Top five sports moments in South Florida history

The South Florida area is home to a multitude of sports teams. In fact, South Florida is one of the 13 metropolitan areas in the United States that has a sports team in each of the four major leagues (National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and National Football League). With all these teams comes an extensive and rich history of sports in the area. Legends like LeBron James, Dan Marino, Miguel Cabrera and Dwyane Wade have all represented South Florida teams on their way to historic careers. None of these amazing moments would be possible without the legends that completed the feats.

The moments from South Florida sports are some of the best in sports history. From wild finishes to legendary seasons, South Florida sports reflect what the area is about. Without further ado, let us take a deep dive into the top five sports moments in South Florida’s sports history.

A man holds the Florida Marlins Championship Ring from 2003 (Photo Courtesy of Matthew Peck via Creative Commons)

5. The Florida Marlins stun the New York Yankees in the World Series in 2003

The story of the Florida Marlins cannot be told without the 2003 World Series title. The Marlins finished the 2003 regular season with a 91-71 record, which still ranks as the second most wins in a regular season in Marlins’ history. Despite the successful record, they could not win their division that season, which meant that the Marlins would enter the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Their journey to greatness in that postseason started in San Fransico vs the Giants. After losing Game 1 of the National League Division Series, The Marlins won three straight en route to winning the series and moving on to the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Marlins would win a thrilling Game 1 by a score of 9-8 that went to 11 innings. However, they could not continue their success, as they lost three straight games and were one loss away from going home. They would soundly win in Game 5, but the chaos sparked in Game 6.

The Chicago Cubs were up 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning when a ball was hit into foul territory. Cubs Outfielder Moisés Alou attempted to make a play on the ball to force an out, but infamous Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over the fence and caught the ball. Alou argued to the umpire that it was fan interference, but the umpire did not call it. Instead, play continued and there was no out called. A catch by Alou would have put the Cubs four outs away from the World Series. Instead, the momentum was ruined, and the Marlins proceeded to score eight runs in the eighth inning and steal Game 6 at Wrigley Field. The Marlins eventually won Game 7 and moved on to the World Series against one of the most storied franchises in sports, The New York Yankees. The Marlins again won Game 1 and then go down in the series 2-1. The Florida Marlins rallied behind their pitchers and in a decisive Game 6, World Series MVP Josh Beckett shut out the Yankees and awarded the Marlins with their second World Series in franchise history.

A photo of the Miami Orange Bowl circa 1984, the former home of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes football teams. The Orange Bowl is remembered in urban legend for Miami Hurricanes fans as many believe the team has not been the same since the stadium’s demolition. (Photo Courtesy of Steven Martin via Creative Commons)

4. The University of Miami Hurricanes cap off one of the most legendary College Football seasons ever with a National Championship win vs Nebraska in 2001

It would be very hard to make a list of the best South Florida sports moments without including the 2001 Miami Hurricanes championship run. While they are not a professional team, the 2001 Hurricanes are very well regarded as one of the best college football teams. That enough should earn them a spot on this list. The team’s roster was loaded with future NFL Talents like Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinney, Ed Reed, Vince Wilfork and others. These talents all combined to create one of the most dominant stretches in college football history.

The 2001, the Canes were ranked number one on the AP Poll every week except for two. The Hurricanes’ defense also dominated, as they only allowed a total of 9.7 points per game and allowed less than 10 points in eight games. The offense scored 42.6 points per game, which was third best in the nation that year. The Hurricanes’ dominance is yet to be replicated and likely won’t ever be beaten. The Hurricanes stormed into California for the National Championship game vs. Nebraska and dominated from the first whistle, winning the game 37-14. This game gave the Canes their fifth National Championship in program history.

Fans argue that the Hurricanes should have won back-to-back national championships, as the Hurricanes were one play away from winning their sixth National Championship in 2002 vs. Ohio State, but a faulty pass interference call on what would have been the last play continued the game and ruined the chance for the rare back-to-back champion. Despite this, the 2001 Hurricanes and the 2001 National Championship are well regarded in South Florida history as the peak of college sports in the area. The unmatched dominance of the Canes is still admired 20 years later.

Miami Heat players Lebron James and Dwayne Wade converse on a game plan (Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Creative Commons)

3. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh form “The Big Three” in Miami (2010)

The creation of Miami’s Big Three may be the most iconic team-up in NBA history. In the summer of 2010, Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade’s contracts all expired. This meant they were all free agents and could play wherever they chose. The 2010 Free Agency Class was one of the most anticipated ever. A lot of superstars were available to sign. Rumors were flying around the place, with Dwayne Wade rumored to be in between his hometown Chicago Bulls and signing again with the Miami Heat. Chris Bosh was supposed to sign again with the Toronto Raptors but decided to join the Miami Heat with Dwayne Wade on July 7, 2010. The Heat finally got Wade’s first sidekick since Shaq. They were not done though.

On July 8, LeBron James announced where he would be playing next season on a live television special on ESPN called “The Decision.” LeBron was rumored to be between five teams. His choices were returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, going out west to the Los Angeles Clippers, heading up to the New York Knicks, staying in the Midwest and joining the Chicago Bulls or going down south to join the Miami Heat. In his own words, LeBron decided to “Take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” This meant dismay of many NBA fans, who called LeBron a coward for joining and creating a super team in Miami. Despite all the hate, LeBron and the Heat embraced their villain role en route to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning two of them.

Miami Heat Shooting Guard Ray Allen attempts a free throw vs the Atlanta Hawks on January 20th, 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Mark Runyon via Creative Commons)

2. Ray Allen saves the day in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals vs. the San Antonio Spurs

The Miami Heat “Big Three” Era is remembered for countless highlights and domination over the Eastern Conference. However, the biggest moment of that era, and arguably in Miami Heat history, isn’t from any of the members of The Big Three. It comes from a bench player. This guy was not just any other bench player though. He was a former superstar and at the time was regarded as the best shooter in NBA History. The bench player’s name? Ray Allen. Allen’s name lives in infamy in Heat culture as he was the man who saved the 2013 season.

This story starts a year prior, when the Miami Heat were coming off a 2012 NBA Finals win and were looking to repeat as NBA Champs once again. On July 12, 2012, they signed two veterans, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, to bolster their bench unit. It was one of the few weak points of the 2012 Heat. The Heat finished the 2013 regular season with a record of 66-16, earning them the first seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat got to business very quickly in the Playoffs, swiftly dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks in four games and beating the Chicago Bulls in five games on their way to their third straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance. This time, they would battle the Indiana Pacers in a tight series that would come to the last game, where the Heat would blow by the Pacers, 99-76.

This would set up a Heat-Spurs NBA Finals that was highly anticipated by NBA Fans. The Heat and Spurs would split the first four games and tie the series at 2-2. The Spurs gave themselves the advantage in Game 5, winning 114-104, and were now a game away from winning their sixth NBA Finals. However, they would need to win a game in Miami to do so. In a decisive Game 6, the San Antonio Spurs looked like they were going to win it all as they held a 94-89 lead with 28 seconds left. The Heat hit a three to make it a two-point game and intentionally fouled Spurs F Kawhi Leonard. This sent him to the free throw line to shoot two free throws. He made one and missed one, which kept the door slightly open for the Heat to tie it up, but they would need a miracle three-pointer to do so. LeBron James put up a three that did not go, but it was rebounded by Bosh. Bosh passed it back out to Allen and… well, you know the rest. Ray Allen drained the three, tied the game and sent it to overtime. The Heat won the game in overtime and then win Game 7, which awarded them their third NBA Finals Victory in Franchise History. However, none of it would be possible without the miracle from Ray Allen.

Dolphins Quarterback Bob Griese hands the ball off to Larry Csonka in Super Bowl VII vs Washington circa 1972 (Photo Courtesy of Richard Bartlaga via Creative Commons)

1. The Miami Dolphins complete the perfect season with a Super Bowl Victory vs. Washington

An undefeated season is one of the rarest feats in sports and something that most teams can only dream of. However, the Miami Dolphins are responsible for the only undefeated season in NFL History. Some teams have come close with 15-1 records, and even the New England Patriots were one game away from a perfect season but lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Every season, when the last unbeaten team finally loses, the question of whether anyone can do what the Dolphins did always comes up. Some call it a stroke of luck and others invalidate the season because the Dolphins only played 14 regular season games. For reference, NFL Teams play 17 regular season games as of the 2022 NFL Season. However, the truth remains that the 1972 Dolphins made the impossible possible.

The 1972 Dolphins were filled with Hall of Famers. The list of Hall of Famers on the 1972 Dolphins includes their superstar quarterback Bob Griese, fullback Larry Csonka, offensive linemen Jim Langer and Larry Little and Head Coach of the Year Don Shula. With this loaded roster of talent, the Miami Dolphins rolled through their regular season schedule with some dominant wins over Houston Oilers (34-13), Baltimore Colts (23-0, 16-0) and New England Patriots (52-0, 37-21) (the Baltimore Colts and New England Patriots were in the same division as the Miami Dolphins, hence why they played each other twice). Despite the dominant wins, the Dolphins played some close games as well. This was very clear once playoff time came. Every game the Dolphins played in the postseason was decided by one possession.

The Dolphins’ shot at greatness started on Dec. 24, 1972, vs. the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Game. In a very tight game, the Dolphins took a late lead off an 8-yard touchdown run from Jim Kiick, which led to a 20-17 victory. They moved on to the AFC Championship Game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in which they won 21-17. Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers came storming back late in the fourth quarter, but their comeback attempt fell short. A win in this game meant the Dolphins were one game away from completing the undefeated season. They needed to win the biggest game of them all: the Super Bowl. The Dolphins were matched against Washington and controlled the pace for most of the game. The Dolphins completed the undefeated season with a 14-7 win in Super Bowl XII, with defensive back Jake Scott, winning Super Bowl MVP. The Dolphins finished with a final record of 17-0.

In Conclusion…

There are countless sports moments in South Florida History that some could argue are legendary and belong on this list. However, that is what makes South Florida sports so marvelous. There is such a rich and deep-rooted history in this area that dates 50 years back. South Florida has always been a polarizing place, and its sports teams flaunt that same attitude. South Florida sports will continue to be great as time goes on and will continue to create great memories fans will remember for a lifetime.

Anthony Milian is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Digital Broadcasting. He enjoys watching and analyzing sports, reading and learning more about sports history, and spending time with his family and friends