Quick Bit: Members of The Sporting News staff voted on the best of the best for Miami sports.
The SN Rushmore project named four pro athletes from the 13 cities that have had at least four of the following five leagues represented for at least 20 years – NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, WNBA. While there were no hard-and-fast rules pertaining to the athletes selected, our panel of experts considered individual resumes, team success and legacy within the sports landscape of each city. Multiple players from the same franchise were allowed, and not every franchise needed to be represented. All sports fans have an opinion on this topic. This is ours.
Miami is the heart of the South Florida pro sports scene. It’s been just short of 30 years since MLB’s Marlins and NHL’s Panthers gave the hot spot representation in all of the “big four.”
Before 1993, the Dolphins dominated the scene for 30 years. The Heat came along in 1988 and eventually developed into a South Beach version of “Showtime”, leading up to the peak years with LeBron James and providing the city with an end to its championship drought with multiple rings.
When deciding on what pro athletes should be on Miami’s Mount Rushmore, that made it easier for Sporting News’ panel of experts to lean toward a 1-2 punch of football and basketball.
Beloved Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Bob Griese are still the standard against whom Dolphins quarterbacks who came after them are measured. Although there were many strong defensive candidates from over the years, topped by edge rusher extraordinaire Jason Taylor, two QBs were deemed to be the right representatives from the city’s most enduring team.
As for the Heat, although James enjoyed four spectacular prime seasons with them, stamped by two NBA MVPs and two NBA titles and two more Eastern Conference titles, his time in Miami was considered a little too short to get on the city’s Mount Rushmore. That made his former superstar teammate, Dwyane Wade, the primary choice from the franchise.
With James and other short-term overall greats such as Shaquille O’Neal out of the mix, the second Heat player had to be Alonzo Mourning over many others, given the big man’s big contributions on the court and in the community. Much like Marino and Griese were an extension of Don Shula, Mourning being tied to Pat Riley’s indelible mark in Miami also played a big factor.
Local sports expert Omar Kelly, NFL columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, agreed it was difficult to balance the Dolphins’ long-time foothold on the city and the Heat’s sizzling emergence with the fans’ feelings on the newer baseball and hockey teams.
“For decades, we had only the Dolphins and the Miami Hurricanes. Then the Heat came along as an expansion franchise, so did the Florida/Miami Marlins and then the Panthers. We also have a very big transplant community,” Kelly said.
“When you talk about the hard-core fans, these are people born and bred here and people who suffered through those lean years where you had to talk about the Dolphins and Hurricanes year-round, as opposed to the newcomers who benefited from having four major sports franchises.”
When debating a replacement for either of the two Dolphins or two Heat players, other Dolphins and Heat players got SN consideration vs. top Marlins (Jeff Conine) and Panthers (Roberto Luongo).
DAN MARINO (Dolphins, 1983-1999)
Marino was the last quarterback taken in the first round from the storied 1983 NFL Draft class. The Dolphins saw the Colts, Chiefs and the rest of the AFC East — the Bills, Patriots and Jets — all take QBs before their turn at No. 28 overall. Of those who were taken before Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly also ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Before Elway and Kelly got to multiple Super Bowls, Marino owned the early ’80s as the AFC counterpart to Joe Montana. He captivated the Dolphins faithful with an immediate splash as a young gun out of Pitt, starting to show off his big arm and prolific downfield passing once he displaced David Woodley as a rookie.
By Year 2, Marino already was anointed a local legend. At only 23, he led the league in attempts, completions, passing yards, passer rating, yards per attempt and a then-record 48 touchdown passes, shattering the previous mark by 10. Marino’s MVP-worthy season lifted the team into a Super Bowl XIX appearance against Montana’s 49ers.
Although Marino would never win another AFC championship for Miami, he continued to pick apart defenses for a decade. In 1985, he was the only QB to solve the mighty, Super Bowl-shuffling Bears in an epic Monday night performance. Marino kept lighting it up with his talented receivers over the years, highlighted by go-to guys Mark Duper and Mark Clayton.
Marino’s Dolphins delivered in Shula’s last coaching wave with a slew of winning seasons. His popular play was bound to make him a crossover celebrity, from his iconic Isotoner glove commercials to his hilarious turn in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”
“There’s no question about his spot on Mount Rushmore. It was his greatness on the field, pre-Achilles injury that really cemented him, even if he had never played again,” Kelly says.
From his rookie season in 1983 to suffering that Achilles’ tear in October 1993, Marino didn’t miss a start. He still recovered from that devastation to make two more Pro Bowls and remain the unquestioned leader of the team. By the time age and wear finally fully caught up to him, Marino could walk away knowing he gave everything he could on the field in 17 seasons in Miami, even without that elusive ring. Dolphins diehards respected his toughness and talent alike and he’s still the first face one thinks of under their classic helmets.
“The broadcasting career, the fact that he still has roots here and works for the Dolphins organization, all of those things played a part. That was the easiest layup,” Kelly says. “He already does have a statue … and now Dwyane Wade is due one in front of the Heat’s arena.”
Marino By The Numbers
All-Pro First Team
Times leading NFL in passing yards
Times leading NFL in passing TDs
Super Bowl appearances
TSN ARCHIVES: Dan Marino is Quite a QB (Jan. 9, 1984)
DWYANE WADE (Heat, 2003-16, 2018-19)
As some memories of Marino have faded for the newer generations, another loveable player made his massive mark on Miami a couple of decades later. What Magic and Kobe were to the Lakers in the modern era, Wade was to the Heat.
When James made his calculated decision to play for Miami, it was to join Wade and build on the established championship pedigree from the 2006 NBA Finals upset of the Mavericks. Wade earned the respect of James and everyone else in the NBA as the consummate professional with excellence on both sides of the floor, unselfish play, and smooth scoring moves.
Wade parlayed his work in the mid-2000s to a special run with James in the 2010s, adding repeat rings in 2012 and 2013. Like Marino, his longevity as the centerpiece deserved to be etched in stone. Unlike Marino, Wade also gave his sports city three reasons to celebrate with long-deserving parades, including another repeat for Riley.
“I would put him ahead of Dan Marino because (he) won championships, plural in two different eras for two different generations,” Kelly said. “I know it won’t be a popular opinion because football is king down here, but Wade probably deserves the first spot.”
Wade grew up in Chicago idolizing Michael Jordan and left to play for the Bulls before reuniting with James in Cleveland in the middle of his career. The fact Wade came back home to Miami to finish his time in the NBA spoke volumes about where his heart truly lay.
Heat fans should always be grateful for that.
Putting his stats aside — including being the leading scorer in franchise history — Wade’s intangibles were his most touching moments in Miami.
Wade By The Numbers
NBA Finals MVP
NBA scoring title
All-Star Game selections
All-Star Game MVPs
BOB GRIESE (Dolphins, 1967-80)
The Dolphins had many classic and modern candidates to join Marino in representing their best, but when examining other offensive players and several defensive stars. Griese stood out as another familiar face to grace Miami’s ultimate sports sculpture.
Griese came out of Purdue and quickly came into his own, rocketing into stardom not long after the launch of his pro franchise. He was key in helping the Dolphins make a successful transition from the AFL to the NFL, with his on-field leadership bridging toward the beginning of the Shula era, much like Marino stamped the end of the coach’s tenure.
Unlike Marino, Griese made much of his presence known as a gritty gamer more so than a prolific passer. The Dolphins’ dynastic results with Griese cannot be denied, as they became synonymous with the Steelers and Raiders as AFC royalty in the 1970s.
Griese was ahead of his time with his cerebral command of the game, being trusted by Shula to call his own plays. It was appropriate how much Griese won while wearing No. 12, setting up Marino to make jersey No. 13 just as special in Dolphins lore not long after him.
For his run-heavy, defensive-minded era, Griese’s clutch play popped more than his numbers (though he was first-team All-Pro twice) and almost 50 years later, the Dolphins are still chasing his championship time with the team.
Griese’s voice has endured with his long-time work with ABC and ESPN calling some of the biggest college football games. Since he retired from that national spotlight in 2011, he’s been a fixture again in Miami. His legacy as a Dolphin and television analyst carried over to his quarterbacking son with whom he has a special bond, Brian.
“Most people under 40 know Bob Griese more as a broadcaster than a player,” Kelly says.
Looking back at Griese’s career, stat-crazed youngsters might be left to wonder what all he meant to Miami. Watching his highlights and then asking those from the past and present about him will provide the definitive answer.
Griese By The Numbers
Super Bowl wins
Super Bowl appearances
Times leading NFL in passing TD
Times leading NFL in completion percentage
Years broadcasting college and NFL games
ALONZO MOURNING (Heat, 1995-02, 2005-08)
When looking at Heat history beyond Wade, there is the short but brilliant in James and the long and steady in Udonis Haslem. But when it comes to looking at the man in the middle of starting it all, it’s Mourning over the city’s other competitive cagers.
“Zo” didn’t start his career in Miami. He was taken No. 2 overall by Charlotte in the 1992 NBA Draft out of Georgetown. He started off well as a Hornet, but a blockbuster trade to the Heat ahead of the 1996 draft was fortuitous. The move paired Mourning with Riley as the latter’s updated version of Kareem. With his scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking, Mourning was the center of attention for elite teams in the Eastern Conference, only to fall short of a championship early because of the Bulls’ dynasty and Knicks’ nastiness.
When Mourning left Miami for New Jersey in 2003, he was met with the biggest adversity of his NBA career, a kidney disease that almost forced him to retire for good. When his comeback attempt to regain a key role faded with the Nets and he was dealt to the Raptors, he ultimately decided Miami was best for him and his family. The Heat were there for him again.
Mourning was rejuvenated in Miami by backing up and supporting O’Neal. He started 66 games when O’Neal wasn’t available in three-plus overlap seasons with Shaq and was a key rotational player in the Heat’s playoff runs. Mourning accepted doing the dirty work to complement Wade and was rewarded with the long-awaited lone championship of his career, also the first in Heat history.
Mourning grinded and gave all he could with his older beat-up body, which was just as impressive as his early stat-sheet stuffing. He had Wade’s back in the 2006 Finals and he ended up behind only Wade on Miami’s all-time NBA scoring list.
Much like Wade, despite different stops, Mourning’s Hall of Fame heart was most at home in Miami.
He received the ultimate honor quickly after hanging it up for good in 2009. The franchise, city, state and his Georgetown extended family were all there in full force as Mourning’s No. 33 was the first jersey number retired in Heat history ahead of Wade and several others. It’s no surprise the long-term feeling was mutual between Mourning and Miami, as he followed Riley into a front-office job to keep him working for his beloved team.
“Mourning was a great player and presence,” Kelly says. “He does have a leadership role with the Heat to this day.”
Mourning By The Numbers
NBA Defensive Player of the Year
All-Star Game appearances
Times leading NBA in blocks
J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award
USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year
TSN ARCHIVES: Alonzo Mourning’s anxious days (Oct. 16, 2000)
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