On October 7th, 2000 a six year old boy attended his first Miami Hurricanes home game, oblivious to the significance of that momentous occasion. In fact, the boy had to be coaxed into attending the game by his parents, who had offered a Scooby-Doo rolling backpack if he would attend. Begrudgingly, the boy accepted his parents’ gracious offer, but quickly regretted his decision due to the heat waves radiating off of the Orange Bowl’s bare metal footways on that hellishly hot day.
The crowd at the game was raucous as the Orange Bowl bursting at its seams with people. For a reason unknown to the boy, he and his parents watched most of the game kneeling near the handicap section in the lower bowl, which was juxtaposed between the West End Zone and the Hurricanes sideline. The only thing the boy remembers from that day was the smell of vomit emanating from the disgusting Orange Bowl restrooms, which laid under the stadium’s cave-like concourse.
The boy in question was me and the 2000 FSU vs. Miami game was the first home game I ever attended. From that blistering day in October of 2000 when Miami announced to the nation it was “back,” to UVA’s 48-0 route in the last game at the Orange Bowl, I did not miss a single home game.
As the Miami Hurricanes prepare to return to sacred ground, it is time to reflect on Miami’s time spent at the Orange Bowl.
The City of Miami and its University Have Always Been Intrinsically Linked
The University of Miami first fielded a (freshman) football team in 1926 and a varsity team the following season. Playing its games at a nearby park, UM was in sore need of a legitimate football stadium. In 1926, Miami began construction of a small temporary stadium on campus that would seat 8,000 people, but the 1926 Miami Hurricane—the football team’s eventual namesake—soon foiled these plans. Miami planned to ultimately build a 50,000 seat on-campus, open-ended, multi-purpose bowl stadium on campus, but these plans never took hold despite blueprints being drawn.
In 1930, the University of Miami began to play its games at Moore park: an interim solution which could barely seat over 5,000 spectators at the time. In 1932, local Miami leaders, businessmen, and bankers joined together in order to revive a Miami that was deep in the midst of economic depression, stemming from extensive property damage to the area’s once-abundant citrus plantations by the 1926 Hurricane. The group’s plan was to host a collegiate bowl game and festival to attract northern tourists seeking to flee winter a month earlier than they typically would. The “Festival of Palms Bowl” was born and the University of Miami battled Manhattan College in the first matchup, with UM prevailing 7-0.
The Birth of the Orange Bowl Game
The first two years of the Festival of Palms Bowl were tenuous at best. First, the University of Miami was guaranteed a birth and secondly, Moore Park was an inadequate venue for a bowl game that hoped to bring tens of thousands of tourists to South Florida around New Years Day. The Festival of Palms had re-branded itself the “Orange Bowl” for the 1935 edition, in the likeness of the original and most iconic collegiate bowl game to this day: the Rose Bowl. In the first annual Orange Bowl Game, Bucknell blanked Miami 35-0.
Roddy Burdine Stadium: Home to the Miami Hurricanes and Orange Bowl Game
For both the visionaries of the Orange Bowl Game and the decision makers at the University of Miami, it was clear that the infinitesimal size of Moore Park would inhibit both the Orange Bowl becoming a preeminent bowl game, and the UM football program achieving national prominence. In 1936 with New Deal funds, construction began on Roddy Burdine stadium: a 23,300 seat football stadium. The new stadium would be home to both the University of Miami and the Orange Bowl Game, which were seemingly inextricably linked to this point in time, especially considering Miami played in the first three Orange Bowl contests (if one counts the Palm Festival games).
Roddy Burdine stadium, named for Miami magnate Roddy Burdine, consisted of two large sets of permanent bleachers behind each sideline with small bleachers behind each endzone. Burdine Stadium had no upper deck until 1947, but at that point in time small sections of bleachers remained in both endzones. In 1959, Burdine Stadium was re-named the Miami Orange Bowl. When the AFL expansion Miami Dolphins made the Orange Bowl their home in 1966, the double-deck West End Zone that is etched into the collective consciousness of Miami Hurricane fans was created. With the exception of modifying accessories like scoreboards, bleachers, and painting the stadium, there was little renovation done to the stadium after the 1960s.
The Orange Bowl Takes Center Stage in Miami
Over the years, the Orange Bowl hosted 5 Super Bowls as well as countless de-facto national championship games. The stadium also hosted president Kennedy, who gave a speech in Miami during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. As the primary gathering location in all of Miami until the construction of Joe Robbie Stadium in 1987, the Orange Bowl played host to a multitude of concerts, soccer games, and even multiple baseball games in its heyday!
Due to its entirely metal structure (with the exception of the lower West End Zone), the Orange Bowl literally rattled and shook when it was only half-full with crazed Miami fans, providing an immense home-field advantage. It is no coincidence that the beloved Orange Bowl was home to both the NFL and NCAA record for consecutive home wins: from 1971-1975, the Miami Dolphins racked of 31 consecutive wins at the OB, while the Hurricanes notched 58 straight wins from 1985-1994, in a streak that spanned the tenure of three US presidents!
On a night to remember in 1985, Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins gave the eventual Super Bowl Champion, Chicago Bears, their only loss in an otherwise perfect season—ensuring the 1972 Dolphins would remain the only undefeated team in NFL history. What the Orange Bowl lacked in amenities, it made up for with character and an electricity that is hard to quantify if not personally experienced.
After Serving the City of Miami Faithfully as its Preeminent Venue for Many Years, the Orange Bowl Remained the Beloved Home of the Miami Hurricanes Until Its Demise.
Some of my fondest childhood memories were forged in that most perfect football stadium. I vividly recall turning the corner after exiting the highway on gameday, when suddenly the grandest of football stadiums—somehow beautiful even in her dilapidated state—would come into view. For marquee matchups, the streets around the stadium were chocked full of traffic and peddlers selling merchandise would set up shop along the sidewalks. Fans would park behind dilapidated homes on private property: if one wished for “no blockie,” they would have to pay extra. After night games, walking through Little Havana was a bit unsettling when almost every building had bars on its windows.
In one of the world’s most modern cities, the Orange Bowl was a window into the past. The Orange Bowl dominated the landscape of Little Havana, which grew up around her over the seven decades she existed. The Orange Bowl was perfectly imperfect: a paradox in more ways than one. A rusting aggregation of steel at the end, the Orange Bowl remained a masterfully executed cathedral for America’s most authentic sport: college football. Every inch of the Orange Bowl embodied football: it was designed and built with no ulterior motive, unlike Hard Rock stadium. Consequently the seating contoured to the field and was much closer in proximity than modern stadiums. There were few, if any, seats with a bad view of the field in the Orange Bowl—the same cannot be said for Hard Rock Stadium, especially prior to its 2016 renovation. For all its virtues, attending a game at the Orange Bowl was extremely uncomfortable as fans were forced to bake in the unrelenting tropical sun. Heat would literally radiate off off of the stadium’s bare metal surfaces, while fans were crammed beside one another on bleachers.
The Orange Bowl was simultaneously grotesque and immensely beautiful: despite peeling paint, rusting metal, exposed steel rebar in places, high-school-esque concessions, and restrooms straight out of a horror film, the Orange Bowl was one of the most aesthetically pleasing and visually stunning stadiums in the entire world. From the hedges and palm trees, to the sight-lines of the field and Miami skyline, the Orange Bowl had an essence about it that sterile modern stadiums—with their superficial bells and whistles—fail miserably to replicate. An exquisitely decorated and well-maintained playing surface further enhanced the visual spectacle that Miami fans were fortunate enough to experience at the Orange Bowl.
Unlike modern stadiums, the Orange Bowl was perfectly proportioned: everything from the press box, to the scoreboard and the symmetrical horseshoe shape, was masterfully executed and coalesced to form one of the best pure football stadiums in history. The Orange Bowl, was to Miami what the iconic Rose Bowl is to Pasadena, and it is a travesty that the city of Miami forsake its Grand Old Lady by failing to maintain and upgrade her as she aged.
The Orange Bowl Was Allowed to Rot by the City of Miami
As the Miami Football Program declined after 2003, the Orange Bowl was similarly left to its own devices. In 2005, the Orange Bowl suffered damage from Hurricane Wilma, which brought to the forefront once more, concerns about structural integrity and the debate whether or not to tear the stadium down.
As Miami fell off a cliff in 2006 and failed to get out in 2007, so too did the neglected Orange Bowl. By 2007, rusting bare steel was exposed everywhere, the upper deck leaked like a sieve, and I remember vividly an instance after a game in 2007 when the grounds crew was forced to deal with what appeared to be a major leak in the stadium’s sewage piping. While paint had been slowing chipping away since the early 2000s, the stadium needed a restoration (or perhaps even a complete rebuild) on a massive scale in 2007 because the city had largely neglected to continually maintain and upgrade the Orange Bowl since the late 60s, losing the Dolphins first and then the Orange Bowl Game after 1996 with the arrival of the BCS. After decades of minimal upkeep, I am not sure what, if anything, could have been done to save Miami’s greatest sports landmark. I wish an agreement with the City of Miami, akin to the one between USC and Los Angeles, could have been reached.
The University of Miami Left Its Home of 70 Years After 2007, Creating a Disastrous Stadium Situation
According to official sources, the city offered the University of Miami $250 million to renovate the Orange Bowl, but what actually happened will probably never be known to the public. In the mid-2000s, many plans and proposals were allegedly discussed, but no tangible renovation plan ever came to fruition. Whatever the case, Miami officials decided to move to Dolphins Stadium for the 2008 season, citing video boards and luxury suites as primary reasons, which is preposterous.
From 2008-2015, Dolphin Stadium/Land Shark Stadium/Sun Life Stadium/etc. was an abominable home venue for a program that had won 5 national championships in the last 24 years they played at the Orange Bowl. Miami officials could not have foreseen at the time that future Miami Dolphins owner, Steven Ross, would transform what was once one of the worst football stadiums in America, into one of the best, with private funds. As serendipitous fate would have it, Miami’s once grave stadium situation has resolved itself, despite a comedy of errors by all decision makers involved.