Times have officially changed over the last decade for the University of Miami. The Hurricanes have gone from playing in the close confines of the Orange Bowl, located in the historic Little Havana section of Miami, to playing at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Whereas the Orange Bowl had local flair and history on its side, Sun Life Stadium has a tendency to be plain and vanilla and designed more for its primary tenant, the Miami Dolphins, who are the owners of the facility.
On August 21, 2007, UM President Dr. Donna Shalala announced at a press conference that the UM would be leaving the Orange Bowl for greener pastures at the then-titled Dolphin Stadium. Less than a year later, the stadium in Little Havana was torn down and all that was left were the memories generated by the stadium that captured UM national titles, Super Bowl victories and the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season.
By contrast, the Orange Bowl was filled with history and nostalgia going back to when it was built in 1937. The Hurricanes were its primary tenant and pro football would not become a reality until 1966. The historic old venue saw Miami win several national titles there including the epic 1984 Orange Bowl game that gave The U its first ever national title when it defeated Nebraska 31-30 on the game’s final play.
Sun Life Stadium has no such history for the University of Miami. The Canes are still looking to build their own history in that venue.
Times were drastically different in the 1990’s when the University of Miami was winning national titles, held the nation’s largest home winning streak at 58 games, and the Orange Bowl was filled to capacity with people wearing Orange and Green.
When the Canes played Florida in September of 2013, there were more people doing the Gator Chomp than singing the UM alma mater. Something is wrong with that scenario. Hopefully an improving UM football team and a strong recruiting class will improve the dynamics for the 2014 season and beyond. The University of Miami did set attendance records in 2013 for most fans in a season and largest average attendance per game, but Miami did have seven home games to do it. Most college football teams have no more than six home games. The Canes also benefited from that game against Florida. Miami also opened the season at home against Florida Atlantic University from nearby Boca Raton which brought its own fan support as well.
Sun Life Stadium, opening in 1987, and the dream of former Miami Dolphins’ owner Joseph Robbie, holds in excess of 75,000 fans. Take out the obligatory in-state rival games against Florida and Florida State and you would be hard pressed finding more than 60,000 fans in this venue for a Canes game. When the Canes were playing in the Orange Bowl they were used to playing before sold out crowds.
Canes fans turn to Facebook and other social media to voice their displeasure over the loyalty to the team and to the poor attendance. The fact of the matter is that the stadium is far from campus and public transportation does not make it easy for the students to get to the stadium. While they have consistently filled up the student section, the section is not that large to begin with.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is no lack of food in this stadium. There are well-placed concession stands with fast moving lines that provide the normal stadium grub. If you are fortunate enough to sit on the club level, your dining experience grows exponentially. You can get hand-carved turkey sandwiches, right off the bone and freshly carved pastrami sandwiches on marble rye. For the more intricate palate there is Asian food available as well as Miami's own Latin Cuisine. There are enough food choices in this stadium to please even the most fickle and picky sports and food fan in your family. Due to the fact that this stadium is not affiliated with the University, beer and alcohol is widely sold throughout the stadium and is allowed in the tailgate areas.
Being a sports writer and enthusiast for more years than I care to admit, I have been to my share of college football games. Going to a University of Miami football game still gives me goose bumps when I hear the band play and when I see the team run out of the tunnel, but from whistle to whistle it leaves a bit to be desired. This is a pro stadium designed for the Miami Dolphins. It is not an on-campus stadium dedicated to The U. The Hurricanes need an on-campus stadium to satisfy their own needs and their own fans. The field is too far from the stands and you are far from the action.
The panache and history of the Orange Bowl is missing. I have been told by former players, time and time again that there was a certain aura of invincibility that the Canes felt when they walked into the Orange Bowl. The newer players do not sense that at Sun Life Stadium. The Orange Bowl was the Canes home field. At Sun Life Stadium the Hurricanes are mere tenants and play second fiddle to the Dolphins. That is evident from the signage around the stadium.
You can put a stadium anywhere in Miami and within ten minutes you are close to restaurants, bars, beaches and quality hotels. The West Miami neighborhood is safe for travelers and you do not have to worry about having to ask locals for directions in this part of town. There is plenty of fast food within minutes of the stadium if you want to grab something quick and inexpensive so you do not have to pay stadium prices, but you cannot bring it in with you.
Canes fans have been spoiled with the team's successes in the 80's, 90's, and the early part of this century. The fact that they are not winning national titles now, or even competing for an Atlantic Coast Conference Title has many fans staying home and watching the games on TV. Miami fans have always been fickle. The attendance figures show that. However, the Miami fans that do show up are enthusiastic and love their home team.
It is hard to judge attendance at a stadium so large, when the undergraduate community is less than 20,000 students and most of them commute. Miami is by and large a commuter school still. Schools like Florida and Florida State have at least 60,000 students on campus at any given time so it is easier for them to come out in droves to support their schools. Miami does not have such a luxury. Additionally, their alumni base is not as large so attendance and Hurricane Club membership has been a problem of late.
Many people come to the stadium dressed in costume and some go as far as having their hair and faces painted Orange and Green. Many vehicles in the stadium are decked out in team colors and have shoe polish on the windows reflecting the team spirit.
There is no problem getting into the stadium from either the Florida Turnpike or University Drive. Miami has a plethora of highways that dump into the Turnpike which in turn takes the driver right in to the stadium. The cost of parking is the only thing that deters in this category. If you want to park adjacent to the stadium and walk, the cost is $20. If you want to park on stadium grounds, the minimum price is $30. For $45 you can valet park your car.
Pedestrian foot traffic is easy to navigate and ingress and egress is satisfactory. There are no problems walking in and out of the stadium and using any of the four main entrances to the stadium.
Hurricanes tickets are not pricey. Unless Florida or Florida State is coming to town, the average ticket is $25. You can get really good seats for $40, but the prices dwindle as kickoff draws closer. Prices can escalate if you want season tickets and want them in a prime location. You would need to join the Hurricane Club, pay the donation and based upon that donation, the club will tell you what seats you qualify to pay for. If you want better seats, your donation will need to improve. Miami is no different. This is how colleges raise additional monies for the athletic department. The Hurricanes are actually quite fair with their charges and allow for payment plans for those that cannot plunk down all that cash at once.
If you are sitting club level, the stadium is filled with a ton of extras. The biggest and the best is that if it is raining or very hot, you can leave your seat and go inside and sit on the concourse and watch the game on one of the very large television monitors. You can also get better access to better food on the club level and can get to your car quicker with the elevators that bring you down to the ground. The seating areas outside, on the club level, are air conditioned and the seats are roomier as they are a few inches wider. Sitting on club level makes the game much more enjoyable and for Canes games, the price is not that much different.
There are certain college football teams who unfortunately don't have the luck of calling a stadium their own home. For the Miami Hurricanes, that is the case with Sun Life Stadium. Although it is a relatively nice, modern stadium, it is a half hour drive from the University of Miami campus, and it is owned by the NFL's Miami Dolphins. With most crowds for the Hurricanes hovering between 40,000-50,000 fans, it's unfortunate that a 70,000 seat stadium doesn't feel packed like it does with most other big time programs. I was lucky enough to be there for the Ohio State game which drew nearly a full house.
Hurricanes fans are a passionate loyal group, although not as big in number simply because the university is a small private institution.
The sound system is ear splittingly loud I will not go there again. It is gross.
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