My history as a sports fan began just over 12 years before I was born, when Robert Irsay’s Mayflower trucks led the Colts out of Baltimore.
My father, devastated by the loss of a team he grew up adoring, couldn’t be a football fan anymore. How could he? His entire city was abandoned thanks to an owner they despised since day one. Recalling the event, my grandfather said he “doesn’t think Irsay’s life would have been safe” in the city.
The second major event in my growth into a “sports geek” was in 1999, when my parents relocated from Baltimore to South Florida.
By the time I was a teenager, my cousin began taking me to Dolphins games. I was initially hesitant to fully invest myself in football; I had never played the sport, and it seemed like a lot of sitting for very little action in the hot South Florida sun. However, I eventually learned to love the beauty of the game.
To this day, he still apologizes for making me a Dolphins fan.
I was not raised to watch the NFL. Now, wounds have healed, and my parents both call themselves Dolphins fans. However, this is a recent development. I did not grow up in a Dolphins household. My father raised me on the Miami Heat.
As a 10-year old boy, it was hard to understand the true significance of the moment my dad and I walked into at American Airlines Arena on June 18th, 2006. Game 5 of the NBA Finals would end with the Miami Heat breaking through what was once a 0-2 series deficit to go up 3-2. They would end the series just a few days later in Dallas.
I do not remember Shaq. I do not remember Udonis Haslem. ‘Zo and Gary Payton could have not existed for all I knew. There is only one player I remember from the 2006 NBA Finals.
The arena was deafening when he was introduced. The screams reached hysteria even before his name was announced.
“And from Marquette…number 3…ladies and gentlemen…”
Then his name rang out in an announcer’s voice forever etched into the mind of anyone who has attended a game at American Airlines Arena.
I have seen LeBron James introduced for an NBA Finals game. I have seen Ray Lewis introduced at M&T Bank Stadium. I have attended dozens of Miami Dolphins games in the last decade. Never have I heard a crowd cheer with the vigor Heat fans did for Dwyane Wade that night in American Airlines Arena.
How does any of this relate to my time as a Miami Dolphins fan? Because Dwyane Wade gave me something that the Miami Dolphins never have:
A sports hero.
I never got to watch Dan Marino play football. I have no memories of his playing career. In my lifetime (level of potential awareness aside), Marino did not throw for more than 4,000 yards in one single season. He only exceeded 20 TDs once. My first memories of Dan Marino are through YouTube clips and old specials on NFL Network. However, I never got to experience the excitement of one of his games.
(My first encounter with Dan was actually him declining my request for a picture as a young man. He would eventually make up for it by taking a photo with me last year at Sun Life Stadium, which is a memory I will always treasure.)
Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were well past their primes when I became truly invested in the NFL. Ricky Williams’ frequent absences due to marijuana use were impossible to understand when I was younger.
In my lifetime, Cameron Wake is the closest thing to a hero for the Miami Dolphins. However, despite the amazing career and inspiring journey that define Wake, can he be considered on the same level as Dwyane Wade? No.
Since my writing is centered on the Miami Dolphins, I often receive heavy criticism from readers related to my choice for the greatest athlete in Miami history. It is not Dan Marino. It is Dwyane Wade.
For those who watched Dan Marino play, I am very happy for you. Based on what I have heard and seen, the electricity and excitement of his presence behind the line of scrimmage was unmatched. However, before you attempt to chastise me about my placement of Marino in the second spot on the list of Miami athletes, understand what my generation has been faced with.
We have seen stars, such as Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Sam Madison, Ricky Williams, Cameron Wake, and several other players who make you proud to be a Dolphins fan. However, they cannot be considered in the same category as Dwyane Wade.
Miami will never be a sports town; that is simply the nature of the beast when you have beaches and endless means of entertainment. However, the closest Miami ever felt to being a sports town was when Dwyane Wade was leading the Heat on one of his signature tears through the NBA playoffs.
During the time of Don Shula, and in the early 2000s, Miami was firmly a football town. While still not a sports town as a whole, Miamians who were sports fans largely represented the aqua and orange. However, since Miami is not a sports town through and through, it is a winner’s town. In the last decade, nobody has brought more glory to the city of Miami than Wade.
Dwyane Wade was the Miami Heat during my lifetime. Even when LeBron James was on the team, that was still Dwyane Wade’s squad. In my lifetime, no player has ever embodied the Miami Dolphins. That is simply because no player has willed the Miami Dolphins to success like Dwyane Wade did the Heat.
I do not believe it will be impossible for someone to eventually replace Wade atop the list of Miami’s athletes. His departure could affect his legacy when compared to a future athlete, but now even his move to Chicago does not allow Marino to pass him in my eyes.
If both teams were winning equally, I do think that Miami would be a Dolphins town. With that being said, it is very possible that a Dolphins player could eventually reclaim the title of South Florida’s greatest athletic treasure. However, football is a sport that is not as conducive to individual accomplishments and relies more heavily on a team. One player can have a more dominant impact on a basketball game than a single player could on a football game. If one player could will a team to a championship in football, Dan Marino would certainly have hoisted the Lombardi on multiple occasions.
Basketball will always be a team that allows for a greater spotlight on individual success. While a winning Miami Dolphins team would most likely be more popular than a winning Miami Heat team, it seems hard to imagine someone having an individual impact as monumental as Wade’s.
Yes, the Miami Dolphins could experience a renaissance in the coming years at the hands of a new star. The team, if winning games, would have a chance to eclipse even the hysteria that accompanied the Big Three Heat. However, for one generation, Dwyane Wade is the person who brought glory to a city and success to an organization in a way that the city's other franchises could never match.
Number 3 will always be Flash. American Airlines Arena will always be “His House.” Miami will always be a part of Wade County.
And while I will always place the Miami Dolphins above all else, my first sports hero will always be Dwyane Wade.