Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post/The Palm Beach Post
Miami and Tampa Bay are scheduled to meet at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, but Hurricane Irma is likely to change that.
Jason Lieser, Joe Schad and Hal Habib, Palm Beach Post
One of the chief requests the Miami Dolphins made when the NFL was assembling their schedule this year was to open the season at home. They got their wish, but suddenly it’s in jeopardy as Hurricane Irma threatens South Florida.
The team and the league are monitoring the storm, but there’s been no official word about contingency plans. If Irma hits Florida, it likely would be Sunday. The Dolphins are scheduled to host Tampa Bay at 1 p.m.
“You’re definitely following it, but it doesn’t affect your preparation,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “You go out and prepare every day like the game is tomorrow. Unfortunately, with the hurricane looming over the waters, we may have to play earlier or later. But we have to get the job done regardless of when we play.”
Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell plans to get his job done but said if Irma gets too close to South Florida, he’ll leave, then catch up to the team for the game.
“It’s your life,” said Maxwell, who has been closely following news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.
A Dolphins spokesman said there’s no update from the organization other than that management is “closely monitoring the situation.” Hosting an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium requires police staffing and more than 1,000 workers.
The University of Miami does not play at Hard Rock Stadium this week. The Hurricanes are at Arkansas State on Saturday.
There is flexibility to move the Dolphins up as early as Thursday or push it back to Monday, and another option would be playing it in Tampa. There are also open neutral-site venues in Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Atlanta and New Orleans. None of the teams that use the major football stadiums in those cities is playing at home Sunday.
“That’s a little bit out of my department,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of the logistics. “I’m being updated when I need to be updated about certain things. But that’s kind of out of my hands right now. I’m just kind of going along with what I’m being advised with. We’ll be ready to go. We always kind of have an idea of what we can do and what we can’t do. Things like that are kind of out of our control. We just kind of wait and see.”
The Associated Press reported Monday afternoon that the NFL is considering having Miami and Tampa Bay play Thursday or Friday night, and alternate sites are being evaluated.
“I could speak for everybody on this team,” defensive back Michael Thomas said. “We’re going to be ready. Whenever we’ve got to play, we’re going to be ready.”
Coincidentally, the Dolphins and Buccaneers both have their bye in Week 11, though it’d be highly unusual for the NFL to ask teams to play 16 straight weeks without a break. Tight end Julius Thomas said he would be completely against that idea because players count on that break to heal from nagging injuries.
“Without that bye week, you’re going to put the bodies through a lot,” he said. “I’d rather play Thursday than do that.”
If Maxwell evacuated, he likely would head for his hometown of Charleston, S.C., and fly to join the team for its game if it ends up being played.
“If it comes, I’m going to try to get out, to be honest with you,” he said. “I mean, it’s your life. You’ve seen what it’s done to New Orleans and Houston, so it definitely could happen to Miami and I don’t want to be in that situation.
“Yeah, I’m gone. That’s life and death right there. … That’s just what it is. You’ve seen what happens. I’m not sitting around waiting for that.”
Many Dolphins players were discussing the hurricane in the locker room Monday, with many saying they heard speculation the game would be moved to Friday.
“I’ve never been involved in a hurricane,” Dolphins linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “Earthquakes are the thing in California. I live on the 18th floor, so hopefully, the building doesn’t sway side to side or my windows don’t cave in.”
Defensive end Andre Branch said he’d be ready to play at a moment’s notice. If the league had asked the teams to meet up Monday night for a game, that sounded fine to him. “Line us up, put the ball down and we’re gonna play regardless of what’s going on.”
Hurricane Matthew threatened South Florida last year, though it ultimately hit farther north and had minimal impact on this area. The Dolphins closed their facility the Thursday of that week, but were able to play at home against the Titans with no issues.
Irma was classified as a Category 4 storm Monday night. The canopy at Hard Rock Stadium is designed to withstand Category 4-force winds.
“We don’t have to do anything to prepare the roof for a major windstorm event,” Bill Senn, senior vice president of stadium renovations, said while the facility was being upgraded.
Senn said the canopy is anchored by 5 1/2-inch cables embedded 90 feet down.
The Dolphins were forced to keep a close eye on forecasts during the 2004 season, when a game against Pittsburgh was moved back a day because of Hurricane Jeanne. In the interim, the Steelers were at a Fort Lauderdale hotel that lost power. They still won 13-3.
Jeanne was the third hurricane within a month that threatened South Florida. The Dolphins’ opener vs. Tennessee was moved up one day, to a Saturday, because of Ivan. The Dolphins also had to travel to New Orleans for a preseason game while Frances approached.
In addition, a Monday night road game against the Chargers was forced out of San Diego because of fires. It was moved to Tempe, Ariz.
If the Dolphins are in one of those types of situations again this week, they’d prefer to know as soon as possible.
“You can prepare your body and prepare your mind for what’s coming, but it’d definitely be nice to know,” McCain said. “Unfortunately, this is just the way it falls, and we’re waiting just like everyone else.”