Fins fans experience their first game at Hard Rock Stadium
Let’s start with a civic-minded, benevolent wish on behalf of Miami Dolphins and Hurricanes fans. Make it an Irish toast:
May your dream come true that your team looks as good this season and sparkles as bright as its new stadium does.
Meantime, pending that, credit when and where it's due: this refurbished football stadium — and it does seem new — had the look and feel of a magnificent makeover done right as it unveiled itself publicly Thursday night in the Dolphins' final preseason game but first here since the $500 million renovation.
Sure, the performance of the home team that you’re cheering for (or groaning about) matters so much more than whatever corporate name is attached to the building or the accoutrements that festoon it with bells ’n whistles. The onus is on the Dolphins and Canes, both with promising new coaches, to shed a decade-plus of downturn and start playing like new and mattering again. But the stadium experience counts, too. And two major facets of this makeover — the “shade canopy” that will protect a vast majority of fans from sun or rain and the gigantic video screens positioned at the four corners of the field — register as enormous upgrades that should be the best thing to happen to a Dolfan's game experience this side of a home win over the Patriots or Jets.
By the way, the Dolphins hosted Tennessee Thursday in the fourth and last exhibition game that introduced the new-look stadium, but who won mattered so little I don't even care to note it. Starters don't play in fourth preseason games, which hardly are actual games at all. The final NFL exhibition game, on the sports excitement scale, ranks up there with watching a guy win a bullpen warming up in a blowout ballgame, and seeing a golfer step away from the ball to laboriously reconsider a meaningless putt. We’ve learned less about the Dolphins in these four fake games than we'll discover in the first quarter of the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Seattle.
Stephen Ross, Dolphins owner, was the winner Thursday night far more than either team was. What he’s done won the night.
And best of all about this new(ish) stadium? You didn't pay a dime.
This is a righteous building. Start there, because that's important. Before we get to more details about the renovation, it is worth noting, and applauding, how this place was first built and then rebuilt. It has this stadium standing alone as all but sacred ground on the landscape of major American sports facilities. They call it Hard Rock Stadium now, but that's incidental. The names that matter more are those of Joe Robbie and Ross, the owners who have bookended franchise history and this stadium's near 30-year history.
It was Robbie, the Dolphins' founding father and indelible icon, who dreamed this place and saw it realized, in 1987, as the first facility of its kind to be entirely privately funded. With gumption, ingenuity, daring and risk, Joe, hardly a deep-pockets owner, spent or raised $115 million to make it happen.
It is today's owner, Ross, who privately funded the half-billion dollars it took for the massive facelift that put a new shine on Robbie's old dream. Yes, Miami-Dade County agreed to an incentive plan that pays the Dolphins a “bonus” for the stadium attracting and hosting major events such as Super Bowls. But the entire cost of the modernization itself was all on Ross.
In stark contrast to the vast majority of major sports facilities including the heavily taxpayer-subsidized Marlins Park just a few miles south, Robbie and now Ross prove it is possible for sports owners to take the initiative and bear the financial burden instead of always having palms out for public funding.
What I still call “Dolphins stadium,” or, if feeling nostalgic, “Joe Robbie Stadium,” has been maligned in its history. It is the place that replaced and therefore led to the gradual demise of the historic, more intimate Orange Bowl. It was an unsatisfactory home park for Marlins baseball. It is called home grudgingly by many UM fans longing for a campus stadium.
Time to see this place with new eyes and appreciate it a bit. It is equidistant between downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale and, now, it is polished and modernized. It has stepped into this decade and become suddenly relevant in a way fans wish the Dolphins finally would.
The shade canopies will protect an estimated 92 percent of all fans from sun or rain.
“It’ll be fun on the 25th [of September, Miami's regular-season home opener] for a 1 o’clock game when fans are sitting in the shade,” as Dolphins and stadium president/CEO Tom Garfinkel said Thursday.
And those high-def video screens? Wow. I don't gush. But: Wow! Each is 112 feet long and 50 feet high, the images so stunningly clear that fans will be tempted to never look at the actual field. Miami now has 22,400 square feet of video screens -- almost double New England’s 11,306, meaning the Fins are now officially beating the Pats at something!
“So we can compete with thee guy who wants to sit on the couch and watch a 60-inch TV,” said club vice president of stadium renovations Bill Senn.
The new Dolphins/Canes stadium makes a good first impression. (“Some soda lines on the 300 level weren’t working,” as Garfinkel noted.) But the details yet to be worked out are aesthetic, not structural. It's ready.
The first home team to see the redone stadium (the Canes open here Saturday evening) was impressed.
“This is a totally different place,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said on the field before the game.
Fans seemed to love the changes.
“Now I leave the sunblock at home on Sundays,” said Rory Merchant, in a No. 17 Ryan Tannehill jersey, tailgating and quaffing a Beck's beer before the game. “Tremendous improvement.”
The same but different, the renovated stadium now features metal detectors (167 in all) at every entrance, in the name of security.
The modernization used 34 million pounds of steel — enough to build 136 Statues of Liberty or make 17 billion paper clips. (I want to be the person whose job is to figure out that stuff.) More than 600,000 bolts were needed to fasten the beams.
The giant cranes used to raise them had the lifting power to hoist 470 cars.
The canopy is 626,000 square feet, the size of 11 football fields.
There were 5,554 construction workers toiling the past eight months on the project's final phase — 600 at a time working 24 hours, seven days a week.
The massive project ran about 10 percent over projected budget and cut close the readiness date, but it gone done, and it's a triumph.
Now all the two major tenants need to do is live up.
Now all the Dolphins and Hurricanes need to do is be as impressive and look as good as the place where they play.