Random thoughts and select articles that have been published elsewhere (but were cut severely in the process)


Bittersweet Ending: University of Miami Football Says Goodbye to the Orange Bowl

The following was originally written for the Seminole Free Grove.

Forget the final score, in which the University of Virginia prevailed 48-0.

Or the lowly season the Miami Hurricanes are currently experiencing (5 wins, 5 losses -- dreadful by the team’s standards, if you think about it).

Miami’s Orange Bowl stole the spotlight on November 10, as more than 62,000 people turned out to watch the Hurricanes play their final game at the stadium against the Virginia Cavaliers. Next year, the Hurricanes move to Dolphins Stadium in north Dade County, where they will share the venue with the city’s NFL team.

Before the game, thousands of fans filled the blocks surrounding the stadium, forming countless tailgating communities. They gathered around RVs, tents and barbecues to eat, drink, toss footballs back and forth, toast to their memories of the place and enjoy an abundance of free entertainment -- all as a means to bid a celebratory farewell to the Old Lady, as the stadium is often referred. Near the E-1 gate, for example, an Elvis impersonator performed for passers-by. Inside the stadium’s parking areas, others were seen toasting champagne, dining on filet mignon, thumbing through crab boils and listening to various live music acts.

The festive attitude could be felt inside the stadium as well, with dozens of former Hurricanes stars attending the event. Before kickoff, wrestling and film star (and former Hurricane football player) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fired up the crowd by introducing the team; he and his wife also donated $1 million to the university’s athletics’ program in a smaller pre-game ceremony. The halftime entertainment featured an homage to several Hurricanes legends, including Gino Torretta, George Mira, Jr., and Ottis Anderson, to name a few.

Built in 1936 and opened to the public in 1937, the Orange Bowl served as a major sports venue for nearly 70 years. The Miami Dolphins called it home until 1986 and played part of their landmark 1974 unbeaten season there. It hosted five Super Bowls, including coach Vince Lombardi’s final game as the Green Bay Packer’s leader and Joe Namath’s much-storied performance against the Baltimore Colts. It also provided the playing field for 11 college football title games, including three championship efforts by the hometown Hurricanes in 1984, 1988 and 1992, as well as Doug Flutie’s famed “Hail Mary” pass in 1984 to give Boston College the national title (over Miami, coincidentally).

Though renovated and repaired to certain extents in the past, recent years have seen the structure fall victim to increasing wear and tear. Hurricane Wilma worsened matters considerably when it roared through the city in 2005, taking down just about every lighting pole in the process. (ESPN later paid to have temporary lighting put in the stadium so it could continue to broadcast games from there.)

Rather than update the stadium with more modern conveniences after the storm, the city of Miami and the University chose to demolish the site, which will occur in early 2008. According to the Miami Herald, city and county officials are currently taking bids and hope to find a new tenant for the space by the middle of next year. Various sources have hinted it will either be condominiums or a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins, though nothing official has been released.

Moving the Canes northward should offer football fans a more up-to-date venue to view the team in action. However, the change has angered several longtime fans. Some believe the cross-county trip to Dolphins Stadium will be too much of a haul, especially for students. Yet others think the city should preserve the stadium’s legacy no matter what.

“My main concern with Dolphins Stadium is the atmosphere,” said Gary Kapit, a University of Miami engineering student who went to the game. “Yes, it has huge replay screens, nice restaurants and concessions, but where's the character? The OB [Orange Bowl] might be an old wreck but I think that’s the charm. It’s a stadium that's been through it all and has the scars to show for it.”

Deborah Moskowitz, a Miami alumni and long-time Hurricane’s season ticket holder who journeyed all the way from Central Florida to attend the game, felt similarly.

“There’s a lot of history in this place,” she said. “It’s sad to see the city turn its back on it. Even though the new stadium is an hour closer to me [by car], I’m not sure I’ll be back next year. There is no question that the Old Lady is a wreck, but it’s our wreck. We won’t feel at home in Dolphins Stadium.”

As mentioned earlier, the game itself offered little comfort for Miami fans, as the visiting Virginia Cavaliers blew out the favored Hurricanes. Most attendees filed out after the halftime ceremony, no doubt as a means to cut short the misery displayed on the field.

Despite this, those who were there seemed to leave feeling bittersweet.

“It’s sad,” said Kathy Cena, a native of Miami who grew up only a few blocks from the Orange Bowl. “My parents used to bring me here as a child. Not to the sporting events, mind you, but to other things, like concerts. I’ll miss it. I’m glad I could be part of this night.”
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