NFL Stadium #27: Sun Life Stadium

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See all my pictures from this visit at my Flickr account.

Traveling by air the weekend before Thanksgiving is very expensive. To avoid another high priced plane ticket, I opted to ride the Megabus from Jacksonville to Miami. It was about a six-hour ride with a two-hour layover in Orlando. I wish I would’ve taken the bus to Baltimore, would’ve saved me gas money and not driving yourself is a luxury. When I arrived in Miami, I hopped off the bus and was greeted by an old homeless man giving me the finger. At first, I was taken aback, but then I saw his eyes were on my Ohio State shirt and smiled. It was game day. I rode a city bus to South Beach, checked into my hostel (one of the worst I’ve stayed in), and headed out to find a sports bar to watch the game. It was monsooning out and I was fortunate to find a bar with the game on, but it was full of Sparty and Michigan fans. Well, this was uncomfortable as I stared down fans from both teams.

I was wet and tired and stood in the corner trying to enjoy what was a terrible game to watch for a Buckeyes fan. MSU dominated the offensive and defensive lines and if not for their two turnovers, it would’ve been a shutout. Gotta give credit where credit is due- Spartans played hard and flat out beat the Buckeyes. It is not nearly as fun to get beat by a backup QB as it is beating teams and winning a championship with one. Imagine that. I wasn’t happy, obviously, but I did feel a little relief. It’s hard for teams to repeat; especially when you only run one offensive play- the QB read option. Like Zeke, I’m calling out the coaches too. Harsh, but its Beat *ichigan week and I am anticipating two angry, hungry teams. Jim Harbaugh scares me to bits, but Urban Meyer and this team rise to the occasion when labeled the underdog.

Sunday I woke up and the sun was shining which makes it impossible to stay mopey. I bought a poncho anyway after reading the weather forecast, stopped at a hotel to print out my ticket, and took a Lyft car up to Sun Life Stadium. My driver was a Cuban immigrant and we had a bit of a language barrier going on. He was studying English but couldn’t understand me at times so I pulled out my phone and used Google translator to carry on our conversation. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in all these trips is I need to learn Spanish! I will make it my New Year’s resolution. He dropped me off right by a parking lot and I was very surprised by the volume of people tailgating, the lots were fairly full.

I’m sure you’ve heard that Miami has bad fans that only show up when a team is winning. Maybe the Dolphins are the exception or people really wanted to see the Dallas Cowboys. Regardless the motive, it was a happening scene around the stadium. I saw a couple of Ohio State flags off to my right and pretty much ran over to say hi and show solidarity. Yeahhhhhh they wanted nothing to do with me. There were some Sparty fans next door and I had a better conversation with them. Sometimes people from your state, even your hometown (one guy was actually from Brecksville) do not think it’s that cool to see each other in different parts of the country. Well too bad, I like you anyways and will continue to say hi- as Badgers hoops coach Bo Ryan once said, “deal with it.”

For this visit, I had to purchase my ticket and got one under face value that morning from StubHub. I called my stadium contact, Ashley and walked around the stadium to meet with her by the gate she was checking people in. There was a lot to do and see in the surrounding plazas and the team was going hard with military appreciation, which was awesome. I was stopped to sign a holiday card to be sent overseas and I happily obliged. For some reason, I was under the impression the Dolphins had built a new stadium in the last five years, but quickly realized I was mistaken. They are currently renovating it though and you could see the construction. After meeting Ashley, I headed into the stadium and down to the field to watch the teams warm up. I was pumped about this matchup as it was between the two football teams I briefly liked while Bernie Kosar played backup QB. There were a lot of Cowboys fans down by the field and when Tony Romo trotted out they went nuts cheering and chanting “Romo.” I’d go nuts too after watching Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel fill in- woof. There was platform off the stands behind the visiting team bench that you could go down and take pictures before the game even if you didn’t have a ticket for those seats.

The sky had looked foreboding since my arrival and almost immediately after Romo came out the sky opened up and there was a torrential downpour. I had thrown my poncho on but wasn’t that devoted to watching warm-ups and made a run for it up to the main concourse. It was packed with fans doing the same, trying to stay dry and I walked through the narrow halls slowly. At least they had high ceilings and large cafeteria style openings that helped with that claustrophobic feeling you get sometimes at sporting events. I walked out to an outer walkway to watch the rain and people dashing to the stadium. The tailgate lots were now a ghost town, as were the heavily populated plazas. The rain did let up by game time and I walked up the spiral ramps to the upper concourse to find my standing area. My ticket was for one of the eight “party terraces” in the four corners of the stadium. Sun Life only has two levels and the upper one is steep and high, stacked atop the lower bowl. I felt close to the field and I dug the natural ambiance that comes along with a smaller stadium. It didn’t have the same level of intimacy as Lambeau, but it definitely had the feel of a historic franchise flowing through it. The Cowboys came out to a loud mix of cheers and boos- the stadium was fairly split for this game. There was some show when the Dolphins entered and I loved that they had a serviceman run out with each of their starters. Miami did a great job paying tribute to the military throughout the game.

Following kickoff it started to drizzle and then what I’m fairly certain was a mini hurricane ensued. The wind was so extreme, the rain was coming down sideways and I held on to my poncho to keep in over my head. It was in vain because after that downpour, I was completely soaked. It didn’t last that long, though, maybe only the first quarter. By the second quarter, it was sunny and I was drying out. What a contrast in weather conditions in a short period of time. If found myself rooting for both teams and I know I wasn’t alone in that. There were some little kids next to me that were doing the same thing despite being decked out in Dolphins gear. I know I say this in every post, but Miami has the best and most catchy fight song. I wanted them to keep scoring so I could sing along. Sing I did and despite my bad dance moves, I danced too, because they were playing some great tunes. There was just a nice, fun vibe and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I had had such low opinions of Miami fans, that I was pleasantly surprised that this experience far exceeded my expectations.

During the half, they honored Don Shula’s 1997 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a little odd they didn’t have a ceremony when it happened almost 20 years ago, but better late than never. There was no standing room in this stadium and they were the most strict and diligent staff at enforcing this. I watched a woman patrol the area around me during the game and she was kicking out people for coming into the terrace that I didn’t even notice. She was on point and didn’t let up. I stayed put throughout the game and talked to the fans around me which seemed to cycle.

There was a guy from Canton that actually works for the Browns visiting his favorite team during their bye week. He had to leave early to get back so I turned to my right and talked to some rowdy Dolphins fans from Key West. One of the girls mentioned to me that going to all the NFL stadiums was on her bucket list and that she had been to four already. I didn’t tell her what I was doing this season but felt a sense of solidarity as I listened to her. That group didn’t last the entire game either. Really, the majority of Miami fans took off early, even though the team was only down ten. Have they not learned from those Heat games? You should never leave a game early!!

Well, they were right, as the Dolphins did not make a dramatic comeback. In fact, the game ended with QB Ryan Tannehill getting sacked. That must’ve been a little salt in the wounds, but there were like maybe six DolFANS (that’s what they call them- it’s silly) left to witness it. Cowboys fans were happy and there was a lot of “we’re back” and “playoffs” talk going on as they exited. We shall see! Ashley came up and met me outside my section to sign my book and walked me out of the stadium. As we walked I asked about the field which I noticed didn’t have a center field logo, gold 50-yard lines, and generic Miami ends zones. She said it was because the Miami Hurricanes had played the day before and the field was too wet to paint their branding before the game. It’s a good thing the Hurricanes and Dolphins both have orange as one of their colors. Sharing stadiums must be frustrating at times. We said our goodbyes and I used my final Lyft credit to get back to South Beach. Sun Life Stadium ended up being a fun stadium to visit and I would totally like to come back once the renovations are done. I was a little sad there wasn’t a real dolphin mascot, but maybe next time I won’t use Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as stadium research material.

Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.

Special thank you to Ashley for her time and assistance during my visit! 


One thought on “NFL Stadium #27: Sun Life Stadium

  1. Pretty cool concept, as there are many stadiums and cities I’d still like to visit.. As far as Buckeye fans, I’ve seen that first hand, since moving to Seattle last year. I’ll throw out an “O..H”, and they look at me funny.. It’s weird, lol. I’ve met some semi-regulars at the bar I work at that are very passionate about Ohio State, and they are fun to bond with! Anyways, keep it up, and good luck with the rest of your journey!


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