I've heard some pretty uneducated comments in my day, but one that figuratively boils my blood is the following: "The Dolphins would be better if they had true home-field advantage with a local fan base that better supports them."
The precursor to this statement, especially from frustrated fans and the national media is that "Miami is the worst sports city or has the worst local fans in the country."
Both statements smack of jealously, ignorance, naivete and a total unwillingness to look at the facts.
I recently flew down to Miami for the Dolphins game against the Houston Texans and here is what I can confirm: The existence of a very passionate fan base that is disgusted with the team's 1-11 record in its' last 12 home games. Consider that this once proud franchise has never had a 1-11 home record at any point in its history, not even during its expansion year in 1966.
This same passionate fan base arrived at the stadium in many cases five or more hours prior to kickoff to celebrate with other fans that they consider family. They eat, they drink and they paint their faces in painstaking fashion with different designs of aqua and orange. They hoop, they holler and get psyched for their team just like any other fans.
This fan base also knows their football and will spend time watching televisions in the parking lot to catch up on the action of division rivals and the rest of the NFL. I've been to other stadiums and not witnessed this phenomenon everywhere.
When I went on the field to watch pre-game warm-ups, I was surprised to see this supposedly "uninterested fan base" jostling for space on both sidelines to be mesmerized by warm-ups despite heat that literally painted my face with the color red in a time period shorter than 10 minutes. Yes, they were mesmerized by WARM-UPS.
I've heard several people remark over the past few days that the stadium was empty for the Texans game. This is not true, but that perception is perfectly understandable and explainable. On the east side of the stadium, the sun's glare was so consistent, that virtually the entire section left their seats. It must have looked awfully orange (the seat color) from an aerial shot.
We didn't leave the stadium mind you, we just went somewhere else that had some partial covering and relief from the heat. Personally, I retreated to Club LIV where I had a front row seat right at end zone level which offered an outstanding open air view of the game.
There were several thousands of others who retreated to the concourse where they watched portions of the game on big-screen televisions and sitting on plush couches with air conditioning cooling them down. Given the choice of suffering serious sun burn or enjoying yourself what option would you take? The point is that the fans were still in the stadium rooting for their team.
I also heard criticism via twitter of the fans for not being vocal in support of the team's defense on a crucial red zone stand early in the game.
News flash. When the opposing team has gotten straight down the field on its opening couple of possessions, a fan's enthusiasm tends to get sapped even if it's just for a play or two. This isn't specific to Miami fans but fans of any team at any level.
Furthermore, when the Dolphins were driving, down 16-10 and missed two outstanding opportunities to complete touchdown passes and take a lead, did you really expect the audience to hoot and holler for a field goal that cut the lead to three? Especially when the same kicker has missed two chip shots earlier in the game?
After the game, even though Dolphin fans were disappointed, they remained in the parking lots to connect with their "fin" friends and wish for better times. In other words, they may have been disappointed, but their resolve to remain faithful to their team had not wavered even a bit.
So, why is there all this hate and blame placed on Dolphin fans?
There are a myriad of factors.
When a team consistently loses, it seems like everyone is fair game for blame. In reality, there are obvious answers for why a team struggles such as not enough talent and poor coaching, but no one really wants to focus on that or admit to it because accountability is a forgotten concept in professional sports.
The cold, hard fact is that Tom Brady's success has nothing to do with the fans in New England, nor does Chad Henne's struggles have to do with the fans in South Florida. It has to do with their ability on game day.
Another factor is that the city of Miami is a great place to visit but only average for viewing a football game. Going to a football game might be one of the few options for entertainment in Detroit or Cleveland, but in Miami you have a night life, the beaches and plenty of other fun things to do.
Sun Life Stadium is a nice facility, but in addition to battling the heat, you aren't near as close to the action as you are in other stadiums. There is also nothing that makes the viewing experience super unique. Oh, how I ache for the Orange Bowl, it's small distance from the sideline to the throngs of fans, and the palm trees in plain view of the one end zone.
This combined with the economy presents an obvious dilemma. For the casual fan, are you going to spend say $100 to $400 to watch a team in disarray or save your money and hang out on the beach? Unfortunately for the diehards, we are gluttons for punishment and we go to the game, but the reality is that every NFL team only has a small number of true diehard fans.
It's an easier choice for casual fans in other cities to go to a football game. Heck some people complain because a larger number of the opposing team's fans often show up at Sun Life Stadium. Given, that they often come from cities and climates that you would look to escape from, who can blame them?
But the bottom line to any doubts about fan support always comes down to winning. You can put on all the promotions you want and bring in all the celebrities or pseudo-celebrities to your stadium, but winning football games puts fannies in the seats.
The Dolphins and their associated partners/sponsors had to buy somewhere around 10,000 tickets to avoid having the game against the Texans blacked out on television.
Guess what? Teams not being able to sell tickets is nothing new to the NFL, and it happens to virtually every team. Since the Dolphin reportedly last had a blackout in 1998, 16 other teams have had blackouts. They include Philadelphia, which now features the "dream team," the Peyton Manning-led Colts and the New Orleans Saints, who wound up winning a Super Bowl two years ago.
More importantly, several teams have had several blackouts in a season, including the Jacksonville Jaguars that had a whopping seven in 2009. There are exceptions, but in most cases the teams that have blackouts don't consistently win football games. Yet, few if any have had to endure the total home futility that Miami has recently.
The point is that Dolphins fans aren't that different than fans in other cities. Strike that. In some cases, especially the diehards, they are more dedicated and committed to a team that recently hasn't given them much chance to cheer. Saying that they are even partially responsible for their team's struggles is just plain irresponsible.
Thanks again to the great Dolfans who played host to me last weekend!
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