South Florida is a football “town”.
This has been the case for the past 50 years or more. Nothing will change this
over the long term.
But for the next five years, the Miami
Heat have captured a significant share of the bright spotlight from the
Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. That’s the new reality created when the Heat
pulled off one of the most remarkable and stunning superstar talent coups in
The return of Dwyane Wade,
together with the arrival of Chris Bosh and LeBron James, perhaps the best
all-around player in basketball, altered South Florida’s sports and
entertainment axis. Really, it shifted the axis of American sports itself. No sports
team in recent memory will capture a more powerful and broad focus that the
Miami Heat will next season and beyond.
The importance of the moment
cannot be understated. For all the criticism ESPN has received for airing
LeBron’s “The Decision”, they quickly understood how his reported move to the
Heat would change the American sports landscape.
For the Dolphins, this is
unfamiliar territory. They’ve always been the kings of South Florida. Always. Even
when the Hurricanes were in their glory years, there was never a question that
the Dolphins were the biggest show in town; Dan Marino and friends made sure of
that. But today’s Dolphins have little to counter the allure and expectations
that King James and his pals have brought to the big arena on Biscayne
Yeah, they’re gonna be that good.
Let me be clear; this is not a
slam on the Dolphins. They have made great strides since their 1-15 nadir in
2007. To their credit, they’ve conducted a total house cleaning including
ownership, coaches, and players. These changes have affected every facet of the
team in an overwhelmingly positive manner. In just two seasons, the Dolphins
achieved the single greatest turnaround in NFL history with an amazing 11-5
record in 2008. They won their first division championship since 2000, snapping
a seven year playoff drought. They found a good young quarterback in Chad Henne
(finally), re-built their offensive line into one the NFL’s best, found two
outstanding young cornerbacks, and pulled off one of the biggest trades in team
history in acquiring WR Brandon Marshall, one of the top five receivers in the
This is a high level summary, of
course, but a good list of accomplishments under the Bill Parcells regime. There’s
no question these Dolphins are on the right path towards gaining elite status,
perhaps even this year.
Yet we must concede that in a
remarkable, historic moment on the evening of July 8, 2010, the Heat caught
lightning in a bottle when James declared his intent to join Wade and Bosh in
Miami. The move instantly transformed the Heat from a good NBA team to an elite
one, probably the best one; a team with enough young talent to power a multiple
Yes, the Heat still must fill out
their roster with good role players and the right chemistry must be developed
amongst them for their potential to be realized. But that won’t be a problem
for Pat Riley, every bit as good at his trade as Bill Parcells is with the
Dolphins. When Riley is done signing players, there isn’t much the rest of the
NBA will be able to do about it for a long time. This includes last year’s
finalists, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
As for the Dolphins, we’re not sure
if they have enough on defense to make the playoffs this year. Again, this is
not a slam on the Dolphins; they’re doing all the right things. The Heat just got
better and, perhaps, sexier faster. This is sure to grab massive amounts of
media and marketing attention and, with it, large sums of advertising
dollars…resources and attention that used to flow mostly to the Dolphins.
The challenge for the Dolphins now
is to retain their fair share of the public focus which, in the past, has
sometimes been more generous than their performance justified. The key to this
effort will be in how the Dolphins handle the overlap of the two seasons.
The Heat will begin training camp
in late September, at about the quarter point of the NFL season. The buzz
surrounding that event will certainly start to divert attention away from the
Dolphins. By the time the NFL playoff push begins in November, the Heat’s
regular season will be underway with multiple games per week. That will translate
into a larger percentage of TV and talk radio time being absorbed with Heat
related topics and spectacular highlights, along with related ad spending…all
resources that used to belong to the Dolphins.
The only way the Dolphins can offset
this is to win. A winning Dolphins team will always be the most popular show in
town. If the Dolphins are in contention for a playoff berth, and qualify for
the postseason, they’ll get their fair share of coverage and attendance.
The nightmare comes if the
Dolphins are out of contention. Even a slow start like last year’s
disappointing 0-3 slide out of the blocks could quickly kill public interest
past the point of recovery. After all, who but an extreme loyalist will want to
put up with another average Dolphin team when there are fireworks and
dominating performances to be witnessed at the Triple A? This is especially
true during tough economic conditions.
This is the sobering new reality
in South Florida: win or become an afterthought. The Miami Heat have now raised
the bar. The Dolphins must work harder than ever to respond, because if they
don’t, there’s another team in town that will for years to come.