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.