Nov 4, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Florida is a Great Sports Town

After watching Tampa Bay's amazing run to - and pathetic performance in - the World Series, it really got me thinking about sports in Florida.  I have lived in Florida all my life.  And really, it is a great place to live if you are a sports lover.  But it is a little unique in the world of sports.  Most of the time, there are big cities that have teams and rabid fan bases.  Look at places like Boston, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia.  They are known as "sports towns."  They have teams with histories and lots of very opinionated fans.  And in the mainstream sports media, they are respected more than the "casual" fans that populate other places - like Florida.  
The thing that you have to think about is that Florida is a new sports frontier.  The state itself has grown by leaps and bounds.  Did you realize that Florida is the 4th most populous state?  And it probably will pass New York before long.  In 1980 it was 7th.  In 1950 it was 20th.  In 1920 it was 32nd.  So, when teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were already developing curses, Florida was a nothing state.  I am 34 years old and Florida native.  I was born in West Palm Beach and lived there until I moved to Orlando for college.  With the exception of the Dolphins, every single Florida professional franchise began after I was born.

So think about that for just a minute.  I have three kids and am trying to get them interested in sports.  There is not a multi-generational rooting structure in place.  My dad cheered for the Celtics and Chicago Bears.  When I was kid, what did I have to pick from?  In the NFL there was Miami (which I hated) or Dallas (the big team at the time).  So I was a Cowboys fan.  In baseball, there were the Yankees and Dodgers - so I picked the Yankees.  In the NBA, well I started cheering for the Hawks because TBS showed their games.  And I was Georgia Bulldog fan because I lived on Georgia Avenue and they were big because of Herschel Walker.  Since I was a kid, here is what has happened on the Florida sports scene.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Founded in 1976 - Six Division Championships - One Super Bowl
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - Founded in 1995 - Two Division Championships - Two AFC Title games - Six playoff appearances
  • Miami Dolphins - Two Super Bowl Losses
  • Orlando Magic - Founded in 1989 - Three Division Titles - One Finals Appearance
  • Miami Heat - Founded in 1987 - Seven Division Titles - One NBA Title
  • Florida Marlins - Founded in 1993 - Two World Series Championships
  • Tampa Bay Rays - Founded in 1998 - One Division Title - One World Series Appearance
  • Tampa Bay Lightning - Founded in 1992 - Two Division Titles - One Stanley Cup
  • Florida Panthers - Founded in 1993 - One Stanley Cup Appearance
NCAA (Since 1974)
  • University of Florida - Eight SEC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Fourteen Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Two Basketball National Titles, Five College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • Florida State University - Twelve ACC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Four Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Fourteen College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • University of Miami - Nine Big East Football Championships, Five Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Five Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Twenty-three College World Series Baseball Appearances, Four Baseball Titles
  • University of South Florida - Football team founded in 1997, Three Football Bowl berths, ranked as high as 2nd in polls
  • University of Central Florida - Football went Division I in 1996, One Conference-USA title, two both berths, three NCAA basketball Tourney appearnaces
  • Florida Atlantic University - Football team founded in 2001, One conference title, one bowl berth
  • Florida International University - Football team founded in 2002
In addition, we host about 25% of Super Bowls thanks to Miami and Tampa being two of the best host sites.  The Orange Bowl in Miami hosts the BCS Championship every four years.  The Capitol One, Outback, Gator, and Florida Sports bowls bring top teams to the state every year.  The Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 are in Daytona each year.  And the UF/UGA game is in Jacksonville every year.  

So, as you can see, there is a lot of sports development in Florida in the past thirty years.  The thing is, just about everyone here is from somewhere else.  So they cheer for the team from whence they came (Steelers, Red Sox, Oklahoma) and then they celebrate when Florida based teams do well.  Some would label this bandwagon-riding (something I will address in my next post).  But this also is because there is not a lot of passion for Florida-based teams - for the most part.  People around the country don't have a lot of connections to Florida teams.  And Florida residents are kind of just happy that their state is doing well. [This of course does not apply to UF/FSU or FSU/UM rivalries.]  It is like the whole state is a sports town.  If you talk about Cleveland's or Philly's title droughts (well, not Philly now), that means that the city hasn't had a winner in decades.  But in Florida we are like, "Yeah but Miami won a few years ago and Tampa won."  There are HUGE differences between regions in Florida.  But not as much of a difference when it comes to sports.  There is a "all for one, one for all" mentality in most people.  I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

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