Greg Cote

Stressed: The Top 12 South Florida sports figures who are feeling the most pressure — or should be

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic talks with Hassan Whiteside during the second quarter of Game 7 of the first round of the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sunday, May 1, 2016.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic talks with Hassan Whiteside during the second quarter of Game 7 of the first round of the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sunday, May 1, 2016.

When we speak of pressure in sports, we might mean the sort exerted from the outside — from disgruntled fans, harping media, a disappointed team owner — or we might mean that which is born and borne internally, the weight on the mind.

Either way, pressure is an invisible phenomenon seldom admitted or acknowledged by those who are or should be feeling it because of the fear that might be seen as weakness.

So it is time to assign pressure. Time to look across South Florida and identify the dozen sports figures who currently have the most of it surrounding them.

To some of you, two names might be conspicuously absent from our list: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. But remember that owners exert pressure more than feel it. Besides, Ross preens in the personal triumph last week of his refurbished stadium being awarded the 2020 Super Bowl. As for Loria, he would be an easy No. 1 if this were a least-popular or most-hated list, but he is insulated from pressure by being flatly unconcerned by what others think.

Here, then, is our Dozen Under the Gun, the Top 12 South Florida sports figures under the most pressure entering summer 2016:

1. Chris Bosh

Heat forward

The pressure on Bosh is different from everyone else on our list, but also bigger. It isn’t about performance, or even sports. Also, it isn’t fair. The Heat’s gifted, erudite power forward just turned 32, and now he must weigh his future in basketball against his long-term health. You do not mess with blood clots. Family and future are in play. The pressure to end a shooting slump pales alongside the pressure to make the decision facing him: Is his passion for the game worth the risk, a risk that could even mean his life? Or will he retire, where the risk might be lasting regret?

2. Ryan Tannehill

Dolphins quarterback

Inexperience no longer is an available crutch. Tannehill enters his fifth season; he will turn 28 as camp opens. But he remains a mystery, unformed in Dolfans’ minds. Burdened by a career record of 29-35, in terms of perception and patience he has reached the tipping point where someone seen as still ascending suddenly gets lumped into that gray mass called Average. He must win. Period. It isn’t about statistics; his numbers aren’t bad. It is about doing what he has yet to do. He must take a team on his shoulders, make it his team and carry it to the playoffs.

3. Giancarlo Stanton

Marlins outfielder

The statuesque slugger was, entering Friday’s game, on pace to hit 44 home runs and knock in 96 runs. He also was batting .214 and on pace for 224 strikeouts, which would challenge the all-time high. Here is the thing about signing a record-breaking $325 million contract. It usually only gets mentioned when you aren’t living up to it. The home runs are living up. But, at that price (equating to about $154,000 per game), pretty much everything needs to be living up.

4. Hassan Whiteside

Heat center

His inclusion here presumes Miami will re-sign him to a long-term deal, which Pat Riley calls the Heat’s top summer priority. It would be a huge financial investment and a commensurate risk. Whiteside is mercurial, his maturity at times seeming not fully formed. Will he jump as high with pockets full of money? Will the motivation still be there? He would have to “carry a load almost every night,” Riley said. Carrying that and a big contract, too, equals pressure.

5. Doug Cifu

Panthers executive

The name on our list many might not know, Cifu is the Florida Panthers’ part-owner and vice chairman who has been out front in instigating recent changes that followed the best regular season in club history. The future looked bright even with a first-round playoff ouster. It did not seem broke, but Cifu sought to fix it, from bringing in a new general manager to trading defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The moves will be ripe for second guessing if the team stalls or regresses.

6. Jim Morris

UM baseball coach

Morris, 66, will retire after the 2018 season. He has three shots left at the College World Series crown that has eluded him since he made UM a champion in 1999 and again in 2001. Last year ended a six-year drought of not getting to Omaha, but UM was sent packing too soon. This year, his team is ranked No. 3 in the country. This could be Morris’ last best chance to see a very solid Miami career end the way he wants it to.

7. Laremy Tunsil

Dolphins tackle

Any first-round Dolphins draft pick will be under pressure, but more so if the player was seen by many as the top overall talent available but fell because of draft-night controversy involving the image of Tunsil wearing a gas-mask bong. So he must now be two things, right away. He must be great, great enough to justify taking him even though tackle was not a position of dire need. And he must be good, drug free, clean of character — a winner off the field, too.

8. David Beckham

Miami MLS frontman

The British heartthrob’s drive to bring Major League Soccer to Miami has been a long time getting from dream to reality. He revealed his plans with great fanfare on Feb. 5, 2014, envisioning a picturesque waterfront park. It didn’t happen. Twenty-eight months later, his group is still wrestling red tape to get a stadium built in Overtown. Beckham must realize his stadium, get his expansion team and regenerate momentum and interest for it.

9. Pete Garcia

FIU athletic director

He formally is “executive director of sports and entertainment,” but that’s a high-dollar title. He’s the athletic director. And his track record is dubious, including his rash firing of Mario Cristobal and the awful attendance in football and basketball on his watch. There might not be pressure now as Garcia seems autonomous, in a fiefdom, but perhaps someday FIU will have a president or trustees who look across the litter of the school’s sports landscape and wonder, “Can we do better?”

10. Ndamukong Suh

Dolphins def. tackle

As with Stanton, the pressure on Suh is relative to the big contract. Suh was pretty solid last season, his first with Miami. He was OK. But he wasn’t great, or special, or difference-making, which was the expectation for one of the major free agent signings in club history. This coming season, Suh will either make a difference, and the Pro Bowl, or see the ballyhooed, pricey acquisition of him retrofitted as disappointing if not an outright failure.

11. Roberto Luongo

Panthers goaltender

Luongo is 37, young for a doctor or lawyer, old for a goalie. His uneven performance in the recent NHL playoffs underlined a dubious postseason history. Will he remain the team’s No. 1 goaltender in 2016-17? The onus is on him to prove he still merits that stature, and on the team to decide whether the player who had been one of the roster’s strengths has by degrees turned into one of its concerns.

12. Mark Richt

UM football coach

Richt has pressure on him that new Dolphins coach Adam Gase does not because of expectations. Any new Canes coach becomes the caretaker of the burden of aiming to please a fandom that believes it invented swagger and to whom national championships are the natural order. Richt carries the additional weight of being a Miami alum and a proven winner at Georgia. A starving fan base expects him to win. Big. And now.

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