The Emergence and Success of Sports Teams in South Florida

Mario Cuadros@@mario_cuadrosContributor IIMay 15, 2012

Prior to 1966, the people in Miami did not know what it was like to have a professional sports team in their city. The only sports they knew came from the University of Miami, which back then was not the powerhouse it would become in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Sports may not be the focal point of South Beach, since there are plenty of other things to do than attend a sporting event. However, if a city wants to be considered as important, sports have to come into the picture. Miami certainly doesn't need sports to attract visitors, but it definitely helps.

The University of Miami football team played its inaugural season in 1926. However, it wasn't until Howard Schnellenberger became coach in 1979 that the university's football program took off. With future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly already in the roster, Schnellenberger set out to recruit local high school talent that would take Miami to new heights.

While the university was trying to build a championship caliber team, the Miami Dolphins emerged in 1966 as Miami's second football franchise after the Miami Seahawks were able to stay alive for only one season.

The Dolphins struggled their first four seasons under head coach George Wilson, going 15-39-2. Like the University of Miami with Howard Schnellenberger, it wasn't until Don Shula took the reins in 1970 that the Dolphins became a household name. 

The Dolphins became one of the most successful NFL teams in the 1970s, becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl three straight years in 1971, 1972 and 1973. In the 1971 Super Bowl, Miami was outplayed by a more established Dallas Cowboys team led by Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. 

Just six years after its inaugural season, the Dolphins did what no other NFL team has ever been able to do: complete a perfect season. The 1972 Dolphins finished 17-0 after defeating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

They followed the historic season by defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII. Miami had its first taste of sport success, as the Dolphins had become a household name and a staple franchise. 

Miami would have to wait until 1983 to taste a championship again, when the Miami Hurricanes defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers to win the national championship.

They would lose Schellenberger to the USFL at the end of the season, but were able to stay atop the college football world with the hiring of Jimmie Johnson. The Miami Hurricanes had now become the talk of the town and had surpassed the Dolphins as Miami's premier sports team.

The Hurricanes would win their second national championship in 1987, one year before Miami inaugurated its first ever professional basketball team.

The Hurricane teams in the 80s were considered by many to be dirty and a bad influence for the college game. They embarrassed opponents and became known as college footballs biggest trash talkers. They became public enemy No. 1.

However, this mentality led the Hurricanes to three national championships in a five-year period, proving they can back up whatever they say.

As the Hurricanes enjoyed national prominence and the Dolphins were still a top team in the NFL, with future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino at the helm, Miami would experience the emergence of their very own NBA franchise in 1988. With the NBA enjoying its golden years with the emergence of Michael Jordan, Miami needed a franchise to help build its national image.

The Miami Heat (this name thankfully beat out the Miami Vice) emerged along with the Charlotte Hornets as expansion teams in the 1988-89 season.

Finishing with a 15-67 record in its first year, the Heat had a long climb to the top in order to compete in the Miami market, which included national powerhouse Miami Hurricanes and top NFL team in the Miami Dolphins. They reached the top in 2006, when they were led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal to a title over the Dallas Mavericks.

As the Hurricanes kept winning championships, the Dolphins kept being an exemplary franchise and the Heat began to find some stability, South Florida would find itself as the home of two new franchises.

The Florida Panthers joined the NHL in 1993 when Wayne Huizenga was awarded an NHL franchise. Who said there was no ice skating in South Florida? The Panthers had more success than Miami's previous expansion team, the Miami Heat, as they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in just their third season.

It has since lacked any type of success and consistency. In the 2011-12 NHL season, the Panthers won the Southeast Division, reaching the playoffs for the first time in ten years.

Along with the Panthers in 1993, Miami also sported another expansion team, this time in the MLB. The Florida Marlins joined the MLB as a member of the National League. Like the Panthers, the Marlins also enjoyed early success, reaching the World Series in 1997 and defeating the Cleveland Indians to win their first championship.

After going threw a few years of mediocrity, the Marlins once again reached the top of the mountain when they beat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series with one of the best teams the Marlins have ever assembled. 

As Miami now had a team in every major American sport, it had become one of the premier cities in the United States. Today, Miami sports have become a part of the culture.

Their most historic franchise, the Dolphins, has been going through a tough stretch, but other teams have stepped up and kept Miami as one of the top sports cities in the country.

During the last few years, Miami has given us an NBA finals appearance and a potential appearance again this year. Led by the Big Three, the Miami Heat have become the most scrutinized NBA team in NBA history.

They have now taken basketball to a new standard for South Floridians. They will have an opportunity to contest for an NBA title during the next few years and will undoubtedly give their fans a lot to cheer about. They've come a long way since their inaugural season in 1988.

The Marlins, like the Heat, have assembled a team that will give them an opportunity to compete for a World Series.

Even though they weren't as highly publicized as the Big Three for the Heat, the new crop of Marlins players will surely bring a lot of highs to a struggling fan base. Along with the new players, the Marlins will have a new stadium, which they hope will encourage more fans to support the team.

The Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division this year but were unable to overcome the always tough New Jersey Devils in the playoffs. Even though they weren't able to advance, this was the first time in 10 years the Panthers have made the playoffs, giving fans a glimpse of hope for the future.

As for the football teams, the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins are now in rebuilding mode as they try to once again reach the top. They both look to be heading in the right way, and it won't be long before they reach the level they once had, which made Miami such a proud football city. 

Miami has not only had the luxury of having great sports teams, but they've had the luxury of also having some of the best players in their respective sports.

Football has seen the likes of Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, the Marks Brothers and Junior Seau. Basketball has seen the likes of Dwyane Wade, Glenn Rice, Rony Seikaly, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'neal, Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Tim Hardaway.

In baseball, Miami has had plenty of big names. We have seen Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, Livan Hernandez and Moises Alou.

The 2003 World Series team may be one of the best teams assembled in recent years. It included Ivan Rodriguez, Derek Lee, Luis Castillo, Alex Gonzales, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Pierre and Juan Encarnacion. The starting rotation consisted of Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Carl Pavano.

On the other hand, the Miami Hurricanes may have had one of the most talented teams in college football history in 2001. Thirteen of the players became first-round selections, and 21 total members of the championship team players were drafted.

They have also had the likes of Michel Irvin, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Jonathan Vilma, Sean Taylor, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Bryant McKinnie, Jim Otto, Warren Sapp, Devin Hester and many more.

The 'U' ranks fourth in national championships won, in addition to boasting two Heisman Trophy winners and six inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. They also hold the record for most first-round selections in a single draft and the most consecutive drafts with at least one first-round selection.

They also hold the record for most consecutive weeks that a former Hurricane has scored a touchdown in the NFL at 149 weeks. Also, as of 2011, the Hurricanes had 42 active players in the NFL, the most by any university in the nation.  

Miami is a relatively new sport city compared to New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, but it has already proven that it can compete with any of them. They may not have the history or the number of championships, but in the short time Miami has had sports teams, they have given their fans a lot to be proud of.

They have a championship in every sport except hockey, and with the teams the Heat and the Marlins have assembled, it may not take a while to give them another one.

It's been six years since a Miami sports team held a championship trophy, but don't expect it to be too long for them raise another one.