Here’s a fun look back at first Dolphins camp in 1966

In 2011 I wrote the following feature about the Miami Dolphins’ first permanent training camp at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.

  In it are quotes from a couple of former players, Tom Goode and Billy Neighbors, who unfortunately have passed on, and there also is a reference to it being the 50th anniversary for St. Andrew’s, when actually the school is up to 55 now. The rest of it still works just fine, however, with entertaining anecdotes about rattlesnakes, and about flying to San Diego for an exhibition game in a World War II-era prop plane, and about the head coach using his son at quarterback.

  I’m hoping on this first day of Dolphins training camp 2016 you will find that it is worth your time. Here goes.

 

In 1966 the expansion Miami Dolphins debuted in Boca Raton with an isolated training camp that South Florida residents barely noticed and that the players of the day would prefer to forget.
Saint Andrew’s School was the Dolphins‘ first permanent training headquarters, inheriting that assignment when a brief and failed experiment with sloppy facilities on Florida’s Gulf Coast forced the team to pull up stakes and move on the fly.
The school, in just its fifth year of existence, was surrounded by undeveloped scrub and marshland, with one lonely road leading in and out.

scanned 8/17/99 - SPT - WAHOO McDaniel - Miami Dolphins
Former Dolphins linebacker Wahoo McDaniel at team’s inaugural training camp in 1966.

That meant Boca Raton’s relatively small population center, situated far to the east, was far more a rumor than a daily reality to Dolphins coach George Wilson and his strange new conglomeration of rookies and scooped-up AFL veterans left unprotected by their former teams.
“There would be some people that would come out there to watch us practice, but you had to really want to come because of where it was located,” said former Dolphins center Tom Goode, 72, who had already played eight seasons with the Houston Oilers when Miami took him in an expansion draft.
“It was kind of hidden back off the road, full of palmetto bushes and snakes. Anywhere you could see water you’d see alligators, and you could always see a dead rattlesnake or something on the road coming into campus. Around the school they killed rattlesnakes, I know, and the mosquitoes, they’d just carry you off.”
The Dolphins had what they needed at Saint Andrew’s, however, in the way of multiple practice fields and dormitory rooms and hot cafeteria food.
What a nice change that was, because the first few weeks of training camp in St. Petersburg Beach were just plain silly.
Sparse accommodations
Miami’s first-ever drills were held there on what amounted to an empty lot with background views of the Gulf of Mexico. No goalposts were in place to begin, plus no equipment to speak of and precious little turf.
A gaggle of businessmen known as the Suncoast Sports Group had talked Dolphins founder Joe Robbie into using that tourist-friendly setting, but the team soon had to move its practices to nearby Boca Ciega High School and finally, on Aug. 7, all the way across the peninsula to Saint Andrew’s.
“They tried to put a practice field down over by the beach,” Goode said from his home in West Point, Miss. “It looked pretty going down, with the grass rolled up like carpet, but as soon as we started playing, the stuff tore all up. Seashells started coming through it and we had a lot of infections from cuts on our knees and hands and arms. The team doctor stayed busy with all of that.”
Frank Emanuel, an All-America linebacker at Tennessee and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was drafted by the Dolphins of the AFL and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL but chose Miami because he wanted to stay in the South. His first impressions of that St. Petersburg Beach training camp must have had Emanuel questioning his decision.
“We stayed in this little hotel called the Dolphin Inn right on the beach,” Emanuel,

George Wilson Undated Post file photo
First Miami Dolphins head coach George Wilson (Palm Beach Post file photo)

68, said from his Principal Financial Group office in Tampa. “Here I am a college guy, new to the pros, and I find out that we had to wear our same practice gear for both workouts during two-a-days. We’d hang it all up in the room, but that didn’t do much.
“They gave us a clean jock, thank goodness, but our pants and jerseys and so forth stayed wet.”
Miami’s first exhibition game was in San Diego, which presented another logistical problem. Five major U.S. airlines were shut down that summer because an estimated 35,000 industry workers were on strike. Robbie hustled up a ride to California for the Dolphins, but it was with Zantop International Airlines, a company that utilized World War II-era prop planes and only four years earlier had acquired a license to carry commercial passengers as well as freight.
“It took us days to get there, it seemed like,” Emanuel said. “We flew to the West Coast slow and low, and we had to stop on the way over and on the way back to gas up.”
After returning from that 38-10 loss to the Chargers, Wilson instructed his players to pile into their personal vehicles and carpool across the state to Boca Raton.
Move brings little fanfare
They arrived on a Monday at Saint Andrew’s, a private-school campus deserted for the summer by its all-male student body, and jumped right into preparing for that Friday night’s home opener against Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs.
For an idea of the negligible impact that the Dolphins‘ arrival had on Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post splashed coverage and photos from the American Legion state baseball tournament across the front page of the sports section that week. The story about the Dolphins‘ opening practice in Boca Raton was on Page 2.
Teresa Vignau, the theater director at Saint Andrew’s, places a much higher value than that on the Dolphins‘ first training camp. She was 14 and living on campus with her family in 1966 because Vignau’s father, a French teacher, was a faculty member.
“We had a piano that my mother wanted to put in my bedroom but we weren’t having much luck because of the angle,” Vignau said. “My father, who stands all of 5-foot-6, runs out and asks these three tired linemen if they could help. They very sweetly came in and moved the piano for us.
“Some of the other guys on the team thought it would be really fun to shoot the ducks in the pond on campus. I didn’t see who did it, but I saw the duck. One of the animal-protection organizations came and relocated the flock after that.”
Wilson, who died in 1978, surely had his hands full that first summer.
He won an NFL title as coach of the Detroit Lions in 1957 but lost his first nine games with the Dolphins, counting four exhibitions and five regular-season games.
One of the major reasons was the lack of a quarterback. Bob Griese didn’t join the Dolphins until the following year.
Father turns to son
In 1966, Wilson had four mediocre passers from which to choose, and he gave much of the early playing time to his son, George Jr., who was never more than a backup at Xavier.
“I have to go by what I see in the games and practice,” said Wilson, who traded a 13th-round draft pick to Buffalo to bring his son to Miami. “Once we get on the field, it’s coach and player, not father and son.”
Wilson Jr. wound up throwing five touchdown passes with 10 interceptions and 11 sacks that year, soon giving way to veterans John Stofa and Dick Wood as the Dolphins scrambled to put together a 3-11 inaugural season.
“It got better, but it wasn’t very organized at first,” said Billy Neighbors, 71, a College Football Hall of Fame guard who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama and then four seasons with the Boston Patriots before coming to Miami in 1966.
“I assume it was a typical first-year operation. People didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”
Wilson lasted four years as Dolphins coach, which just happened to be the only four years that the team trained at Saint Andrew’s. He was fired with a 15-39-2 Miami record and replaced in 1970 by Don Shula, who moved the Dolphins‘ summer camp to what was then known as Biscayne College in North Miami.
By the time Shula arrived, one of the more colorful original Dolphins, pro wrestler Wahoo McDaniel, was gone.
McDaniel reportedly enjoyed handling the snakes he found near the Saint Andrew’s dorms and using them to spook teammates.
“It’s amazing that team survived,” Neighbors said.
Same goes for Saint Andrew’s, now celebrating its 50th year in southern Palm Beach County.

Richt needs no warning about Georgia Tech, but UM players and fans might

I know what a lot of you out there are thinking. The Miami Hurricanes are going to get off to a 4-0 start under new coach Mark Richt and then all that’s needed is a win over Florida State on Oct. 8 and, bingo, it’s back in the Top 10, baby.

It could happen that way, but I’m not looking past Georgia Tech on Oct. 1 at whatever they’re calling the Dolphins’ stadium by then.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt celebrates as he walks off the field after they defeated Georgia Tech 13-7 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)
ATLANTA – Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt, now at the University of Miami, celebrates after the Bulldogs defeated Georgia Tech 13-7 on Nov. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

That Tech game is a dragon that Richt needs to slay, as he regularly did at Georgia. It’s a sneaky spot on the schedule that needs to get way more attention if Miami is ever going to win the ACC Coastal Division.

Here’s the problem. The Hurricanes have FSU, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame all in a row in October. Everybody can see that challenge.

Prior to that come Florida A&M, FAU, Appalachian State and Georgia Tech to open Miami’s season. Easy to dismiss those as warmup games, and that confidence is bolstered by Richt’s 13-2 record against Georgia Tech during his time as coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Go back just two years, however, and you’ll find the Yellow Jackets beating both Georgia and Miami.

Richt’s Dawgs were rolling at 9-2 toward the end of 2014 and shooting for a major bowl until Tech beat them in overtime. A 53-yard field goal on the final play of regulation made that possible, but 399 rushing yards pounded out by the Yellow Jacket’s irksome option attack did the real damage.

Earlier in the year Tech rushed for 371 in a 28-17 win over the Hurricanes.

Overall, Miami has taken firm control of the Georgia Tech series, but it sure got off to a rocky start when the Hurricanes were new to the ACC.

[Check out these top NFL head coaches who started out younger than Gase]

[As training camps open, do you know where your former Dolphins coaches are?]

[Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Florida Gators again]

Back in 2005, one of Larry Coker’s better teams was thinking national title after getting off to an 8-0 start and a climb to No. 3 in the AP poll. Then came a 14-10 loss to Georgia Tech, a team that was nothing special at the time, and the steam went right out of the season.

For all who are focused, then, on beating the Seminoles, or on proving ACC media members wrong in predicting a runnerup finish for Miami in the Coastal behind North Carolina, here’s a blinking caution light.

The foundation for making all that count is a win over Georgia Tech, a fellow member of the Coastal Division. Richt knows that is never easy and it’s never fun.

His last game as Georgia coach was an ugly 13-7 win over the Yellow Jackets last November, and the next day he was let go.

Check out some of the top NFL head coaches who started out younger than Adam Gase

 

Maybe Adam Gase, 38, isn’t so young after all, based on a longer view of NFL history and some of the game’s most successful coaches.

We all know that Don Shula was 33 when he became the head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1963. That caused quite a stir, especially since he replaced Weeb Ewbank, 23 years his senior.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, right foreground, watches the players perform drills during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Monday, June 6, 2016, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
DAVIE – Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase watches the players perform drills during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility, Monday, June 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

A few other quick promotions didn’t work out so well, with Lane Kiffin at the top of the list. He was 31 when hired to coach the Oakland Raiders. Raheem Morris and David Shula were both 32 when they were handed NFL teams. Their combined record adds up to 41-98.

Here, though, is proof that it’s always the right time to find the right guy, no matter what is printed on his birth certificate.

The following coaches worked their first seasons as NFL head coaches at the following ages.

33 – Don Shula, John Madden

35 – Jon Gruden, Mike Tomlin

36 – Tom Landry, Mike Shanahan, Hank Stram

37 – Chuck Noll

38 – Paul Brown

39 – Bill Belichick

40 – Bud Grant

41 – Joe Gibbs, Tony Dungy

42 – Bill Parcells

Of course, patience is a factor in letting young coaches grow into their roles.

Landry went 0-11-1 in his first season with the Dallas Cowboys and didn’t post a winning record until his seventh year.

Belichick and Noll needed four years to field their first winning teams.

[As training camps open, do you know where former Dolphins coaches are?]

[Gase faces toughest schedule among first-time NFL head coaches]

[Confident Jim McElwain is remaking Florida Gators again]

Gruden won pretty quickly at Oakland but got fired anyway. Then he went to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl.

Since Stephen Ross has a reputation for giving his head coaching hires more than enough time to turn the corner, Gase at least has a fighting chance.

Most interesting in relation to Gase’s rookie season with the Dolphins is the fact that only two of the big names listed above had any previous head coaching experience.

Parcells had one 3-8 season as coach of the Air Force Academy.

Grant won four Grey Cup titles as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before the Minnesota Vikings hired him, and he was 30 on the day he ran the show at his first CFL game.

Of course, it’s all up to Gase to show what he can do personally in this particular circumstance, but we probably won’t be focusing in on his age much longer.

Tony Sparano was 47 and Joe Philbin was 51 when they were hired to coach the Dolphins. Being older and supposedly wiser didn’t make champions of them.

As training camps open, do you know where your former Dolphins’ head coaches are?

 

From the where-are-they-now department, here’s a reminder of where all those recent Miami Dolphins head coaches will be for the opening of training camp.

Joe Philbin is the assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts.

Dan Campbell is the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the New Orleans Saints.

Head coach Todd Bowles before the game with the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park on December 18,2011.
Former Miami interim head coach Todd Bowles before the game with the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park on December 18,2011.

Todd Bowles, of course, is head coach of the New York Jets, still trying to figure out what to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Tony Sparano is the offensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

The question is will any of these guys be in the playoffs this season while new Dolphins coach Adam Gase remain on the outside?

I’m guessing Sparano has the best chance, followed by Bowles, Philbin and Campbell.

They’re all good, hard-working pros but Stephen Ross correctly moved on in each case.

Don’t see Philbin as a future head coach, though. If the Colts greatly improve, it will be because of Andrew Luck and everyone will know it. Philbin already got too much credit for Green Bay’s offensive success with Aaron Rodgers.

Bowles has got a great temperament as a head coach and would have good for the Dolphins if they had chosen him instead of Philbin.

Sparano will probably pop up again one day as head coach of, say, the Titans or the Texans. These guys seem to cycle around, no matter their success level. Campbell wouldn’t surprise if he was head coach of the Cowboys some day.

Amazing that the list of former Dolphins coaches has grown this long, and we’re not even talking about Nick Saban and Cam Cameron, both of them back on campus.

For a quarter century Don Shula had an iron grip on this job, and it seemed he would never let go.

 

SEC Media Days just aren’t the same without Mark Richt, a fixture there since 2000

The SEC Media Days carnival sure has been weird without Mark Richt.

This is the first time since 2000 that he hasn’t been there to represent the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that he led to a .740 winning percentage and an average of 9.6 wins per season.

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL – DECEMBER 04: New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the ‘U’ sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)

Would you take nine wins as an acceptable debut for Richt as Miami’s head coach? Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis didn’t get there in their first years with the Hurricanes. There are no guarantees, no matter the quality of the coaching.

As Richt makes the transition, however, from SEC to ACC competition, he’s getting some nice tributes from his old league.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, for instance, took time during his turn at the SEC Media Days podium to call Richt “one of the better coaches in all of college football, I think.

“He’s one of the true professionals. I think he’s a great example for young guys getting into that profession of how you’re supposed to act, how you’re supposed to go about your business. So I’ll say that first, and it was an honor for me to coach against Coach Richt.”

Malzahn lost two of his three matchups with Richt’s Bulldogs. The lone victory was a 43-38 shootout in 2013, the year that Auburn made it all the way to the BCS Championship game against Jameis Winston and Florida State.

The only Georgia coach to last longer than Richt was Vince Dooley, who ran the show in Athens for 25 seasons and stepped down at the age of 56.

Now, at 56, Richt will attempt to begin another long run as Miami coach.

[Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again]

[Rate the Adam Gase buzz against other Dolphins coach debuts]

[If renovations miss deadline, it won’t be first rocky debut for Dolphins stadium]

The Hurricanes haven’t had much of that, either because coaches are fired or because they get stolen by the NFL. Beginning with Schnellenberger in 1979, the average tenure of a Miami head coach is 5.2 years.

The only one in Miami history to stretch well beyond that was Andy Gustafson, who lasted 16 seasons beginning in 1948. How different was the job then? Well, Gustafson kept it that long despite a career winning percentage of .587 and one postseason victory, the 1951 Gator Bowl against Clemson.

Larry Coker was fired in 2006 with an overall winning percentage of .800 as Miami’s coach, plus a national championship and three major bowl appearances.

Richt is ready to give it a shot with the Hurricanes and he’ll be talking about it next week at a new venue, the ACC media day event in Charlotte.

 

Adam Gase faces most brutal schedule as first-time NFL head coach

Of the four first-time NFL head coaches entering the league in 2016, I figure Miami’s Adam Gase has the most work ahead of him in order to establish his credentials and possibly compete for an immediate playoff spot.

Admittedly, this contradicts the official strength of schedule numbers, which are based on the 2015 records of opponents.

Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter, for instance, must face a slate of opponents that combined to go 139-117 a year ago. That .543 winning percentage is tied for the fifth-toughest in the league for 2016.

Gase and the Dolphins are scheduled against a group that went .516 last season. That ranks as the 11th-toughest schedule.

Koetter has two advantages over Gase, however.

First, he doesn’t open the season with trips to Seattle and New England. The Bucs open at Atlanta and Arizona instead, a difficult draw but not as brutal as Miami’s, and that opinion isn’t changed by the strong possibility that Tom Brady won’t be available early to the Patriots.

Second, Koetter previously has been a head coach, three years at Boise State and six more at Arizona State. There are things about delegation and organization you can’t know until you’ve actually done the job, things that Gase will be picking up on the fly.

Two other first-time NFL head coaches got a break in scheduling, as if any NFL schedule can be considered a light load.

Doug Pederson of Philadelphia draws the 26th-toughest schedule in 2016. The Giants’ Ben McAdoo goes against a group that ties for 30th.

Gase, 38, is the youngest head coach in the league and has never run an entire program at any level but he doesn’t lack for confidence. In the end, he will probably fall into the middle of the pack when it comes to first-time NFL head coaches who made their debuts with the Dolphins.

Tony Sparano won the AFC East in 2008, leading Miami to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff spot. Tony had previous college head coaching experience at New Haven.

[Coming off 10-win season, Gators’ Jim McElwain still has some heavy lifting to do]

[If Dolphins’ stadium debut doesn’t go smoothly, it won’t be the first time]

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good feud, even if it was against Don Shula]

Nick Saban went 9-7 with the Dolphins in 2005 without a playoff appearance. His college head coaching experience was extensive and impressive both before and after that NFL experiment.

Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron had no head coaching experience when they took the Dolphins’ job. Joe went 7-9 in his first season and Cam went 1-15.

Each coach has a different set of circumstances and strength-of-schedule is only one of them.

It might help to know, though, that the three teams in Miami’s division face a slightly tougher list of opponents than the Dolphins do. The New York Jets’ task is tied for seventh-toughest, New England comes in at No. 9 and Buffalo is No. 10.

 

Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again

The Florida Gators barely beat FAU last year. In overtime.

They edged Vanderbilt 9-7, struggling mightily to outscore a team that completed three passes for 30 yards.

Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
HOOVER, Ala. – Florida coach Jim McElwain speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference football media days, Monday, July 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Against Florida State, the Gators would have been shut out at home if not for a safety that the Seminoles gifted them in the fourth quarter.

Finally, in a bowl game that only Jim Harbaugh could love, Florida got rolled 41-7 by Michigan.

Is it any wonder that the Gators are flying under the radar at this week’s SEC Media Days in Alabama? Based on the results listed above, and the fact that coach Jim McElwain’s best quarterback from last season has transferred to West Virginia under the cloud of NCAA suspension, Florida’s ability to win a second consecutive SEC East title deserves to be doubted in every way.

Except one.

The Gators offense has to be better this year for the simple fact that it can’t possibly get worse.

McElwain has four quarterbacks from which to choose, with everyone figuring that Luke Del Rio will be the one, but really, it all comes down to this assessment from the 2015 SEC Coach of the Year.

“We’ve really got good arm talent,” McElwain said, “and I’m looking forward to stretching the field vertically.”

Good arm talent is the beginning point for any quarterback. It’s the opposite of what Treon Harris displayed last year. It’s the reason every play felt like fourth-and-long in the season’s final month.

A little foot power comes in handy, too. That’s why McElwain put so much energy into flipping powerful place-kicker Eddy Pineiro’s commitment from Alabama to Florida in February. Austin Hardin, the Gators’ previous best, made five field goals last season and missed three extra points. That’s middle-school stuff.

[Dolphins’ stadium, the one rushing renovations, also had a bumpy debut in 1987]

[The upside on Hassan Whiteside, who was Riley’s first free-agent priority]

[My strangest day in the business, an afternoon with Macho Camacho]

So we’ll talk more in the weeks to come about specific players at specific positions and what kind of magic potion it’s going to take to beat Tennessee again.

For now it figures that the defense will be good and Antonio Callaway will find his way back in the lineup and McElwain will go into his second Gainesville season quite happy that nothing spectacular is expected of the Gators.

One game, that 38-10 rout of Ole Miss, is all it took last year to get people believing in Florida again.

One game, maybe that trip to Knoxville Sept. 24, could do it again.

Memories of 1987’s disappointing stadium debut as Dolphins renovations race toward tight finish

The Miami Dolphins keep saying they will have stadium renovations completed in time, and they mean just in the nick of time, for preseason football against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 1.

Here is a statement on the progress from Bill Senn, the team’s senior vice president for stadium renovation:

“The reports that the stadium won’t be ready for football until November are incorrect. Getting a project of this scale done in this time frame is unprecedented and the contractor is working diligently on a 24/7 basis to complete the canopy structure.  While we will still be doing some “non-football critical” elements and final touches into the season similar to Phase 1 last year, at this point in the process we still expect to be ready to play football September 1.”

The regular-season home opener Sept. 25 against Cleveland seems safe enough, barring tropical storm construction delays.

Already, though, the Dolphins’ Aug. 25 preseason game against Atlanta has been moved from Miami to Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. That was announced by the NFL as a promotional tool of some sort for the Pro Bowl to be played later there. Either way, despite assurances from the team, there are various levels of concern around South Florida over the stadium’s readiness for scheduled action.

Artist's rendering of Sun Life Stadium once $450 million in renovations is complete. (Courtesy of Miami Dolphins)
Artist’s rendering of Sun Life Stadium once $450 million in renovations is complete. (Courtesy of Miami Dolphins)

If Miami Hurricanes home games need moving, FAU Stadium in Boca Raton is a prime option. Whatever the Dolphins are thinking in terms of a Plan B, they aren’t saying.

If you’re looking for precedent, however, the stadium formerly known as Joe Robbie and about a half dozen other names had a bumpy start of a different kind during its inaugural season of 1987.

The Dolphins and Chicago Bears played the opening exhibition game there right on schedule Aug. 16, though there were some empty seats with an announced crowd of 63,451. Miami lost the game, however, 10-3, and the commemorative football from that game, on display in a glass case on the club level by Gate C, didn’t even get the name of the team right. It’s spelled “Dolpins.”

A much more significant disappointment coincided with the scheduled regular-season opener.

The New York Giants were supposed to be there Sept. 27 for their first-ever Miami appearance. A players’ strike caused all the games of that week to be canceled, however, and Robbie lost what was sure to be a spectacular sellout on national television.

Instead the first regular-season Dolphins game played at the stadium was an Oct. 11 clunker between strike-replacement players for Miami and Kansas City. The Dolphins won 42-0 but only 25,867 fans bothered to show up. Things never really got back to normal even after the strike ended as Miami finished 8-7 and missed the playoffs.

[The upside on Whiteside, Riley’s No. 1 priority before Wade]

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good feud, even if it was against Shula]

[My bizarre day in the company of boxing Hall of Famer Macho Camacho]

It took four seasons for the Dolphins to get a postseason game in their new stadium, as a matter of fact.

Here’s hoping this latest reincarnation, complete with a canopy to keep fans out of the sun and the rain, will have a more successful kickoff.

Wouldn’t want to think the place is haunted or anything.

Four Marlins All-Stars? That’s more than Miami’s World Series teams

 

There are four Miami Marlins on the 2016 National League All-Star roster and none of them are Giancarlo Stanton or the still-suspended Dee Gordon.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 2: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins throws a fourth inning pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – JULY 2: Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins throws a fourth inning pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

What does that mean about the team’s postseason possibilities? Probably nothing. The Marlins’ world championship teams of 1997 and 2003 only had three All-Star representatives each.

Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson and Moises Alou were on the first title team. Mike Lowell, Dontrelle Willis and Luis Castillo were on the second one, and it took injuries to other players to get the D-Train and Castillo on the roster.

Nobody’s ever quite sure what to make of this franchise and the ebb and flow of its talent pool.

This season it’s no surprise to see Jose Fernandez selected as an All-Star, but Marcell Ozuna? The team seemed to be pretty much fed up with him last season. Now he’s batting over .300 for the first time and headed for the All-Star game in San Diego next Tuesday. Maybe Ozuna ought to take Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds with him.

Miami’s other two All-Stars are out of the bullpen, A.J. Ramos and newcomer Fernando Rodney, recently acquired by trade from the Padres. That says two good things about the organization. It’s got depth in an area that is vital to the success of any team, plus the Marlins are aggressive enough about the 2016 playoffs to spend important assets on an All-Star arm.

[The upside on Whiteside, Pat Riley’s No. 1 priority before Wade]

[Pat Summitt was one of Steve Spurrier’s best friends and inspirations]

[My bizarre day in the company of boxing Hall of Famer Macho Camacho]

Still, there’s no reason to get worked up about something crazy with this club, right? No World Series run or anything like that.

Every time a thought like that crosses my mind, I think of 2003. At the All-Star break, the Marlins were 49-46 and 13 games behind the division-leading Braves. Then came a 42-25 finish to grab a wild-card playoff berth and you know the rest.

At the moment Miami is a bit over .500 again as the All-Star break approaches. Close enough to make some noise, especially if Stanton keeps hitting long home runs. He could still have an All-Star level second half of the season, even if he’s missed the mark so far.

The upside on Whiteside, just in case you think nothing’s going right with the Heat

(UPDATE: Dwyane Wade agreed to sign with the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night)

It may seem like Dwyane Wade is the Miami Heat’s ultimate answer to every question right now but Hassan Whiteside actually was the No. 1 priority on Pat Riley’s free-agency shopping list.

Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) battles for the ball against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during first half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto, Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) battles for the ball against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during first half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto, May 5, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

First offered. First to reach agreement. First to sign once NBA rules allow on Thursday. Hassan leads in all categories with a Heat team that may be on the verge of a major makeover, and of course none of that makes Wade feel as prized as he deserves to be.

So what exactly does Miami have in Hassan? A guy who just got a max-contract reward of $1.3 million for each of his 75 career NBA starts? A backup to Amar’e Stoudemire for big chunks of last season? Yeah, that’s young Whiteside.

Here’s where it really starts to get cool, though. Riley wanted Whiteside back here in the same way that he wanted Shaquille O’Neal to join Miami in 2004.

Remember the fuss when Shaq arrived at AmericanAirlines Arena for an introductory press conference? He rode up in an 18-wheeler, jumped out of the cab to cool down thousands of waiting fans with a water gun and went inside to entertain the media with his usual oversized promises of championship greatness.

That first season in Miami Shaq was pretty great. Averages of 22.9 points, 2.3 blocks and 10.4 rebounds per game and a league-leading .601 field-goal percentage. Dunks, dunks and more dunks for the Hall of Famer, who was 32 at the time.

Compare Whiteside’s 2015-16 numbers, though. He averaged 14.2 points, significantly less, but led the league in blocks with 3.7 per game and averaged 11.8 rebounds. Also, Hassan’s relatively raw offensive game produced a shooting percentage of .609, right behind DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.

Not a bad starting point, and that’s all this is for Whiteside. Compare Hassan’s first postseason to that inaugural Shaq-Heat playoff run, too, remembering that an injury stopped Whiteside after just 10 games.

[Even when they’re going good, the Marlins are bound to confound]

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good feud, even when it involved Shula]

[My utterly bizarre day with boxing Hall of Famer Macho Camacho]

During the 2005 playoffs, which ended for Miami in an Eastern Conference final loss to Detroit, Shaq averaged 19.4 points, 1.5 blocks and 7.8 rebounds with a .558 field-goal percentage.

Hassan’s first postseason run was better in every way but scoring. He averaged 12.0 points, 2.8 blocks and 10.9 rebounds per game and his shooting percentage, aided by all those lob passes from Wade, rose to .681.

In the longer view, Shaq never blocked shots at Whiteside’s rate. O’Neal’s best season in that category was 3.5 per game as a 20-year-old Orlando Magic rookie. His career average over 19 NBA seasons was 2.3.

Not saying that Whiteside is Shaq, who in his second Heat season contributed mightily to an NBA championship, or that he will become Shaq, or anything of the sort.

While everybody’s frantic about possibly losing Wade, however, it helps a little to know what Miami is building around for the next four years. Whiteside is going to get better, and Riley is going to be building future free-agency pitches around the chance to play with the NBA’s premier big man.