Built in 1987, Hard Rock Stadium is one of the more senior facilities in the National Football League, but one that has successfully made the transition to meet the needs of the modern sports fan. Host to Super Bowl XLI, special renovations were undertaken in preparation for the Super Bowl to make this aging facility more conducive to the needs of the modern fan. Several stadiums throughout that league could actually benefit from the lessons learned in Miami. Although the new trend in the NFL is leaning toward demolition and rebuild of monster venues throughout the league, the Miami Dolphins organization decided upon a $250 million expansion project to prolong the relevance and usability of their aging facility. This expansion project included the construction of a state of the art Club level, an increased number of concessions and restaurants, upgraded luxury suites, and the expanded common areas that have become the trademark of the newer professional sports venues, all in all, contributing to an overall positive experience for its fans.
Tailgating in Miami is exceptional. Miami Dolphins fans are great folks to be around and the Hispanic influence can be found in traditional tailgating cuisine all over the blacktop. I found myself sampling banana pancakes and plantains, shrimp kabobs and freshly grilled fish, pork sandwiches and some great parking lot pig roasts. Many of the fans had full sized grills and 10' x 10' tents that could actually be setup in the designated tailgating area clearly marked behind each vehicle parking space. Hard Rock Stadium is actually the only facility in the National Football League I encountered, that actually marks off an 8' x 10' tailgating space for each fan's vehicle, which was a very impressive gesture on their part. The parking lot is a massive 140 acre expanse of blacktop, capable of accommodating over 23,000 cars ($25.00 per space) and 100 buses ($80.00 per space). I also found the parking lot itself to be rather easily accessible from the main roads making entry and exit a breeze. The lot opens 4 hours prior to kickoff and closes 2 hours after the conclusion of the game, but I've found that if you're looking for a space in the premiere tailgating areas, you'll want to purchase a parking pass ahead of time.
Making our way to the stadium we stopped at the Miami Dolphins NFL Experience located outside the stadium which was setup as a family funzone. Hard Rock Stadium has setup a series of interactive games for the kids, while grown ups can find plenty of shaded lounge areas to relax, strike up some football conversation, and begin the pregame libations. For the kids, pass, punt, and kick drills are setup by stadium staffers along with inflatable bouncers and face painting stands to assist fans with getting their game face on. The Miami Dolphins Pro Shop is also worth checking out for the latest in Dolphins merchandise as it is located next to the NFL Experience.
As for the game, the Dolphins took care of business by escaping with a win in what could easily have been a trap game against a weaker opponent. Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, and the Dolphins offense produced 21 points en route to a much deserved 21 - 19 win over the visiting Seattle Seahawks. The seats I scored from TicketCity.com were excellent and the atmosphere inside Hard Rock Stadium was electric. Ted Ginn Jr's touchdown catch in the first quarter set the tone for the day as Miami continued to jockey for position in the highly competitive AFC East. With a solid quarterback under center, a ground game that grinds out the clock, and their traditionally stingy, solid play on defense, the Dolphins have once again proven that they are a force to be reckoned with in the AFC East. If you're interested in additional details on Hard Rock Stadium or more about my experience on the Quest for 31, be sure to check out
- Hans Steiniger for TicketCity