Zero to good: 50 years later, how Shula’s Dolphins made Miami matter as a sports activities city | Opinion



Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula and linebacker Nick Buoniconti (85) have fun the staff’s 14-7 Super Bowl victory over Washington Redskins in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 1973, finishing Miami’s 17-0 season. Club proprietor Joe Robbie is seen in darkish go well with and tie.

AP File Photo

It is truthful to say the Miami Dolphins put town and South Florida on the nationwide sports activities map, however the notion wants explaining. It didn’t occur straight away.

The actual consideration, the actual mattering, didn’t start till the Dolphins obtained Don Shula. Then obtained good. Then nice. Then even higher than that. And sure it should at all times be capitalized — Perfect Season — as a result of, effectively, simply because. We get to determine. The accomplishment belongs to us, it’s ours alone, and the fragrance of it, of 17-0 in 1972, has wafted pretty throughout time and carried a franchise and a fan base for 50 years.

Joe Robbie, a Minneapolis lawyer and politician, based an American Football League growth staff in Miami in 1966, but it surely struggled for 4 years, dropping on the sector and hard-pressed to catch on with followers. The AFL was the junior outfit to the mighty NFL, and people early Dolphins appeared minor-league.

The Orange Bowl was solely one-third crammed with 26,767 followers for the historic first ever common season sport in opposition to the Oakland Raiders on September 2, 1966. The final house sport that season on December 18 drew a mere 20,045.

I used to be a child at each video games together with his dad. But solely as a result of native Winn-Dixie supermarkets have been freely giving free tickets to pad the group. At that first sport I recall Danny Thomas, Dolphins part-owner after which a significant tv movie star, sprinting down the sideline together with Joe Auer as he returned a kickoff for a landing. At the season finale we huddled below blankets in a sparse, shivering crowd.

Would the Dolphins even make it? Robbie and Thomas had met as a result of Thomas was touring the nation tapping fellow Lebanese-Americans to assist fundraise for his St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. But inside a few years Thomas and different Dolphins buyers had bailed on Robbie.

“My dad spent a lot of time with his bankers and revolving lines of credit,” his son Tim Robbie recollects now, of these tough growth years. “It was a constant battle to keep the team operating and the cash flow right.”

No one may think about what was forward.

Joe Robbie was late in his life in 1987 when the stadium he constructed with ingenuity and personal funding, now Hard Rock Stadium, was opened. A visitor on the grand opening, additionally then late in his life, was Thomas. Tim Robbie was then just some years from taking on as membership president after his father died.

“Danny Thomas was ranting and raving that day about his financial advisors telling him [two decades earlier] the Dolphins weren’t a good investment and to get out,” Tim says, with amusing. “He told my Dad, ‘I should have fired those idiots!’”

As Thomas obtained out means again when, lifelines have been presenting themselves.

Robbie employed a personnel genius named Joe Thomas who drafted or traded for future Hall of Fame gamers reminiscent of Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Larry Little and Nick Buoniconti — expertise that might make the Dolphins a lovely staff when it got here time to usher in a brand new coach to exchange growth rent George Wilson.

And a merger was coming.

The NFL had agreed to soak up AFL groups together with Miami starting in 1970. That was obvious by 1968 and, that preseason, the Dolphins drew 68,000 followers for an exhibition sport in opposition to the Baltimore Colts — Miami’s potential as a thriving sports activities market on show for the primary time.

Those Colts have been coached by a person named Don Shula. Five months later his staff, an enormous favourite, would infamously lose the Super Bowl (in Miami) to the AFL New York Jets and Joe Namath’s “guarantee.” It ruined Shula’s relationship with the Colts proprietor, Carroll Rosenbloom.

“A lot of dominoes coming into play,” as Tim Robbie places it.

Miami Herald sports activities editor Edwin Pope talked about to Joe Robbie that he ought to rent Shula. Robbie requested Herald sports activities author Bill Braucher, who coated the Dolphins then and knew Shula from their faculty days at John Carroll University, to contact him. Later, after Robbie employed Shula, the NFL made the Dolphins forfeit a first-round draft choose for tampering as a result of Shula was below contract with Baltimore on the time.

The lesson? If you’re going to tamper, at the least do it proper!

Shula for a first-round choose may need been the most important discount within the historical past of sports activities.

“Bill was instrumental in me coming here,” Shula informed me late in his life, in one in all his final interviews earlier than passing away at age 90 in 2020. “It changed my life.” He paused. Then, a small smile. “I’d say for the better.”

He arrived in 1970 — and with him so had South Florida arrived as a significant sports activities market.

Perfection was nonetheless to return, however first a watershed second may need been “The Longest Game” on Christmas Day 1971 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It was the Dolphins’ first ever playoff victory.

I used to be an adolescent watching on TV with my dad in our front room in Hollywood. When Garo Yepremian’s discipline aim lastly gained it, we jumped up and down, hugging.

“That wasn’t just a South Florida thing. That was a national thing,” Tim Robbie stated, rightly. “It was a playoff game. Nothing else on. That really put the Dolphins on the map nationally. In the grand scheme from that era, I think we gained more national following from that game than people ever realized.”

Perfection got here the very subsequent 12 months, the primary of two consecutive Super Bowl championship seasons with a mixed report of 32-2.

The Miami Dolphins have been on high of the world, dominant like no different staff in sports activities. If vanity was measurable, South Florida’s was rising like helium celebration balloons.

Tim Robbie, son of the proprietor, had been in center faculty through the powerful, dropping growth years.

“Kids can be cruel,” he says, smiling now. “Everyone would say to me, ‘Robbie, the Dolphins suck!’ I began to think that was my name. It became a running joke.”

Tim was in highschool when Shula and the glory days arrived like a parade.

“Suddenly people who didn’t know me were patting me on the back,” he says. “And asking for tickets!”

And the native grocery shops have been not giving these away without spending a dime.

It was an evolving time in South Florida.

The University of Miami had admitted its first Black college students solely 4 years earlier than the Dolphins have been awarded a franchise. “Freedom Flights” introduced greater than 100,000 Cubans to Miami inside of 1 12 months because the new child Fins have been taking the sector. The Democratic and Republican nationwide conventions each have been held in Miami Beach throughout that ‘72 season because the divisive Vietnam War ebbed.

The Dolphins would assist town heal, and develop, and knit as a neighborhood.

Larry Csonka, the battering-ram fullback from these days, felt the affect from inside it.

“It was a coming-of-age party for Miami,” he writes in his memoir, Head On, due out later this fall. “It unified a fractured city. When I’d arrived in 1968, it had been a turbulent time. Between race riots, antiwar sit-ins and a rising Cuban population, there was a lot of division in the late ‘60s. The Dolphins’ 1972 season brought Miami together like no politician or issue ever could. People who didn’t even like football were excited. Black, white and Latino folks from every walk of life suddenly all had something in common: Cheering us on.”

It was the start of a metamorphosis in Greater Miami — not simply socially as town started to talk a second language, however within the bloom of a significant sports activities city from what had been a barren panorama.

Miami/Fort Lauderdale is now one in all a choose 13 American metropolitan areas with the entire unique Big Four sports activities leagues in NFL soccer, MLB baseball, NBA basketball and NHL hockey. (The different markets are Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York. Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C.).

We have been final to the celebration.

South Florida had none of these 4 main groups till 1966 when the Dolphins arrived.

We don’t rely however ought to acknowledge the fleeting and long-forgotten Miami Seahawks, an historic blip on the timeline. That staff performed one 12 months, and badly, within the inaugural 1946 season of the short-lived All-America Football Conference, a failed post-war challenger to the NFL.

Miami even being within the AAFC was an accident, an emergency. The staff in Baltimore couldn’t safe stadium rights and, to have an excellent variety of groups, the league scrambled to relocate the staff to Miami and Roddy Burdine Stadium (forerunner of the Orange Bowl). Miami misplaced its opener 44-0. It obtained worse. The staff drew fewer than 50,000 followers, complete, for seven house video games, then moved again to Baltimore after the season.

That staff, in the present day little greater than a solution to a trivia query, had no lineage or tie to Robbie founding the Dolphins some 20 years later.

Similarly, the unique Miami Marlins have been an expert Triple A baseball membership in 1958-60, famed for having the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige on its roster. But that was minor league. It solely appeared like the large time then, as a result of we didn’t know any higher, had no body of reference.

We didn’t have a lot earlier than Robbie and the Dolphins.

The Miami Heat and Marlins and Panthers and later Major League Soccer have been many years away. Miami Hurricanes soccer was round and the most important staff we had, with stars reminiscent of George Mira and Ted Hendricks. But the Canes program was nonetheless nearly 20 years from the onset of its glory days, from mattering like it will.

In the interim, although, the arrival of the Dolphins kick-started one thing.

The American Basketball Association had the Miami Floridians (later merely the Floridians) from 1968 to 1972. The North American Soccer League got here and was a fixture right here from 1972 to 1983 with the Miami Gatos/Toros later changing into the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

Then got here the Heat, then the Marlins and Panthers. The MLS Miami Fusion performed from 1998 to 2001, forerunner of the league’s Inter Miami in the present day.

The seed for all of it was the Miami Dolphins arriving — however the important nourishment for that was Shula, and the profitable, and the enduring, indelible, singular Perfect Season that belongs to solely us.

Fifty years later, it’s and at all times will likely be Miami’s household heirloom, the one we cherish, the present we move down.

Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports activities columnist who in 2021 was named high 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg additionally hosts The Greg Cote Show podcast and seems commonly on The Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz.


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