Power Weekend: Miami Nice … Super, in Fact


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Although the Dolphins season and coach Nick Saban are both long gone, word on the street has it that there's going to be a football game played on Feb. 4 in diverse and distinct Miami nonetheless.

Not just any game, mind you, but one in which every living soul is going to come down to South Beach and try to snag a ticket.

Yeah, the Super Bowl has gained just a smidge of popularity from its prepubescent years, when little more than half the Los Angeles Coliseum was filled for the league's first Big Game in 1967 (or I, as for some reason the football gods decided this game was so important it needed Roman numerals to truly clarify its grand significance) of the American Football League versus the National Football League.

Interestingly, those who attended that game 40 years ago have much in common with those who venture to XLI this year.

In southern California and south Florida, visitors have the opportunity to play in the sand, check out the beautiful people at the beach and cafes and, though not as much fun, go to an NBA game and be in awe of a very dominant center. (Wilt ruled for the Lakers back then, while Shaq — recently back after a 35-game injury hiatus — provides the Heat.)

But even with the Big Diesel on the sidelines, a Heat game makes for an fun night out, according to Lesley Abravanel, night-life columnist for the Miami Herald.

"The Heat games are very hot," Abravanel said. "It's not like the Lakers, but in the front row you'll see all the visiting celebrities in town."

The Milwaukee Bucks come to town Jan. 30, then LeBron James — NBA's newest royalty — and his resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers arrive Feb. 1 for what could be a shootout at AmericanAirlines Arena (601 Biscayne Blvd., Web site; buy tickets).

Tip-off with the Cavs is a bit later than usual at 8 p.m. ET, leaving you plenty of time for a pre-game seafood feast over at Joe's Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, Web site).

Expect a sizeable wait for a table at Joe's famous fish house. The only way around that is to include, in your party of diners, either Miami Dolphins legend Don Shula or ESPN analyst Hank Goldberg. Arriving with these Florida icons will get you a nice corner booth, pronto.

(If your Super Bowl Sunday activities turn into a late stay Monday, the Charlotte Bobcats and rook Adam Morrison will be in town for a 7:30 p.m. ET tilt.)

Indeed, while sports will be the focus of this Super Power Weekend, there is much more happening in Miami than the Super Bowl.

"It's a very sexy city, filled with all different cultures," Abravanel said. "It has both a Latin element and a European feel to it.

"In terms of what that means for the the Super Bowl, it's the ideal city because it's like being in a beer commerical: We've got booze, bikinis and the beach. What more could you ask for?"

For entertainment, it's tough to beat a beautiful afternoon at the races, and nearby Gulfstream Park (901 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale, Web site) is open and ready to take your hard-earned gambling cash.

Gulfstream is offering four stakes on Feb. 3, including the Grade I $500,000 Donn Handicap, plus the Swale and Holy Bull Stakes — each of which are stepping stones toward the Kentucky Derby.

So come to the track and say you saw the Derby winner way back in February.

One sport that makes its home in south Florida (with just one other location, north of Dallas) is jai-alai, where men in helmets and white shirts throw hard rubber balls around a three-walled court and spectators get to bet on their favorite team. What's not to love?

The game began in Spain, then flourished in Cuba and eventually became popular in nearby Miami. Each player wears a cesta on his arm — a long scooper used to catch the ball. In a whiplike fashion, the player throws the ball against the wall hoping his opponent won't catch it.

Betting is encouraged and players who climb the walls or dive onto the floor pump up the excitement. The court is called a fronton and there are several in the area, including the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton (3500 N.W. 37th Ave., Web site) and one in nearby Dania (301 E. Dania Beach Blvd., Web site).

And if the jai-alai gods aren't treating you well at the betting windows, most frontons have a poker room and an area to bet on the ponies at Gulfstream.

With millions of seniors living here and tons of pension and IRA monies waiting to be spent, you can be sure there's a gambling establishment around almost every corner, giving the elderly something to do each afternoon before hitting the early-bird dinners.

The closest thing to the Super Bowl experience without actually going through the turnstiles for the game is to visit the NFL Experience, which begins Jan. 27 at Dolphin Stadium (2267 Dan Marino Blvd., Web site).

There's plenty of games of skill, where participants can test their passing and kicking abilities, as compared to the pros. Also included for a reasonable $15 entrance fee is an array of autograph sessions, chats by current and former NFL coaches and teaching clinics.

The NFL Experience runs for five days and is most definitely worth a trip. Best of all, all profits go toward the Youth Education Town charity in town.

"What the NFL Experience brings are activities that the ordinary fan wouldn't have access to, and (it is) one of the few places you can take your kids, as well," said Maria Scott of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee.

"There are football activities — autographs, trading football cards — but a whole set of entertainment-type things to do, as well, including listening to live music."

If the weather's running hot and you're a Northerner looking for a place to cool off and remember what winter is supposed to feel like, check out an NHL game.

The Florida Panthers have two contests a few days prior to the Super Bowl, against the Washington Capitals on Feb. 1 (buy tickets) and the L.A. Kings on Saturday night Feb. 3 (buy tickets). Both matchups begin at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Panthers skate at the Bank Atlantic Center (2555 Panther Parkway, Sunrise, Web site). Win a free puck if you can find anyone at the game who's a Florida native.

The beauty of south Florida can be found in its massive public parks and many are quite beautiful. Two of the finest are T-Y Park in nearby Hollywood (just west of I-95 off Sheridan Street, Web site) and Tradewinds Park in Pompano Beach (3600 Sample Road, Web site).

Especially if you're there with the whole family, this excursion should be a no-brainer. At T-Y, there's a huge Castaway Islands Water Playground, which includes seven water slides, two pools, tropical coconuts and palm trees that spray H2O and a 20,000-square foot swimming lagoon and beach.

At Tradewinds, you can rent bikes, boats, sports equipment, go on a pony ride or try your luck at the batting cages. And if Mom doesn't mind hanging out with the kids for awhile, Dad can have his way at the 18-hole golf course. What also makes Tradewinds unique is Butterfly World, a tropical garden that houses thousands of unique butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you'd like to try an out-of-the-ordinary event during Super Bowl week, how about participating in the South Beach Celebrity Shootout on Feb. 2? This big-game fishing tournament takes place at the Miami Beach Marina (300 Alton Road, Miami Beach, Web site), with a post-event party hosted by Dan Marino. It certainly helps if you're a high-powered executive who can snag an entry to this invite-only bonanza. (For details contact Keith Driscoll at (727) 669-6972 or e-mail kdriscoll@csmgroup.net)

How does watching swimsuit models play volleyball grab you? Check out the 14th annual Volleypalooza tournament on Feb. 3, when 350 models (men and women) play for agency bragging rights on the beaches at Eighth Street and Ocean Drive in Miami. Volleypalooza.com has all the details, including the tidbit that 20,000 spectactors are expected to be on hand.

Or, if just lying around on the sand is your thing, Miami's got plenty of beaches to accommodate. South Beach, Miami Beach, Virginia Key Beach and Surfside Beach (visit Greater Miami's beaches Web site for details) are only a few the region has to offer. They're free, beautiful and sunny locations to relax and enjoy the calm before the Sunday pigskin storm

Stuart Levine is a senior editor for Daily Variety and makes his home in southern California, where his disposition is nearly as sunny as Miami's.

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