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Antiquated Bowl? Hard Rock Stadium joins short list of aging venues to host Super Bowl

Despite its age, stadium has undergone facelift to ensure future Super Bowls in South Florida

This aerial view shows the signage for Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium, Jan. 14, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida.
This aerial view shows the signage for Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium, Jan. 14, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (WPLG)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Hard Rock Stadium could just be the last of its kind when it comes to modern-day Super Bowl venues.

In an era of amenity-driven stadiums and newer-is-better-minded audiences, the house that former Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie built stands as a bastion to the old NFL.

The fact that the 34-year-old stadium was conceived in the decade of bell-bottoms and opened in the same year that “Three Men and a Baby” was released only reinforces the staying power that South Florida has when it comes to the Super Bowl.

It was 1976 -- the same year the old Orange Bowl hosted Super Bowl X -- that Robbie first gave thought to building a new home for his professional football team. That’s the year, he recalled to the Chicago Tribune in 1989, when the city of Miami wanted to quadruple the rent at the aging Little Havana stadium.

“That did it,” he said. “I began thinking in earnest about building a stadium.”

Players take the field for workouts about an hour before the start of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl, Jan. 18, 1975, in Miami.
Players take the field for workouts about an hour before the start of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl, Jan. 18, 1975, in Miami. (AP Photo)

By 1984, Robbie made good on his thoughts, announcing his plans to build a new stadium for the Dolphins on a parcel of land in what is now Miami Gardens, just a stone's throw away from the Broward County-Miami-Dade County line.

Believing that Major League Baseball in South Florida would one day become a reality, Robbie set out to build the first privately funded multipurpose stadium in the country.

At the time, Robbie said, there were plenty of skeptics who felt he would inevitably need the help of taxpayers to pull it off. But when Joe Robbie Stadium opened for a preseason Dolphins game on Aug. 16, 1987, less than two years after construction began on the facility, his $115 million dream came to fruition.

Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie speaks with reporters in the stands of the team's new stadium which bears his name, July 13, 1987. The Dolphins will open their exhibition season in the $100 million facility in an Aug. 16,1987, game against the Chicago Bears.
Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie speaks with reporters in the stands of the team's new stadium which bears his name, July 13, 1987. The Dolphins will open their exhibition season in the $100 million facility in an Aug. 16,1987, game against the Chicago Bears. (AP Photo)

Two years later, it served as the site of Super Bowl XXIII, a decade after South Florida had last hosted the NFL’s championship game.

When it opened, Joe Robbie Stadium was everything the Orange Bowl wasn’t. It had clean restrooms, escalators, seatbacks and improved sightlines. Not to mention there was plenty of parking.

Robbie paid for it all through the sales of 10-year leases for priority seating as a down payment on the loans.

It’s safe to say Robbie’s forethought paid off. By 1993, the Marlins began play as South Florida’s first big-league team. Four years after that, it was home to the World Series.

The sun sets over Pro Player Stadium as pregame activities conclude before Game 2 of the World Series between the Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, Oct. 19, 1997.
The sun sets over Pro Player Stadium as pregame activities conclude before Game 2 of the World Series between the Florida Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, Oct. 19, 1997. (AP Photo)

The stadium has since hosted five Super Bowls, twice filling the void for other locales that failed to hold onto the game (see Super Bowls XXXIII and XLIV).

While South Florida has long been a preferred Super Bowl destination, keeping up with the Joneses is part of today’s NFL game, perhaps even more than the game itself.

The rise of the modern NFL stadium has got as much to do with the 10-year Super Bowl layoff as anything.

This aerial photograph provides a bird's eye view of Hard Rock Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LIV, Jan. 14, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida.
This aerial photograph provides a bird's eye view of Hard Rock Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LIV, Jan. 14, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (WPLG)

Consider that Hard Rock Stadium is the oldest still-standing stadium to entertain a Super Bowl since 2013 and second-oldest since San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium hosted one in 2003.

Aside from the 46-year-old Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans (which remains the most antiquated Super Bowl stadium in the regular rotation), all of the host venues in the decade since Super Bowl XLIV have been built in the last 20 years.


List of NFL facilities to host Super Bowl since South Florida’s last turn

Super BowlVenueCityYear Opened
XLVCowboys Stadium *Arlington, Texas2009
XLVILucas Oil StadiumIndianapolis2008
XLVIIMercedes-Benz SuperdomeNew Orleans1975
XLVIIIMetLife StadiumEast Rutherford, N.J.2010
XLIXUniversity of Phoenix Stadium *Glendale, Ariz.2006
50Levi’s StadiumSanta Clara, Calif.2014
LINRG StadiumHouston2002
LIIU.S. Bank StadiumMinneapolis2016
LIIIMercedes-Benz StadiumAtlanta2017
*names at time game was played

After Robbie died in 1990, South Florida businessman Wayne Huizenga took full ownership of the Dolphins. When Stephen Ross succeeded Huizenga as managing general partner of the Dolphins in 2009, the sale included the stadium.

The NFL made it clear to Ross that any future Super Bowls in South Florida would be contingent upon a new or significantly retrofitted stadium.

Ross didn’t exactly endear himself to the South Florida community when he made a push to obtain multimillion-dollar public funding from taxpayers to help renovate the stadium. The proposal was sacked by the Florida Legislature before it ever came up for a vote, forcing Ross to explore his options.

After idle threats from former Dolphins brass of potential relocation, Ross announced in 2014 that he would pay for the modernization through the use of private funds. The total price tag was $400 million.

“I want to do this for the community that has done so much for me, and for this storied franchise that means so much to the people of South Florida,” Ross said at the time. “With this project, we can secure the future of the Dolphins in Miami-Dade for another 20 years.”

This aerial photograph provides a bird's eye view of a construction project to retrofit then-Sun Life Stadium, Jan. 29, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Florida. The stadium would soon receive a new name and a canopy roof to protect fans from the elements.
This aerial photograph provides a bird's eye view of a construction project to retrofit then-Sun Life Stadium, Jan. 29, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Florida. The stadium would soon receive a new name and a canopy roof to protect fans from the elements.

Doing so likely also secured future Super Bowls for the region.

Super Bowl LIV will be the 11th time South Florida has hosted the biggest single-day sporting event in the world, setting a record for the most Super Bowls.

While it’s rare that a stadium of its age is hosting a Super Bowl in the year 2020, Hard Rock Stadium certainly isn’t alone. Next year’s Super Bowl will return to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998 and has twice hosted the big game.

Despite a slew of name changes since 1996, Hard Rock Stadium appears to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.