HomeLocalFire, ice and the sports miracle you are witnessing in Miami

Fire, ice and the sports miracle you are witnessing in Miami


This is not the first time the Florida Panthers surprised us.

When NHL owners met in Palm Beach on Dec. 10, 1992, the Sunshine State was not yet a hockey state, and there was no anticipation it would become one anytime soon. The Associated Press didn’t even send a staff reporter to cover the meeting, and neither did the papers in Miami or Fort Lauderdale.  The AP instead relied on a stringer, and I was in the Miami AP bureau that afternoon when he called from the meeting. 

“You’re never going to believe this,” he said breathlessly. “We just got a hockey team.”

Billionaire businessman Wayne Huizenga had indeed swung a deal with the NHL for an expansion team, and even more surprisingly, he had managed to keep the news secret until the league announcement.

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More than three decades later, the Panthers have pulled another stunner. The Heat too, with both teams making improbable runs to the finals. 

When they started as expansion teams, I covered them both for the AP. I still have the media guides of each team’s first season, which might bring $1.99 each on eBay.

It seems like yesterday. I recall the Heat taking Rony Seikaly with their first pick in their first draft and thinking, “Hey, he’s pretty good. Maybe this team won’t be so bad.”

Wrong: They were terrible, losing their first 17 games and finishing 15-67.

I didn’t know what to expect from the expansion Panthers, because I grew up in Iowa and didn’t know anything about hockey. This is how I covered my first game: I sat in the press area next to a friend from Canada and waited for the red light above the goal to go on, which meant someone scored. Then I would ask him, “What just happened?” 

Eventually, I learned the nuances of the game so that I could use sophisticated hockey terminology, such as “cross-checking” and “healthy scratch” and “fight.”

The Panthers made the Stanley Cup finals in their third season, and the Heat became competitive too. I covered those thrilling early playoff series against the Knicks, but then gave up the beat shortly after Dwyane Wade was drafted – bad timing by me. 

Now, remarkably, Miami has its NBA and NHL teams playing in their sport’s Super Bowl in the same season. That’s in contrast with the Dolphins, a team I covered for 34 seasons. Every time they hired a new coach, which was often, I would introduce myself to him by saying I was looking forward to writing about the Dolphins in a Super Bowl some day. It never happened.

I saw the Dolphins, Heat and Panthers all struggle at times with attendance, and I covered 1,500 Marlins games, so I know it’s not a great sports town when a team is lousy, or even so-so. 

But I can’t criticize fans who are reluctant to pay lots of money to watch a loser. And when the team is good, South Florida crowds are lots of fun. I think they deserve praise for being so discerning, and there’s no question they love a winner – especially a champion. 

For an NFL team, the odds each year of reaching the Super Bowl are 1 in 16. The odds a few weeks ago that the Panthers and Heat would both reach the finals? One in a million. 

So enjoy. Two South Florida teams playing for league titles at the same time might never happen again. And I hear this is the Dolphins’ year.

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Steve Wine
Steve Wine

STEVE WINE is a former Associated Press sports writer who covered Miami teams for three decades. He retired in 2021, but remains a voting member of the Baseball Writers of America. He has fond memories of covering tennis tournaments on the Key and could often be seen at the Donut Gallery.

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