By John Dolen
City & Shore Magazine
In the annals of Super Bowl history, Miami’s Orange Bowl was the setting for one of the game’s most legendary contests.
In just the third Super Bowl, the NFL’s dominant Baltimore Colts (coached by a guy named Don Shula) came into Miami an 18-point favorite over the New York Jets. The Jets were led by a brash young quarterback by the name of Joe Namath, who surprised football fans everywhere by boldly predicting a victory.
The Jets were from the expansion American Football League and the Colts from the original grouping of pro football franchises in the National Football League. Those teams had yet to lose to an AFC team in a title game.
But when the Jets won this one 16-7, the name Namath was cemented in football history. All these years later, an Associated Press survey of football historians and sports journalists voted Namath the league’s greatest character, beating out former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
That game in 1969 was already the second Super Bowl played in Miami. The first came a year earlier, when the Green Bay Packers beat the expansion Oakland Raiders 33-14.
For those used to the super stadiums of today with their luxury boxes, Cuban sandwiches and premium beer, the Orange Bowl’s best attraction then was the warm climate. There were hot dogs, pretzels and beer, but not yet a nod to the area’s Latin culture. Inside, that is. On the streets as you walked up, you could buy empanadas or grilled meat on a skewer.
Parking in the downtown venue was a squeeze, so necessity seemed to have been the mother of invention in the park’s surrounding streets. Improvised parking lots sprang up in several neighborhoods. Locals opened their backyards and driveways for five to ten bucks a vehicle. Sometimes a beer and a friendly chat on the porch followed the game.
As for that Baltimore head coach in the Jets game, he must have seen something he liked on the trip to Miami. Don Shula later coached the Dolphins into NFL history with the league’s only perfect season. That culminated in a win at Super Bowl VII with the “No-Name” defense and offensive stars like Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris.
But like the other five Super Bowl appearances by the Dolphins, none were played in Miami. As for Shula, he went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history.
South Florida hosted a total of five Super Bowls at the Orange Bowl. The next five came at Joe Robbie Stadium, and the 11th, a record for cities hosting the game, will be held at the Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2. Miami’s home team, alas, will not be in this one either.
The venerable Orange Bowl was built in 1934 for the University of Miami Hurricanes at a cost of $340,000. It was originally known as Burdine Stadium, named for Roddy Burdine, chairman of the Burdines department store chain. Beginning with a seating capacity of 23,330, it underwent several renovations over the decades, and capacity grew to 76,000 by 1957. Two years later, it was renamed the Orange Bowl, and the Dolphins played their first game there in 1966.
The first title game played in Joe Robbie Stadium, Super Bowl XXIII, was another memorable contest. The 1989 battle featured the kind of late game quarterback heroics that are now commonplace with the likes of Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees.
The quarterback with the cool head and fiery arm then played for the San Francisco 49ers and went by the name Joe Montana. Seventy-five thousand fans turned out to see a slim Cincinnati Bengals’ lead vanish on a desperate last-ditch drive led by Montana. Starting from their own 8-yard line, the 49ers marched the length of the field, scoring on a Montana pass with seconds to go. This 92-yard drive at Joe Robbie is a perennial fixture in NFL highlight reels.
According to South Florida newspapers, the National Anthem at Joe Robbie’s first Super Bowl was sung by Billy Joel. If Joel had waited another 20 years or so, he probably could have been the star of the halftime show itself. But that tradition, which came much later with Michael Jackson and others, had not yet begun.
Instead, halftime entertainment that year was an amalgam of local entertainers under the dubious banner, “Be Bop Bamboozled.” Hundreds of South Florida-area dancers were showcased around an unusual Elvis impersonator – unusual in that he sang with Elvis flash and style but performed no actual Elvis Presley songs. (See how much of it you can stand to watch on YouTube.) You’d have to wonder what the NBC audience of 81.6 million did during that time.
By the way, not to worry about the stars for the 2020 contest. The halftime show will have a blockbuster duo: Jennifer Lopez and Shakira; not to mention Lady Gaga performing the night before at the AT&T TV Super Saturday Night concert in Miami.
The next four South Florida Super Bowls were in the stadium Joe Robbie built. Robbie, a successful attorney who founded the Dolphins with comedian Danny Thomas, was able to obtain private funding. The venue had the quirk of also having a baseball infield for part of the year for the Florida Marlins, who now have their own ballpark.
But Robbie’s stadium did not carry his name through all the Super Bowls to come. By the time it became the Hard Rock Stadium in 2016, it had gone through several new owners and a dizzying array of corporate sponsors buying “naming rights.”
Fans could barely keep up with the name changes, often resorting to the expression “Joe Robbie or whatever they call it now.”
Pro Player Stadium debuted in 1996 when new owner Wayne Huizenga sold naming rights to Fruit of the Loom, which had a “pro player” apparel brand. Super Bowl XXXIII was played there in 1999.
Land Shark Stadium, after the beer brand, lasted a year (2009-2010) and was followed by Sun Life Stadium, named for a financial services company based in Canada. Sun Life hosted Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
Hard Rock naming rights were purchased in August 2016. Dolphins owners sold 18-year rights for $250 million. Then the team spent more than two years and over $400 million on a major overhaul, replacing every seat and pushing lower level seats closer to the field. In doing this, 10,000 seats were eliminated.
For Miami’s record 11th Super Bowl coming up next month, Sporting News reported the odds in December as favoring an appearance by returning champion Patriots, followed by the Ravens, the Saints, the Chiefs and the 49ers, among others.
Those could have changed in the meantime, but predictions for the party probably won’t.
“We won’t know for a while what teams will play in the Super Bowl in 2020, but we do know one thing about Miami: It knows how to throw a party,” Sporting News surmised. “So expect Super Bowl 54 and all the events that surround the big game to be nothing short of a spectacular show. That includes a very Miami-appropriate halftime performance.”
Bring it on, J. Lo and Shakira.
PHOTO: Quarterback Joe Namath meets the press after his New York Jets’ surprise 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, played at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 12, 1969. (AP photo)