DEATH IS never
pretty, but sitting in a condemned stadium is like watching a great man in his
last throes. You can't believe it has come to this. On Saturday the University
of Miami football team will play its 473rd and final home game at the
horseshoe-shaped hulk known as the Orange Bowl, trading its creaky confines for
the antiseptic squareness of Dolphins Stadium. Demolition looms. No one can
argue that it's not time. Yet as Miami city commissioner Tomas Regalado says,
"The Orange Bowl is part of our soul." When that's lost, a bit of
attention must be paid.
is a fever dream of a city, built on sand and swamp. Its fabulously tortured
growth has had but two constants— the ocean and the Orange Bowl, which began in
1937 as a 22,000-seat facility and blossomed into a national championship game,
a parade, a cheery signal sent to the winter-bitten masses up North every Jan.
1 that, in at least one hot corner of America, someone was downing daiquiris
poolside and hoping to score. One New Year's Day, 1940, an 11-year-old boy sat
in his Athens, Ga., home soaking up the broadcast and banging out play-by-play
on his Christmas typewriter; he biked it to his local newspaper and got a job
as a reporter. In 1953, Edwin Pope went to his first game. "I thought I'd
gone to heaven," he says, and as The Miami Herald's great and graceful
columnist, he's been there ever since.
great memories," says former Dolphins coach Don Shula. Yet none meant more
than his worst: Without that loss to Joe Namath's upstart Jets in Super Bowl
III, Shula might never have clashed with his Baltimore Colts boss, then fled to
Miami and football immortality. "In the Orange Bowl fans were right on top
of you," he says. "That's where they first realized they could affect
the outcome, by making it tough for the opposing team to hear signals. And on
bad days they worked me over."
But the Orange
Bowl spawned more than just local heroes. As the site of 14 national
championships and five Super Bowls, it served as a national proving ground.
Namath became a New York legend, Doug Flutie a Boston legend, Bear Byrant an
Alabama legend, Tom Osborne a Nebraska legend, Barry Switzer an Oklahoma
legend, Kellen Winslow a San Diego legend—all because of their exploits in the
neighborhood now known as Little Havana.
The Cuban influx
transformed Miami, of course, and remade the Orange Bowl into more than just a
big-time sports venue. Not a few who fled Fidel Castro survived by hawking
sodas at UM games; current Miami mayor Manny Diaz bashed baseballs off its
walls as a kid. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy stood on the field with the
flag of Brigade 2506—the band of Cuban exiles who fought at the Bay of Pigs—and
promised that "this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free
Havana." The Cuban-American vote has gone Republican in nearly every
election since. When Castro hovered near death last year, city officials
designated the stadium as ground zero for the celebration. "But now,"
Regalado says, "I guess that s.o.b. is going to outlive the Orange
but that's the nature of a deathwatch. The Dolphins fled the Orange Bowl in
1986; the postseason college football game left in 1996. Still, so long as the
Hurricanes played there, even an outdated O-Bowl retained its aura. The
Hurricanes won an NCAA record 58 straight home games from 1985--94, team and
field and city fused into a hard-bitten whole.
Now that's over.
The Hurricanes have slipped out of the elite; the Orange Bowl is crumbling. A
few Saturdays ago UM entered the fourth quarter trailing Georgia Tech by a
touchdown. The 52,416 in attendance held up their traditional four fingers—We
own the fourth quarter—Mayor Diaz stood on the sideline barking at officials,
players from the glory years tried to impart some magic. Nothing helped. The
Yellow Jackets ran over the UM defense in a way unthinkable once.
Time ran out. A
fan held up a sign reading, GOODBYE ORANGE BOWL. The losing team gathered in a
corner and the band played the alma mater like a dirge, players pledging with
fans to "stand forever, on Biscayne's wondrous shore." The air was
humid and still; hurricane weather, they say. But it felt only like the