing at Gulfstream and Calder, the Miami Beach Polo World Cup, regattas in Biscayne Bay, the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, the Orange Bowl football classic, the Orange Bowl and Jr. Orange Bowl tennis tournaments, and all the other wonderful events that stuff our sports calendar fatter than a Butterball turkey.

Be thankful for Jimmy Graham. He’s not officially our local kid anymore, but the former UM basketball player-turned-NFL phenom is one of the most exciting players in the game right now. Canes fans delight with his every catch, touchdown and dunk over the goalpost. He also happens to be a fine person off the field.

Be thankful for James Jones and Shane Battier. Smart, classy, ego-free pro athletes are extremely rare, and we have two of the best right here.

Be thankful for high school football rivalries. As a Killian grad, my fondest Cougar memories were pep rallies and games against Palmetto and Southridge. The fun lives on with Northwestern vs. Jackson, Booker T. vs. Central, Belen vs. Columbus, Ely vs. Dillard, Miramar vs. St. Thomas, and Homestead vs. South Dade.

Be thankful for UM’s Sweet 16 run. Coach Jim Larrañaga and his Hurricanes stunned Atlantic Coast Conference bluebloods Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC, and made it all the way to the Sweet 16. We all miss Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, Durand Scott and Trey McKinney Jones, but it sure was fun while it lasted.

Be thankful for Katie Meier and Cindy Russo. The UM and FIU women’s basketball coaches run classy, successful programs that deserve more attention than they get. FIU fans ought to also give thanks for new men’s coach Anthony Evans, who seems to be turning things around for the Panthers.

Be very thankful the Nevin Shapiro scandal is over.

Be thankful for Gators vs. Seminoles.

Finally, thank you, Miami Herald readers. For still reading.