Turns out there never really was anything all that wrong with Hard Rock Stadium, a building that has worn many other names since its opening 30 years ago. Took a while to figure it out, though.
When the Miami Dolphins didn’t get much going after moving there from the Orange Bowl, everyone agreed that the new facility had no soul. The seats were too far away from the action. The noise leaked out before anyone had a chance to feel it. Pretty and clean, sure, but where was the grit?
It was the same when the Miami Hurricanes showed up in 2008. Must have been the building to blame for all those lackluster seasons. Couldn’t have been Randy Shannon and Al Golden.
The Marlins kept looking to get out, too, reasoning that baseball wasn’t meant for so big a barn and that’s what explained the team’s perennially poor attendance.
Funny, though, how sellout crowds of 67,000-plus filled the facility, then known as Pro Player Stadium, for the 1997 World Series, and again when the Marlins won it all in 2003. Couldn’t hear yourself think in there, as I recall.
Winning big is the secret to every stadium’s charm, and the Hurricanes are proving it again with the rock-show atmosphere of their recent home wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
Along the way, Stephen Ross has spent the money and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkle has used it wisely to spruce up Hard Rock in many important ways, including a canopy to keep sun and rain out but lock crowd noise in. If the teams stink, however, it’s like booking a show that nobody wants to see for the Kravis Center. You can send half the ushers and valet parkers home in that case because it just ain’t happening.
Ask anybody who attended the Notre Dame game last Saturday night if the stadium experience felt flat to them.
Ask if they would like to return to the Orange Bowl days, with backless benches for sitting and backyards for parking.
The answer from some will always be yes, so sweet was the big-game sound of the Hurricanes and the Super Bowl Dolphins back there. It’s nostalgia, a magnet to the past, and that’s understandable.
Don’t imagine, though, that Hard Rock is actually soft, that opponents will never worry about coming there because the place is just too corporate. That notion doesn’t fly anymore.
The 9-0 Hurricanes have proven it wrong and you can tell it because there reportedly will be something close to a sellout for Saturday’s home game with Virginia. That’s for a noon start, the exact opposite of those late-night parties of the last two weeks, and it’s against an opponent that drew just 40,963 customers the last time these two teams met at Hard Rock.
The new building that Joe Robbie built isn’t so new anymore after three decades of sports events and concerts and such. It’s far from perfect, no matter how many expensive improvements are made, and there always will be a little too antiseptic to satisfy some rough and ready football fans.
What counts for personality down there, however, will always be the personality of the spectators themselves. And if they’re wildly happy, as they have been lately with the Hurricanes, Hard Rock Stadium will continue to be a wild and happy place.
The kind of place that earns a rugged nickname that rolls right off the tongue, like The Rock.