All teams are welcome to submit scheduling requests to the NFL before it finalizes its plan for the season, but it’s unpredictable whether any of those can be accommodated. Mapping out 256 games in 32 cities (plus international games) is difficult enough without taking into account any potential conflicts with baseball or other events, let alone team preferences.
Understanding that, the Dolphins generally try to ask for as few considerations as possible, saving their requests for when they’re really necessary.
“Competitive factors come in first,” team president Tom Garfinkel said. “You want to have a bye week in the middle of the season. You want the games equal so you don’t have to play all your games in the snow in December and you don’t to miss out on the chance to play at home in September.
“If it’s an equal distribution and a fair schedule, you just go play the games.”
With that in mind, here are some notes on the Dolphins’ 2018 schedule, which will be released in two weeks:
–They’ve asked for a few years to open at home, something they haven’t done since 2014. Miami has started out on the road five times in the last six years.
The Dolphins were supposed to open at Hard Rock Stadium last season, but the game was postponed to November because of Hurricane Irma.
–The Dolphins asked that their Week 17 game, the final one of the season, be played on the road. That week is designated for divisional games, meaning Miami could play a significant AFC East road game in cold weather to close the year.
The reason for they asked for that is because the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium is a college football national semifinal Dec. 29. Last year, the Dolphins hosted the Orange Bowl on a Saturday night and the Buffalo Bills the next afternoon, which put some constraints on them.
“With a college football semifinal, you don’t want back-to-back games at 8 o’clock at night and one the next day,” Garfinkel said. “Those are the situations you try to save the big requests for.”
–Miami doesn’t have any away games west of the Central Time Zone, so there was no need for the organization to ask for any grouping on its road schedule. In the past, the Dolphins have tried to pair West Coast trips together in consecutive weeks so they could stay out west in between games.
–The Dolphins didn’t make any specific requests on their potential cold weather games. In addition to the annual visits to New England, Buffalo and the Jets, Miami will play outdoor games at Cincinnati and, most importantly, Green Bay. Garfinkel said the team didn’t ask for anything as it pertains to the timing of the Packers game.
This will be the seventh game the Dolphins have played at Lambeau Field, and the only times they’ve gone there late in the season were November 2002 (30 degrees) and December 1985 (18 degrees).
The non-division road schedule also includes dome games at Houston, Indianapolis and Minnesota.
–No matter how the schedule plays out, it can’t be tougher than last year. The 2017 season began with the displaced Dolphins opening in Los Angeles, then playing in New York and London the following two weeks.
“A lot of challenging things took place starting with the hurricane,” Garfinkel said. “We’re just looking forward to, hopefully, just having a normal season. No trips over the Atlantic. No big West Coast trips. Hopefully no hurricanes.”
While there is no indication that either event is headed here soon, team president Tom Garfinkel said the Dolphins are pursuing both.
“We want to bring as many great events as we can to Miami, so we’ll bid on everything that’s available,” he said.
The Pro Bowl was in Hawaii for 30 years before the Dolphins hosted it in 2010. That year and 2015, the NFL held the Pro Bowl at the Super Bowl site.
The league moved it to Orlando starting in 2017 and will play the third year of that deal at the end of the upcoming season. There has been no indication what the NFL will do beyond that.
The draft has also been jumping around the country since ending a 50-year run in New York. Chicago hosted it in 2015 and ’16, Philadelphia had it last year and it will be at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium next month.
The NFL has not awarded the 2019 draft, and the Dolphins would like to be considered.
“We put our name in the hat for all those things,” Garfinkel said.
The team is also looking to land 2026 men’s World Cup matches if a North American bid including the U.S., Canada and Mexico wins hosting rights.
That aside, Hard Rock Stadium is already set for several big events in addition to being the home field for the Dolphins and Hurricanes, the permanent site of the Orange Bowl (it’s a national semifinal this season) and the venue for the Miami Open tennis tournament beginning next year.
The 2020 Super Bowl is headed to Miami Gardens as a direct result of the hundreds of millions of dollars Stephen Ross put into the stadium, and college football’s National Championship Game is coming in 2021.
ORLANDO—Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has been open about his desire to bring as many big sporting events to South Florida as he can and it appears as though he’ll get a chance secure another Super Bowl relatively soon after hosting the 2020 game.
A league source said it is likely the next time the Miami area will be considered is 2026, making that year the obvious target for the Dolphins. That would be Super Bowl LX and it’d be a league-high 12th appearance in South Florida if the bid is successful.
The team is currently making plans for Super Bowl XLIV at Hard Rock Stadium, which will be its first time hosting since 2010. That Super Bowl will be of particular importance because it falls at the end of the NFL’s 100th anniversary season.
The most recent awarding of Super Bowls came in 2016. The league owners voted to put the game in Atlanta for the upcoming season, Miami Gardens the year after and Tampa in 2021. The 2022 Super Bowl was awarded to Los Angeles without accepting any other candidates because the area is building what will ultimately be a $5 billion stadium for the Rams and Chargers.
The league has not said when it will start the process for games in 2023 and beyond.
“When you look and see what we’re doing at Hard Rock and the events we are bringing, I mean certainly we recognize the importance of what it does for the community by bringing events to South Florida,” Ross said this morning. “I think that’s very important. I’ve always mentioned that and that’s why we renovated the stadium.”
Construction at the stadium has been a constant the past few years since Ross sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into a revamping it. It hosts the Orange Bowl every year, which will be a national semifinal this season, and recently won the rights to the 2021 championship game.
Ross also broke ground last week on a tennis venue that will be built on the south side of the property and be the permanent home of the Miami Open beginning a year from now. That project will add an elaborate promenade to the stadium grounds and a multi-purpose grandstand facility that will be used primarily for tennis but can be reconfigured for concerts and other events.
MIAMI GARDENS—When fans get into Hard Rock Stadium for the Dolphins’ season finale Sunday afternoon, they’ll hardly be able to tell that 65,000 rabid college football fans partied there late into the previous night for the Orange Bowl.
“You hope they don’t,” said Todd Boyan, the man overseeing what will be a massive changeover. “You hope when people come in it’s clean… The mission is not to see any of that.”
The “mission” for Boyan, the vice president of stadium operations, is to navigate hosting the University of Miami and Wisconsin for Saturday night’s Orange Bowl, then have the facility ready for Dolphins-Bills the following afternoon. Other than the faint “greened out” hash marks from the college field, it should look like any other Dolphins game.
The stadium likely won’t clear out from the bowl game, replete with a halftime show and post-game ceremony, until after midnight. Dolphins players and staff likely will begin arriving around noon Sunday, leaving a window of about 12 hours for a crew of approximately 400 people to get every aspect of the building flipped—switching out signage, clearing the parking lots, converting merchandise stores, redressing locker rooms, hauling however much trash 65,000 people produce and prepping the playing field itself.
Hard Rock Stadium isn’t usually in this severe of a time crunch, which became slightly less stressful when the NFL bumped Dolphins-Bills from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. Last year the building had two days in between these games, and it’s a non-issue any year in which the Dolphins end their season on the road. The Orange Bowl used to be played Jan. 1 or later, so this wasn’t a problem then.
The most difficult and most scrutinized element of this operation will be the field, which typically has a large Orange Bowl emblem in the center and Capital One logos on each 25-yard line. They also fully paint an end zone for each school and stage the post-game presentation on the field, but that will be slightly different this year because of the Dolphins playing the next day.
The most noticeable modification related to the tight turnaround will be the change to the end zones. Because each one is 4,800 square feet, the staff would not be able to replace it between games, so the mutually agreed upon solution was to paint them in a way that works for both games: a white argyle pattern similar to the one the Dolphins used for their Monday Night Football game against New England this month.
“It’s the Orange Bowl’s preference to always make the pageantry the best it can be, but we just said we can’t do it,” Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said. “We just can’t. If the situation was reversed and the NFL game was the night before, we would do the same thing.”
That’s essentially what the grounds crew does when the Hurricanes and Dolphins play back-to-back as well, going with simply MIAMI in the end zones for both games.
For a reference point on how difficult it would be to redo a full end zone, the logo in the center of the field, which is substantially smaller, takes 4-5 hours to pull up, re-sod and repaint. If there’s rain, by the way, Boyan’s crew uses a tent to shelter that part of the field.
While this surely wasn’t great news to the Orange Bowl organizers, they agreed it was the most logical compromise.
“We knew it was important to have a safe field for Dolphins-Bills, so we got together with them and came up with a solution that works for everybody,” spokesman Larry Wahl said. “We’ll do a lot of the team branding on the sidelines and bench areas.”
Dealing with some occasional snags like this is more than worth it for the Orange Bowl considering how much the Dolphins have improved the stadium over the past few years. Those renovations are part of what has kept this game as one of the crown jewels of the college bowl season.
“It’s a big upgrade,” Wahl said. “It’s been well-received by the schools and our key stakeholders. It gives us the wow factor like the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the game in Atlanta.”
The Orange Bowl will also contain Andy Grammer’s halftime performance and the post-game trophy presentation to the sideline, reducing the amount of foot traffic on the field.
Playing conditions were an issue for Hard Rock Stadium earlier this season when it hosted games on consecutive days, but that problem appears to be solved since switching to a new sod vendor in early November. The Dolphins’ home games after that point have been fine, including the Nov. 19 game against Tampa Bay when the Hurricanes had played the day before.
“It’s not gonna be 500 people dancing on the field because we have to preserve the integrity of the field for Sunday,” Garfinkel said. “We don’t anticipate a problem with the field based on the playing of the game. Obviously if we get torrential downpours during the game, that’s going to affect it to some degree, but we don’t anticipate the game itself causing a problem for the field.”
Another big project is the Orange Bowl’s fan fest, which takes over a section of the parking lot used for Dolphins games. Dismantling that facility begins right around kickoff and it should be cleared out by midnight.
Banners and sideline signage is fairly routine at Hard Rock Stadium because everything the Dolphins use is permanent, and everything the Hurricanes and Orange Bowl utilize are banners that drape over top of that.
“A lot of the stuff that goes up is easily removable,” Boyan said. “There’s a lot of good planning.”
The stadium has three locker rooms: two for NFL teams and an auxiliary one. The Hurricanes usually use the visiting NFL locker room, but for the Orange Bowl the ACC team always goes in the Dolphins’ and the opponent is housed in the other NFL room. Those will be decorated for the Orange Bowl and need to be fully redone for Dolphins-Bills.
One way the Dolphins could attempt to avoid having to rush through this transition would be requesting to play away the final week of the season—there’s no guarantee the NFL would be able to honor that anyway—but that could create a competitive disadvantage for the team. Week 17 is always a divisional matchup, and the Dolphins would rather not play a meaningful game on the road, especially in the northeast at this time of year.
“We prefer not to be playing back-to-back with the Orange Bowl, but obviously the TV contracts dictate the schedules for both sides a lot,” Garfinkel said. “The NFL sets the schedule, not us… We’re not gonna be home every year, so if the NFL is going to schedule us away, we’d rather them do it the years when we have an Orange Bowl close by, and we let them know that.”
As tough as the transition will be this weekend, Boyan and the stadium have tackled bigger challenges. Back when the Marlins played here, they had to convert it from baseball to football and back every August and September.
In September 2014, the venue hosted a Brazil-Colombia soccer match on a Friday night, the Hurricanes’ game the next day and the Dolphins had their opener against New England on Sunday. An estimated total of 200,000 people filed in and out of Hard Rock Stadium.
This one won’t be easy, but it won’t be nearly as strenuous as that weekend. The stadium crew expects everything to go smoothly, and as Boyan said, hopefully no one will be able to tell any of this took place.