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There remains only one team in the NFL that can claim to have completed the perfect season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins still get together to crack the champagne once the final NFL team loses. Long gone is the Orange Bowl, now replaced with the new ballpark for the Miami (now Florida) Marlins, but the tradition of Dolphins football lives on.
Home for the Dolphins is the former Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphin/Dolphins/Land Shark Stadium currently known as Sun Life Stadium. Built in 1987 as a replacement for the iconic Orange Bowl, Sun Life Stadium has been home for the Dolphins, the Miami Hurricanes football team, the Orange Bowl game and until 2011, the Florida Marlins. It has also hosted numerous Super Bowls, National Championships in NCAA football, and will host 2012's version of Wrestlemania. Sun Life Stadium was the project of Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, who worked on the finance deal and had the foresight to insist that it be ready for Major League Baseball years before the Marlins would christen South Florida. Unlike many NFL stadiums, Sun Life Stadium is owned by the current majority owners of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross and Wayne Huizenga.
Founded in 1966 by Joe Robbie, the Dolphins have seen moderate success, with 2 Super Bowl victories in 1972 and 1973 and a total of 5 conference championships. In 1995, the estate of Joe Robbie sold the Dolphins to Wayne Huizenga, who sold the majority share to Stephen Ross in 2009. In moves that seem to be more about star power than anything else, Ross has sold small percentages of the Dolphins to numerous celebrities including Fergie, Venus and Serena Williams, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, and Jimmy Buffett. The most recent naming rights deal for "the stadium with a thousand names" was a five-year deal signed with Sun Life Insurance Company.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food at Sun Life Stadium is good if unspectacular. The regular stadium fare is available. Hot Dogs, pizza, and sausages are all available for an okay price. Miller Lite is available on tap, and Bud and Bud Light is available from vendors. Pepsi is the soda of choice. I went with a sausage for $8, but was very happy with the size and quality of the food, and therefore give Sun Life Stadium a decent mark for food.
Going to a Dolphins game is a treat. Beautiful weather in the dead of winter is reason enough to take in a Dolphins game. With the Dolphins being the primary tenant at Sun Life Stadium, the vast majority of the decor is focused on the Dolphins. With the Marlins off to their new ballpark, there is very little remnant of the Major League Baseball team left at the stadium.
Outside the stadium, attention is immediately drawn to the bronze statues of the Dolphins legends. Founder Joe Robbie, legendary coach Don Shula, and quarterback legend Dan Marino all have statues around the stadium (although I never did find the Dan Marino statue). Palm trees all around the stadium make it feel right at home in South Florida.
Once past the gates, Sun Life Stadium features large circular ramps at each of the four corners of the stadium. The only escalator that I found was to the second level where the club seats and suites are. The concourses are wide and bright and feature various murals dedicated to the successes of the Dolphins over the years. Specifically, gates feature large murals highlighting the events of each decade.
Once in the seating bowl, you will notice the aqua and coral seats and the fantastic sightlines that they offer. I'm not sure if there is a bad seat in the house. The seating bowl features two large video boards above the stands at each endzone. The corners of the stadiums feature the 2 Super Bowl flags, 5 conference championship flags, and the retired numbers flags. The Dolphins have done a great job of honoring their stars over the years. They have only retired 3 numbers in their history: #39 of Larry Czonka, #12 of Bob Griese, and #13 of Dan Marino. I'm not a huge fan of flags for this purpose, as they are of course difficult to see depending on the wind. On the fascia of the upper deck is the Dolphins' Honor Roll, which more widely honors players and builders of the past. Some featured names on the Honor Roll are Czonka, Griese, and Marino, as well as builders Joe Robbie, Don Shula, and of course the 1972 Undefeated Team, among others.
Music remains a big part of the Dolphins experience, specifically Jimmy Buffett. His song "Fins" is the feature song celebrating a Dolphins touchdown. It's kind of goofy, but it's uniquely Miami and the fans love it. Following a portion of Fins, is the ORIGINAL Miami Dolphins Fight Song - not the debacle that was produced by T-Pain and mercilessly booed into oblivion. Buffett's brewery, Land Shark, also sponsors the Fin Zone outside the stadium, where pre-game music is blasting.
The neighborhood around Sun Life Stadium is the classic NFL Catch-22. The Dolphins have a fantastic tailgating scene and there are thousands of fans who frequent the parking lots with their drinks, grills, and games. The immediate surrounding area is perfect for this with miles of parking lot! I don't think tailgating is nearly as good in some of those downtown stadiums where the space isn't there. As a result, there is not much in the surrounding area for pre- and post-game meals. If you are not tailgating, then you will have to make a bit of a drive. There are a few chain restaurants nearby, but nothing too special. If you are looking for something uniquely Miami, with a Dolphins connection, try making the drive to Miami Lakes and hit Shula's Steak House.
"Dolfans" seem to be typical South Florida fans -- sometimes they're interested, sometimes they're not. It's a fair assessment that the Dolphins have been consistently the biggest draw in Miami among college and professional teams, but they are not shattering any attendance records. They usually average in the mid- to low-range compared to the rest of the NFL. The date of this review, the final game of the 2011 season, which saw the Dolphins playing the role of spoiler again, had a paid attendance of 65,000. This was a particularly poor year for the Dolphins as they were second-to-last in the league in capacity percentage. However, the fans that were in attendance were energetic and excited by the events of the day. The energy of the fans salvages a decent mark for the Phins.
Getting to Sun Life Stadium is no problem. Located near Florida's Turnpike, Interstate 95, and the Palmetto Expressway give travellers no problems getting to the stadium. As mentioned above, there is parking located all around the stadium and at $25 a car, I suppose that it is not awful by NFL standards. Getting out can be challenging. Plan on waiting a while, or consider firing up the grill again for a post-game snack before pulling out.
In the stadium, there is plenty of room in the concourses and the washrooms are numerous.
Dolphins tickets can range from $52 to $150. On a down year, such as this one, the secondary market offered many deals for the smart consumer. My ticket, which was a $145 ticket, came with a parking pass at a steal of a price at $85! Parking is okay and concessions are okay by NFL standards. The experience is well worth the price!
An extra point for the most kid-friendly NFL experience I have seen yet. There were kids everywhere at the Dolphins game, something I found pleasantly unusual.
An extra point for the Dolphin touchdown songs. Catchy and easy to sing along ("Fins to the left ... Fins to the right!")
An extra point for the Dolphins sticking it to the division rival Jets, and knocking them out of the playoffs.
Two extra points for the phenomenal festivities that highlighted the final game for Dolphin legend-in-waiting, Jason Taylor. The 15-year veteran ended his career, and the Dolphins went all out in making his last game a great one. He ran out of the tunnel on his own, and was carried back in by his team mates at the end of the game. He was the lone active captain for the game, taking the coin toss with fellow Dolphin legend Zach Thomas. There were video messages from many Dolphin and Miami greats including Zach Thomas, Alex Rodriguez, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and a HUGE ovation for Dan Marino. A classy, and entertaining job all around by the Dolphins.
Admittedly, this trip was at the top of my bucket list as a lifelong fan of the Miami Dolphins. To their credit, the Dolphins did not disappoint. Their NFL experience, is as good as any other that I have experienced. It is well worth your time and effort to make it down to South Florida and take in a Dolphins game. You might just find yourself singing along ("Fins to the left ... Fins to the right!")
Whether you are heading north from Miami or south from Fort Lauderdale, there is surely one thing that will catch your eye. Like a giant beacon beaming in from a distance, Sun Life Stadium is a structure one in its own. It is the fortress the Miami Dolphins call home.
Although a successful franchise, the Florida sun that shines year round has many fans elsewhere on game-day. For those fans that bleed aqua and orange, there is no place like Sun Life Stadium on a Sunday afternoon.
7601 Miami Lakes Dr
Miami Lakes, FL 33014