Wednesday, July 22, 2009

10 People South Florida Sports Fans Should Love

Yesterday I brought to you my list of ten people South Florida sports fans should hate. Today I will take a look at the other end of the South Florida sports spectrum and give you ten people that own a special place in the hearts of South Florida sports fans. Keep in mind that there are a lot of beloved figures in South Florida sports, so this list will undoubtedly miss some. Don't feel appalled, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

10. Dan LeBatard. For the most part, this list will consist of athletes, but the first spot goes to the biggest name that covers South Florida sports. If you're not familiar with his work, then you're either missing out, or aren't a real SoFla sports fan. LeBatard's weekday radio show is probably the most entertaining thing on the airwaves, and his writing is on another level. He simply has a way with words that most writers can only dream of having, and we've been fortunate enough to have those words talk about SoFla sports for the most part.

9. Jimmy Johnson. The dude coached the Hurricanes and the Dolphins. He won UM its second national title, and led them in their "Decade of Dominance," where he compiled a 52-9 record as coach. With the Dolphins, his record wasn't as great, but he is responsible for bringing us Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

8. Mike Lowell. Lowell was born and raised in Miami, attended Coral Gables Senior High and went to school at FIU. He was a fixture in the Marlins franchise for six seasons, from 1999-2005, in which he won a Gold Glove, a World Series and established himself as one of the best third basemen in the league. He was eventually traded to the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota for Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez and a couple other prospects.

7. Pat Riley. The coach that made the Heat relevant. He made the Heat title contenders, and they might have had one in the 90's if it weren't for the Bulls dynasty. He drafted Wade, brought us Shaq and subsequently the Heat's first title (though Stan Van Gundy should have been coaching that team). The man knows how to coach, and he certainly knows how to make moves to better the franchise. He also happens to be one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time.

6. Steve Bartman. Yes, Bartman makes this list just because of the lore that goes along with his unfortunate claim to infamy. Who knows if Moises Alou would have actually recorded the out. Regardless, a series of events unfolded after the incident that many believe led to the Marlins winning the 2003 NLCS and eventually, the World Series. I don't put all the blame on Bartman, because most fans would do the same. Plus, later that inning, Alex Gonzalez misplayed a grounder by Miguel Cabrera that loaded the bases, instead of turning a double play and ending the inning.

5. Jeff Conine. You knew Mr. Marlin was going to be on this list. C'mon, the guy was in the inaugural Marlins game in 1993, and played a role in not one, but both of the teams World Series titles. He's a perennial fan favorite in South Florida for his play on the field, but also for his contributions off the field. Besides, how many other players have been signed to one-day contracts by a South Florida team, just so that athlete could retire with the team that he played such a major role in its history? I know Niner can.

4. Alonzo Mourning. Obviously, the first Heat player to have his jersey retired was going to make this list. Zo is of the most popular figures in South Florida sports history. Mourning was always a fan favorite with the Miami Heat with his intensity on the court (and his bicep flex) as well as his tremendous charity work off the court. He did more for this city in terms of charity than any athlete before him, or since him, and for that, we all love him even more. If you really need more on why Mourning has this spot on the list, check out my tribute to him that I posted back when he announced his retirement. (Really. Click that link. You WILL enjoy the piece. I guarantee it.)

3. Dwyane Wade. If Mourning was the face of the Miami Heat's past, Wade is the face of this era of Heat basketball. That's why it is fitting that Zo's Summer Groove recently became a joint event hosted by both Wade and Mourning. While fans might currently be put off by him not wanting to sign a contract extension yet, it will likely eventually happen. Still, Wade holds the franchise scoring record, and will probably own most other records when all is said and done. Add in the fact that Wade being drafted resurrected the franchise, and that he led the Heat to their first NBA title, and this pick is a no-brainer.

2. Dan Marino. As much as people love Zo, Wade and the Heat, at the end of the day this is a pro football town. Like I mentioned in the "10 People South Florida Sports Fans Should Hate" post, Marino was Superman to DolPhans during his time in Miami. He broke most major passing records throughout his career, and even has a statue of his likeness outside of Land Shark Stadium. Hell, the stadium is even located at Dan Marino Blvd. Even more impressive, his jersey is retired by both the Dolphins and the Heat. So what if he didn't win a Super Bowl? He's hardly to blame for that.

1. Don Shula. It takes a mighty individual to top Dan Marino on this list, and of course, it's another football name. Shula coached the Dolphins to two Super Bowl victories (VII and VIII) and one NFL Championship. He is the mastermind behind the '72 team that is still the only untied and undefeated team in NFL history and is the NFL coaching leader in career victories (347). Did I mention there's an expressway named after him?

Honorable Mention: Howard Schnellenberger, Dennish Erickson, Ken Dorsey and Mercury Morris.

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