Miami is the center of the football universe


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If you need the fastest route to Miami International Airport or Dolphin Stadium, Larry Wahl probably beats GPS, at least this week.

Wahl normally spends most of his year planning the Orange Bowl as its media director. However, he and his staff have had to double-dip with the BCS National Championship Game between Oklahoma and Florida being played Thursday at Dolphin Stadium (2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens).

"No question, it has been hectic," said Wahl, who has been sleep-deprived through one of his busiest times.

"We're back out at the airport picking up people for the national championship game and working on an even greater magnitude. There is no letup. It's the same kind of effort [as the Orange Bowl], but we just want to make them feel as special as possible."

Indeed, Dolphin Stadium is at the center of the football universe, having hosted the Baltimore Ravens-Miami Dolphins AFC wild-card playoff game Sunday.

Because the Dolphins were the hosts, Wahl's team was not able to start working on the BCS title game until late Sunday night. Dolphin Stadium work crews have had to make three changeovers in logos, including repainting the end zones and other duties.

"As soon as the Orange Bowl was done, you see them bringing in new sod for the Dolphins," Wahl said. "And that will be repeated again."

But the week of events figures to be a boon to south Florida, which relies heavily on tourism. Although numbers won't be official until a few weeks after Thursday's title game, Wahl anticipates the economic impact from just the BCS title game to be somewhere near $300 million. The Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau said it will not have numbers until well after the game.

Florida and Oklahoma were each allotted 16,000 tickets, and Wahl said they were gobbled up immediately.

For locals, travelers and sports tourists alike, Miami means sun and beaches. (Click here to find out more about the surf and sand opportunities.)

For some, Miami means only one beach -- South Beach. Plenty of people coming to the championship game will head to South Beach, Miami's trendy, quintessential, art deco, club-hopping party zone. Most bars stay open until at least 4 a.m., but expect long lines to get in and hefty prices. You can learn more about South Beach in our BCS National Championship Game Guide.

After a day at the beach, try one of Florida's many other sporting interests.

Thoroughbred racing opened Saturday at Gulfstream Park (901 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale Beach) and races are run Wednesday (with $1 draft beer) through Sunday, with first post at 1:15 p.m. Gulfstream Park also has a casino open from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday.

Jai alai is a unique sport in which the pelota, or ball, reaches speeds as fast as180 mph. Frontons are found in Miami and Dania. In Miami (3500 NW 37th Ave.), there are matinee performances daily at noon and evening performances Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. In Dania (301 E. Dania Beach Blvd.), live games are conducted at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with matinees at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Dania also has a card room with poker and tournaments.

If you don't manage to pick up tickets to the national title tilt, the Florida Panthers are hosting the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, 32 miles north of downtown Miami. (Buy tickets from StubHub.)

And the entertainment certainly is not limited to sports.

'80s rock star Bryan Adams will perform at the Parker Playhouse (707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale) at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and the circus comes to town starting Thursday, when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens at AmericanAirlines Arena (601 Biscayne Blvd.) for 12 days.

For those sticking around past the game, the Miami Tattoo Expo runs Jan. 9-11 at the Miami Beach Convention Center (1901 Convention Center Drive) and features more than 300 tattoo artists from more than a dozen countries.

If you are interested in outdoor pursuits, Everglades National Park (40001 State Road 9336, Homestead) has more than 1.3 million acres of subtropical wilderness. The park offers airboat tours of varying lengths.

Opened in 1955 as the then-largest marine-life attraction in the world, the Miami Seaquarium (4400 Rickenbacker Causeway) is one of the state's most popular attractions. The Seaquarium attracts more than 600,000 visitors each year and is recognized as southern Florida's most popular "gated" attraction. The Seaquarium opens daily at 9:30 a.m.

Another outdoor area with native habitat is the Monkey Jungle (14805 SW 216th St.), with more than 400 endangered primates roaming free on 30 acres. Monkey Jungle is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jungle Island, also known as Parrot Jungle and Gardens (1111 Parrot Jungle Trail), is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and has more than 3,000 exotic animals.

Another relaxing option is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (3251 S. Miami Ave.), located in the Coconut Grove area of Miami overlooking Biscayne Bay. The historic Vizcaya mansion is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and features fountains, foliage and a subtropical forest.

As for Wahl and his team, they probably won't take a break until Presidents Day weekend.

"It's the experience the kids [players] have that really makes it all worthwhile," Wahl said.

Tony Guadagnoli is a freelance writer from western Washington. To read more of his work on college football, click here).