The coming hours are a critical time, not just for storm watchers at the National Hurricane Center, but also for the Miami Dolphins as they mull what to do about their home opener.
The Dolphins’ 2017 season is scheduled to begin against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 p.m. Sunday — precisely the time when Hurricane Irma could be lashing South Florida.
Dolphins officials have been closely watching the storm’s track since last week, and are considering a range of options if forecasters’ worst fears are realized.
Forecasts this far out are still unreliable, so the teams, the NFL and government officials have the benefit of time before making a decision to either move the game up a few days, move it back or postpone it. Both the Buccaneers and Dolphins have a bye on Nov. 18, but the NFL typically does not want teams playing 16 straight weeks, which both teams would do if the game is moved to that date.
Instead, finding a day in the next week would seem to be more likely. Another, less likely option is moving the game to another city.
The Dolphins returned to practice Monday, but in truth, coaches have surreptitiously been readying their players for the Buccaneers for weeks now.
So if the game is moved up to Thursday or Friday, the team should be ready.
“We’ve been training for this game for a while,” said Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who didn’t seem to be in the mood to entertain hypotheticals during his Monday morning news conference. "... Whatever they tell us to do, we’re just going to do. Just go with the flow.
“It doesn’t matter what week it is,” Gase added. “If they tell us they changed the game, we’ll just go with it.”
Added Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills: “I’ll play whenever they tell us to play. ... We know that there’s potential, or people talking about the game being moved or canceled or whatever; but all we can do is handle what we can handle, and that’s going out there and getting prepared for this game, and when it comes it comes.”
There is precedent for playing on a short week. In 2004, a storm forced the Dolphins to move their game against the Titans from Sunday to Saturday. A year later, Hurricane Wilma prompted the NFL to move Dolphins-Chiefs up two days.
If Sunday’s game is going to be moved, that call will probably have to be made by Wednesday morning, because of the logistics involved.
Hard Rock Stadium, which in recent years underwent a half-billion renovation project, is built to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. But even if it isn’t hit directly, there are a number of other issues that could determine when the game will be played. Most notably: staffing a game with local police and over 1,000 game-day employees.
Their safety, and the safety of Dolphins fans and the public at large, is the most important consideration when determining what to do.
Meanwhile, the Greater Miami Athletic Conference and Broward County Athletic Association are planning to discuss rescheduling options of high school athletic events this weekend should Hurricane Irma affect Miami-Dade or Broward counties.
The possibility exists that games scheduled for Friday and Saturday could be moved up to Thursday, but due to the Labor Day holiday nothing will be decided until both organizations begin reviewing options on Tuesday when normal business hours resume.
A total of 10 football games are scheduled for Thursday in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward. There are 15 more set to be played Friday in Dade with 18 in Broward County. Saturday’s slate features two games in each county.
Miami Herald sportswriter Andre C. Fernandez contributed to this report.