|In today’s FOX Sports Insider: Less than two months after hosting the Super Bowl, Hard Rock Stadium is being repurposed in the face of the coronavirus … how 11,000 Olympic hopefuls try to navigate the complicated path back to normalcy … and Joe Buck narrates your everyday life, and it’s absolutely epic.|
It feels a lot longer than 52 days ago, doesn’t it, when Super Bowl LIV sparkled its way into Miami, one of its favorite, most-visited, and — if we’re truthful about it — best locations.
Back then, the most pressing topic of conversation was the recent passing of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, along with seven others, in a devastating helicopter crash, a shock that affected even those who had never met Kobe and stretched far beyond avid basketball fans.
And, of course, football. It was blissfully balmy when Hard Rock Stadium welcomed the sport’s greatest game and set the stage for an absolute classic, a night where the San Francisco 49ers did everything right and had destiny in their grasp, until Patrick Mahomes showed that no lead is big enough to stifle his indomitable will and electric arm.
That gleaming stadium, which glistens like a modern monument at nighttime and can be seen from miles afield, serves an utterly different purpose now. Staging the most important matchup of the National Football League season is important. Helping to save lives, as it is doing at present, is more so.
Hard Rock Stadium has been repurposed to meet the response to the COVID-19 crisis. The arena’s giant parking lot was announced by Florida governor Ron DeSantis last Saturday as the site for a massive testing complex, designed to help the region’s elderly citizens, first responders. and health care workers find out if they have been afflicted.
Since Monday, lines have stretched and snaked around the lot, where locals wait in their vehicle before driving up to undergo a procedure involving an invasive nasal swab, with the test results processed over the following 48 hours.
“Obviously, things in this area have changed massively, like everywhere else,” Steve Brenner, a freelance sports journalist based in the Miami area told me in a telephone conversation. “Just a few weeks ago, there was all the excitement of the Super Bowl and everything that surrounds it.
“Now, in the neighborhoods, it feels a bit like the zombie apocalypse. Everything has slowed down, like it had to. It couldn’t be more different.”
Gov. DeSantis spoke of how having the mass space of Hard Rock available was a significant boost to the fight against the spread of coronavirus. Marlins Park has also been put into use for a similar purpose.
The history of sports venues being used in times of need is extensive. In recent American history, the most notable example came during Hurricane Katrina, when the Superdome in New Orleans and the Astrodome in Houston became critical refuge for those whose homes had been destroyed or rendered unreachable by the catastrophe.
The Superdome was used as a “shelter of last resort” in August and September of 2005, sheltering more than 9,000 residents and 550 National Guard members. However, it was beset by problems caused by power outages and flooding, and, with sanitary conditions deteriorating, evacuees were moved to the Astrodome.
“The Astrodome was a life saver,” USA Today Sports columnist Josh Peter, who covered the disaster for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, told me. “It was a total refuge, with food and shelter — it was well organized. I don’t what they would have done without it. It wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but having a covered venue of that size was huge.”
During World War II, English soccer team Manchester United’s famed Old Trafford stadium was used as a depot for the Allied forces. United briefly shared the home of hated rival Manchester City, a common enough occurrence in American sports but generally unthinkable in British soccer.
Sports comes together in different ways. It is almost impossible to keep up with the number of gestures, financial and otherwise, made by athletes with charitable spirit. Zion Williamson, Kevin Love, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin were early contributors, putting up money towards the salaries of hourly workers affected by stadium closures in the NBA. Wednesday saw tennis great Roger Federer make a sizable gift to vulnerable Swiss families stricken by the virus.
J.J. Watt, whose efforts to alleviate the distress caused to Houston by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 went above and beyond, has again stepped up, providing funds to support a food bank in his area. All those efforts, along with what’s going on in Miami and elsewhere, just go to show that no matter the circumstances, sports steps up to see us through.
Things change with stunning rapidity in times like these. Walking into Hard Rock on Feb. 2, I will never forget the sense of anticipation. Anything seemed possible. As Mahomes showed, it was. Although COVID-19 was on the fringes of the American news cycle by then, no one had any idea what was coming in the weeks and months ahead.
Football games will come to Hard Rock Stadium again. The current lines will end, the need for mass testing will dwindle, and it will once more be a site for laughter and tailgates and thoughts of football.
Until then, the place where Super Bowl dreams were made and broken is doing its job. A new job, but a vital one.
Here’s what others have said …
Scott Rabalais, The Advocate: “I recently came across my credential from the Saints’ 2006 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. There was never a game like it. So much more than an emphatic 23-3 victory over a bitter rival, it was a huge signpost on New Orleans’ road to recovery. There were still flood water marks on buildings within sight of the Superdome on Tulane Avenue and thousands of New Orleanians still scattered across the country, but the game was a symbol of rebirth for the Crescent City. The pent up emotions that spilled out of the stands and onto the field transcended sports. It was a reminder that sports aren’t important, until they really are.”
Pete Thamel, Yahoo Sports: “Trevor Lawrence, golden boy of a billion-dollar sport, decided to use the power of his platform to help the neediest during this crisis. Whether he realized it or not, he took the baton from former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the face of the sport in 2019, and attempted to mimic the benevolence that Burrow showed in his epic Heisman Trophy speech. Burrow raised nearly $500,000 for local food banks in rural Ohio, where he grew up, just by mentioning them on Heisman night. … How heartwarming is it that in back-to-back years the best players in college football have, without prompting, attempted to use their platforms to help feed the hungry? The rivals who dueled in the College Football Playoff title game are united by altruism.”
David Hughes, The Sportsman: “A few weeks after Old Trafford was bombed and heavily damaged, Manchester City quickly offered to help their neighbours, proposing Maine Road be used as a temporary home for United until Old Trafford could be rebuilt. Maine Road become United’s new wartime headquarters and they played their first fixture there against Blackpool, losing 3-2. United soon grew into their new surroundings and unceremoniously on Easter Monday, thanked their City rivals for their hospitality by thrashing them 7-1.”“It’s completely uncharted waters.” ESPN’s Wayne Drehs spoke to Michael Phelps, among a number of other Olympians, about the complicated path back to normalcy for 11,000 Olympic hopefuls.Looking across the NFL landscape, it’s hard to find a fit for the recently released Jameis Winston. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated ponders what’s next for the former Bucs QB.Deciding to postpone the Olympics was tough. Actually moving them might be tougher, The New York Times’ Andrew Keh, Motoko Rich and Tariq Panja report.