Two days before the mass unveiling of the refurbished stadium on Dan Marino Drive, Dolphins club president Tom Garfinkel spent an hour showing off the new house that owner Stephen Ross is building.
The old, orange, sterile space this new house replaces had been many things over the years: It was the venue for Super Bowls. It hosted college football national title games. It was the place Marino retired and Don Shula stepped down.
But for everything the old place was, it simply failed in being as raucous and electric as the Orange Bowl.
It just didn’t bring the same nostalgia and allure that the old trough of a venue in Little Havana once offered. Joe Robbie-Dolphins-Pro Player-Sun Life might have been where the Dolphins played their games since 1987.
But it never really was a home.
This refurbished facility that is already beautiful after only one phase of a two- or three-phase reconstruction?
This place has grand potential to be a home.
Forget that it is gorgeous with its uniform aqua seats — all of them brand new, of course. Forget that it will be more comfortable — with more leg room and, um, butt room — not to mention a canopy roof that is coming in 2016 to keep fans cooler.
And forget that it is more luxurious with the 72 Club over here, the North Club over there, the Ford Club in the end zones and by the locker room and, of course, The Nine Club that comes with field access, upscale food (think lobster if you want it) and a $400,000 to $600,000 annual price tag.
Forget all that stuff. That’s more the real estate game than football game.
What might just make this new iteration of Sun Life finally feel like a worthy home for the Dolphins is going to be the noise generated here by a crowd that will be closer to the action than ever and more aligned with the home team than ever.
For all the premium beers and fanciful food choices — including the foot-long hot dog covered with pulled pork and macaroni and cheese — the thing that makes this project so promising is it might actually help the Dolphins win some games.
Like the Orange Bowl proved it could.
Sun Life Stadium is no longer a dual-purpose facility in that it’s no longer going to be used for baseball. The dugout is gone. The batting cages are out. So is the retractable seat section that once became left field.
Sun Life is built, rather rebuilt, for football. (And yes, futbol, but you get the idea.)
In the old stadium that served multiple masters the closest fans used to sit was 80 feet from the field. Now fans are 56 feet from the actual playing surface in a facility redesigned for football.
There are nine new rows of seats that span both sidelines that never existed before. The 10th row of seats now was the first row last season.
So there can now be people in those 2,225 new sideline seats right behind the benches and near the field — all of them yelling, screaming, cheering for the Dolphins.
And reminding Tom Brady about “Deflategate.”
And Rex Ryan that he might have a new team but still has no quarterback.
“I think you’ll see our fans closer to the field, and certainly the seats being closer to the field makes a difference in terms of the noise,” Garfinkel said. “But in addition we did do extensive acoustics studies to try to make sure the sound stayed in.
“This is actually a pretty loud stadium to begin with. We made sure as we designed the changes, we wanted to make it louder not less so. When the roof canopy and the video boards come on it will tend to keep even more noise in.”
That’s not the best part.
Garfinkel is right. The old Sun Life wasn’t lifeless. It could be a raucous place when the Dolphins gave fans reason.
New ticket policy
But it had the dubious reputation of being a place where fans rooting for the visitors could come to take over. When hosting Pittsburgh, Buffalo, the Jets and lately even the Patriots, Dolphins players could sometimes look in the stands and witness an undeniable and depressing swath of fans in opposing jerseys cheering against them.
The reason is some years as many as 9,000 seats the Dolphins sold on a season-ticket basis went to brokers. The brokers turned around and sold those tickets to out-of-town fans and an average of 5,000 to 6,000 mingled with Miami fans every game. Sometimes the numbers were higher.
No wonder the parking lot in October 2010 was brimming with people in Ben Roethlisberger jerseys.
That isn’t likely to be the case this year because brokers are now getting perhaps 1,000 tickets.
“It should feel different,” Garfinkel said, “when you look around the lower bowl, particularly on the visiting sideline.”
The reason for the difference is the Dolphins did a brilliant thing in relocating season-ticket holders into seats that in the past were bought by brokers. And in so doing, this team is primed to offer the least number of tickets on the secondary market in the NFL in 2015.
That means seats formerly occupied by people who bought from brokers — usually fans of the opposing team — will now be occupied by Dolphins season-ticket holders who are much less likely to resell their tickets on the secondary market.
This is the business side of the organization potentially helping the football side increase its home-field advantage.
That is excellent news for coach Joe Philbin’s team.
Maybe the house Joe Robbie built and Stephen Ross is rebuilding can finally be a home.
The old Sun Life Stadium
Unique seating experiences (clubs, bars, concourses): Eight.
Feet from the field to the sideline seats: 80.
What’s new: Well, nothing.
Food: Burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, assorted hot plates.
Video boards: Two (total 12,000 square feet).
Shade for fans: 17 percent sit in shade.
Bathrooms: Yes, there were lines.
The new Sun Life Stadium
Unique seating experiences: 16.
Feet from the field to the sideline seats: 56.
What’s new: Every seat in the house, all new padded, wider club seats, wider, double back in luxury areas.
Food: The usual stuff, plus Cuban food from Versailles of Miami, Sushi Maki, Bokampers, Kosher food, Sushi maki, Mexican fare, seafood and seasonal menus in luxury areas.
Video boards: Same 2 for 2015, four new ones in 2016 (22,400 square feet).
Shade for fans: About the same percentage now, but canopy goes up for 2016 with 92 percent of fans in the shade.
Bathrooms: Might still be lines, but 89 percent increase in fixtures for women and 26 percent increase in fixtures for men.