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The Miami Dolphins' Renamed And Revamped Stadium Makes An Architectural Statement

Call it natural that South Florida’s stadium serves as a premier destination, with its weather, optimum views of the action and exceptional fan experiences.

Call it evolution that the Miami Dolphins’ ownership sought to improve on each of these strengths. 

Ultimately, call it Hard Rock Stadium.

The Miami Dolphins’ stadium has endured identity confusion since being built in the late 1980s. After seven title changes, the structure has found a somewhat permanent name—Hard Rock Stadium, which is contracted for the next 18 years. And with that new title comes perhaps the best facelift of all time.

Within miles of the stadium, it is apparent that this is not like any of its predecessors. It resides at the same address, and locals may call it by its previous name, Joe Robbie or The Robbie, but it has changed—significantly.

It is “truly an architectural statement,” says Bill Senn, the Miami Dolphins senior vice president for stadium renovations. 

It’s a voluminous declaration, equal to the $500 million in upgrades. Visible from a distance are four 357-foot masts pointing skyward at each corner of the stadium. Upon approach, their purpose is revealed to be the suspension supports of a new semi-dome canopy encircling the stadium in order to offer shade for 92 percent of all seats, according to the Dolphins. It is a key feature for Florida football viewing.

Stepping into this latest iteration of South Florida’s football home is a step into the future of stadiums everywhere. Within it are four 112-by-50-foot high definition video screens, one per corner. The seating setup is new in that luxury boxes appear within the first level as well as in their customary loft locations, and the field surface itself is a new blend of turf for such a venue. It is a collective revamp of a stadium that has stood in the same place for 29 years.

When asked which update is most significant, Senn stretches his hands to the maximum expanse his arms allow—encompassing a full view of the stadium—and says, “This one.”

Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel says “we love the brand” during a press conference announcing the Hard Rock trademark.

Begets, there’ve been a few

Between being known as Joe Robbie for years and perhaps The Rock at some point in the near future, the Miami Gardens-based stadium has altered its identity often since it was built in 1987. At that time, it replaced the old Orange Bowl Stadium as the home of the Dolphins and, ironically, the Orange Bowl itself. The University of Miami has played its home games there since 2008.

Joe Robbie was the Dolphins’ founder. He passed away in 1990. Stadium names have since flowed like a biblical tale of lineage:

• In 1996, Joe Robbie Stadium begat Pro Player Park, which was known as Pro Player Stadium that same year.

• That name held until 2005, when it begat Dolphins Stadium, which within a year begat Dolphin Stadium with no “s,” which still counts as a change.

• That identity lasted until 2009, when it begat Land Shark Stadium, which later begat Sun Life Stadium in 2010. 

• Sun Life Stadium stuck around for about five and a half years until this year when for a few months it was even called New Miami Stadium. But alas, the begat chain has stopped for at least the next 18 years due to naming rights claimed by Hard Rock.

The Hard Rock announcement was made official in August and included a $200 million commitment from the trademark. 

“We love the brand. Obviously the most important thing is winning Dolphins football games in here for us, but after that, we want to provide as much entertainment as we can,” says Tom Garfinkel, the Dolphins’ president and CEO.

“Hard Rock is a great fit for our brand and will be a great long-time partnership for the two entities,” Senn says. “It’s a natural fit for the area. I really think it sets us apart for all sports and entertainment. Not just football, [but] soccer, concerts, bowl games and an entertainment destination.”

The opening match of the 2017 International Champions Cup soccer tournament next summer will feature Real Madrid and international star Cristiano Ronaldo. And Brazil’s national soccer team will play a handful of matches at the Hard Rock during the next few years as well.

And yes, there’s a Super Bowl, too.

This superlative-laden stadium is the result of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’s push to earn the region its 11th Super Bowl. Earlier this year, it was announced that South Florida will host Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020, marking the end of the 100th season of the NFL. 

By hosting a Super Bowl, a region tends to reap staggering financial benefits. The Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, two years ago earned the state an estimated $720 million, according to research collected by Arizona State University’s business school. 

Miami/South Florida Super Bowl committee chairman Rodney Barreto won’t venture a price tag, but he does say, “You can’t put a number on the amount of exposure we will receive. The Fort Lauderdale and Miami skylines will be seen every time the network comes back from one of those $4.5-million-per-30-second commercials. That scene alone is priceless and it will stick with the millions of viewers for a long time.”

He noted there will be a collective sum of intake from a week full of pre-Super Bowl festivities, filled hotels, restaurants, night clubs, shopping, beaches and the big game itself, making it truly a Miami/South Florida event. 

“We have so much to offer as a region,” he says. “Broward County is a major partner with Miami Dade and Palm Beach counties. They offer up a huge amount of hotel rooms, which was significant in the bid proposal, and their international airport makes things easier for travel.”

Also, Broward is home to the Dolphins’ training camp at Nova Southeastern University, which will serve as one of the Super Bowl team’s training facilities.

Bill Senn, the Dolphins senior vice president for stadium renovations, and his prized project

Deja New

Senn, a graduate of Ryerson University in Toronto, holds a degree in architectural sciences specializing in project management. He definitely found work related to his major. His stadium construction credits range from the Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena to the Jets’ and Giants’ home at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. This led to his role in making a five-time Super Bowl host stadium of the past into the super stadium of the future.

Work began on the stadium reinvention in 2014.

“From my perspective, professionally, this has been the biggest challenge,” Senn says. “We’ve touched every square inch of the stadium. For our owner, Mr. [Stephen] Ross, to make the financial commitment he has is truly amazing.”

Here’s some of what $500 million worth of upgrades yields these days:

• The aforementioned shade canopy that shields almost all of the 65,000-plus seats from the elements. 

“We’ve taken temperature differentials of what it was like to sit in the sun versus now sitting in the shade, and it’s about a 30-degree difference,” Senn says. 

• Four 112-by-50-foot high definition video screens in each corner. 

“As a fan, being able to sit under a shade canopy and see the video boards is just great. No matter where you’re sitting, you can view three boards,” he says. “This is what we wanted to create so we could compete with the guy who wants to sit on his couch with a 60-inch TV.”

• Platinum TE Paspalum playing surface, a genetically modified strain that can grow on plastic. 

“It’s a new turf product, a shade taller than grass. It drains very well. There are grow lights that will be installed because of the canopy,” he says. 

There are more subtle and not-so-subtle adjustments too, such as tweaked Wi-Fi distribution antennas that coexist with the canopy; the 72 Club, named for the Dolphins’ perfect season of 1972, which features premium first-level boxes along the 35-yard line in the style of an all-inclusive living room (conveniently covered by the canopy); patio bars with field views beneath each of the four video boards; and a new LED system from Ephesus Lighting and improved surface lights to reduce glare.

Stadium makeovers everywhere will now be tasked with meeting this standard.

“When you stand under the crucible of the masts, it is a very impressive sight,” Senn says of the corner entrances. “When you enter the bowl and see the video boards and the sound system is cranked up, you get a brand new fan experience.”

Hard Rock Stadium is a collective revamp of a 29-year-old stadium and a vision of future stadiums. 

Fins fans first

The fan experience reaches beyond the field and right to the curb in front of one’s house.

An unprecedented agreement with Uber allows for transportation to and from games as well as a private tailgate experience for an extra fee. Garfinkel, during the announced agreement with Uber, said: “We want people here. We want this to be a better experience than watching at home.”

The competition with a large-screen TV in one’s home is a challenge the Dolphins are willing to take on.

Celina Poole of Delray Beach, a season-ticket holder for three years, will not be watching from home.

“We are die-hard fans,” she says, noting her family’s 9 a.m. tailgate ritual. While the upgrades are “just fantastic,” they are only part of what Poole has come to appreciate. “The roof and screens are great, but as a parent and fan, I think the Dolphins are an incredible organization,” she says. “From a parent’s perspective, they’ve upped their game with safety. There are metal detectors and personnel everywhere, and it is appreciated. Games are a great, safe experience.”

 Aaron Glassman from North Miami Beach says he has been going to Dolphins games since the 1980s and has been a season-ticket holder since 2002. “I love the new name, even though I still call it Joe Robbie, and they’ve done a beautiful job with the stadium,” he says.

 Glassman also offers his assessment of what will translate into a Dolphins advantage. “The noise will be a factor—it will be loud and it will be rockin’,” he says. “The sound will be pushed inward and it will be tough on the other teams.”

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill looks to reach that elusive next level.

Wait, there’s a game?

Ah, watching football on a warm and sunny day, sitting in the cool shade, possibly after having been carted to and later from the stadium, and enjoying a great view of live action and giant replay boards. What could be better? Perhaps the Dolphins?

The Dolphins have not made the playoffs in seven years. New head coach Adam Gase is a former quarterback mentor and offensive mastermind, having earned respect for his work with Jay Cutler in Chicago and Peyton Manning in Denver. It doesn’t take a soothsayer to understand that a quarterback guru coach should have a positive impact on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

In four seasons, Tannehill has started every game, passed for 15,460 yards and 87 touchdowns. The team’s seasons above .500 and in the playoffs are, however, zero. Gase’s transformation of Tannehill from the bane of many Dolphins fans’ and fantasy football owners’ existences to a blessing is the key to Miami’s return to glory. 

“He’s an expert in pushing guys to reach their potential, and I’m excited to have him,” says Tannehill of Gase in a press conference.

Tannehill noted a change within the offense to a more up-tempo approach that will have defenses on their heels.

“It’s a different concept,” he says. “Coach comes up with new thoughts all the time. We’re always trying to find an edge. I feel comfortable and in charge of the offense and what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s fun to get up to the line and put the pressure on the defense.”

Turning Tannehill into Manning or Cutler is not impossible, but a renovation aimed at an improved version of Tannehill is under way. Should the project achieve comparable results to that of the stadium in which the team plays, it will be a sight to behold.


South Florida’s Super Bowls

Super Bowl LIV will take place in 2020. It will be the 11th time the region has hosted the event, placing South Florida in the lead for most times hosting the big game.

Those Super Bowls have provided some of pro football’s more memorable moments.

Orange Bowl Era

1968  – Super Bowl II was the first to go by this moniker. (The first was the NFL-AFL Championship game.) Also unlike the first game held in Los Angeles, this one at the Orange Bowl was a sellout. The pre-game festivities featured two giant mechanical robots, one in Raiders garb and another in Packers attire, blowing steam from their mouths as they feigned a clash. The game was not as closely contested. Green Bay had the ball for 12-plus minutes in the third quarter and wore down Oakland for a 33-14 win. Afterward, in his final game as Packers coach, Vince Lombardi was awarded the trophy that would soon bear his name.

1969  – Joe Namath. The summary could end there. Super Bowl III was the greatest upset in sports history at that time, and it elevated the big game to the status with which it is now associated. And the upset was guaranteed! Namath was a bit of a wildcard known for a great throwing arm as a quarterback and greater nightlife as a bachelor. Irritated by being named 17-point underdogs, Namath’s emotions overtook him as he stated, “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it!” Then, using a ball-control strategy, Namath’s New York Jets confounded Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts for a 16-7 win.

1971  – The Colts quarterback Earl Morrall was blamed for the Super Bowl III loss. Morrall (who would play a key role in the Dolphins’ undefeated season a year later) gained a measure of redemption by sort of leading Baltimore’s last-second 16-13 win over Dallas. It was the first Super Bowl game played on artificial turf, which was blamed for 11 turnovers in a game often referred to as the Blunder Bowl. Late in the game, Morrall led a drive that ended in a turnover, but a subsequent Dallas turnover set up the game-winning field goal. 

1976  – Pittsburgh’s Lynn Swann levitated and the Steelers won, 21-17. Swann, a receiver, defied gravity with ballet-like body control in snagging a pair of deep passes and later flat-out beat the Cowboys’ secondary with his speed for a customary catch-and-run and the game-clinching touchdown.

1979  – The Steelers and Cowboys were back for a Super Bowl XIII shootout won by the Steelers, 35-31. Among many great plays by quarterback Terry Bradshaw and his receivers (yes, Lynn Swann again) was a touchdown pass to fullback Rocky Bleier, which marked an incredible personal comeback. Ten years earlier, Bleier lost part of his foot and sustained shrapnel injuries in a grenade attack while serving in Vietnam. This win added a third Super Bowl ring alongside his Purple Heart.

Miami Gardens Era

1989  – Celebrity sightings are a fun Super Bowl pastime. The first Super Bowl at Joe Robbie Stadium was no exception. During the final drive, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana—aka Joe Cool—broke from his methodical persona to express an observation, saying to tackle Harris Barton: “There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp. Isn’t that John Candy?” It was indeed the comedian who has since passed, and Joe Cool took his team 92 yards in the final minutes to defeat the Bengals, 20-16.

1995  – Super Bowl XXIX was special for numerologists: the 49ers scored their team nickname in a 49-26 rout of the Chargers; quarterback Steve Young threw for six touchdowns, passed for 325 yards and ran for another 49; and Jerry Rice caught 10 passes, three of which were touchdowns.

2007  – The Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy and the Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith both became the first African-American head coaches to coach in the Super Bowl. Dungy raised the trophy in rain-soaked Super Bowl XLI after a 29-17 win. Former Colts and Dolphins head coach Don Shula presented the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Colts after the game, and Peyton Manning was named MVP.

2010  – The New Orleans Saints rallied to defeat the Colts, 31-17, and game MVP quarterback Drew Brees offered a metaphor about his city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Four years ago, whoever thought this would be happening when 85 percent of the city was under water? We just all looked at one another and said, ‘We are going to rebuild together. We are going to lean on each other.’ This is the culmination in all that belief.”

2020  – Super Bowl LIV will conclude the NFL’s 100th year, and the game will create its own memories in the equally memorable venue of Hard Rock Stadium.