A son's pride: Three decades later, Joe Robbie's World Cup dream for Miami lives | Habib

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

MIAMI GARDENS — Your father made an immeasurable impact on South Florida. He was widely respected for it, although to call him universally beloved would require a rewrite of history. More accurate to say your father was a complex businessman who knew what he wanted and was willing to buy it, at a price he would name.

Your father died in 1990, leaving you to carry on his work, confident that the foundation he had laid would fulfill one final desire. But two years after his passing, his dream, which became your dream, was met with a crushing defeat.

For three decades, you live with it.

And then, this week happens.

The World Cup is coming to Miami.

Just like Joe Robbie said it would.

After the big prize:Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel seeking World Cup 2026 final, Super Bowl for Hard Rock Stadium

Got the games!:Hard Rock Stadium chosen as host for World Cup 2026 matches, FIFA announces

Tim Robbie and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross stand before a statue of Dolphins founder Joe Robbie outside what is now called Hard Rock Stadium in 2011.

Tim Robbie was phoning shortly after the news broke that FIFA had chosen the Dolphins’ home — the stadium his father built with his own money, the stadium that once bore his name — as one of 16 stadiums that will host World Cup 2026.

How do you put it in words, seeing your father’s legacy, which includes founding the Dolphins, add that missing piece after all?

“Although it wasn’t unexpected, it still sort of filled me with pride and joy,” Tim Robbie said. “Pride because of the role that particularly my father played in making sure that we had a stadium suitable for World Cup games back in the ’80s, and joy in the fact that this is really is the culmination of that dream.”

Today, the world is at our feet. Or the feet are at our world. Say it however you like, but there’s no getting around that the largest sporting event in the world — global viewership for the World Cup final is roughly five times that of the Super Bowl — is a lock to come to South Florida.

Joe Robbie probably would shoot for the final

This tastes just as sweet as the ’94 snub was bitter.

Tim Robbie pondered the question of what his father would say.

“It probably would have been along the lines of, ‘Well, that’s great, but why the heck didn’t they give us the final?’” Tim said, laughing. “He always wanted the biggest and best, so I’m sure it would have been hard to tell if he was serious or being tongue-in-cheek.”

Tim is 66 now, having long given up his role as Dolphins president as well as general manager of the old Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the North American Soccer League team his family also owned. Although he helped David Beckham’s Inter Miami get off the ground, Tim no longer has official roles in soccer, instead leaving it up to the current Dolphins president, Tom Garfinkel, to roll up the sleeves and twist FIFA’s arm for what is now called Hard Rock Stadium. It’s Garfinkel who recently told FIFA officials he wants the final, so maybe Tim isn’t far off the mark on that one.

It wasn’t just South Florida that thought we were on the A-list three decades back. FIFA chose July 4, 1988, to announce that the United States would be hosting the ’94 tournament. That day, The Washington Post reported that “Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., (would be) getting the final game, U.S. Soccer officials said.” Tim Robbie was quoted in The Palm Beach Post as saying “we have better than 50-50 chance of getting the final.”

From left to right: Tom Garfinkel, president and CEO of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Mayor, Francis Suarez, City of Miami Mayor, Reggie Leon, vice mayor of Miami Gardens, and Rolando Aedo, COO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, attend a news conference at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday.

Major League Baseball couldn't be persuaded

We didn’t get the final, of course. We got a kick in the grass. All that time Joe Robbie spent making sure that the field would be designed not only with the Dolphins in mind but also the Brazils and Germanys of the world, appeared to be wasted. The local soccer community may have been outraged at the site announcement in March 1992, but those within the inner circles saw it coming.

“We knew we were dead in the water before the announcement came because Major League Baseball — it wasn’t the Marlins, it was Major League Baseball — that refused to cooperate and said it created too many scheduling issues,” Tim Robbie said. “When Major League Baseball was awarded to the stadium back in the early ‘90s we knew it was going to make it more difficult to get games, but we didn’t realize how stringent MLB was ultimately going to be.”

The crux of the matter was FIFA wanted baseball out of the stadium for a month. It wasn’t just a matter of needing the stadium for game days but also time to lay down sod to cover the dirt infield. Tim Robbie said Wayne Huizenga twisted arms on soccer’s behalf.

“No question,” Robbie said. “Obviously, Wayne Huizenga as part-owner of the stadium and a Major League Baseball owner, was at the forefront of those discussions with the Major League Baseball commissioner and other officials. And it was just not gonna happen.”

The stinging part was this wasn’t the first time the issue of the conflict had been raised. Huizenga brought it up while negotiating with MLB to bring a franchise to South Florida.

“He was well aware of that,” Robbie said. “We were assured at the time that the Marlins were awarded that when the time came to make a decision (on the 1994 baseball schedule), they would try to accommodate it. But in the end, they said, ‘No, we can’t.’”

If you’re looking for a positive spin on getting shunned, it’s this: The Robbies deserve immense credit for pioneering efforts in soccer here, as do Tom Mulroy, Ray Hudson, Thomas Rongen, Andres Cantor, Gary Walker and countless others. If you’re a soccer person, you know who they are, just as you know the local soccer landscape today is light years ahead of 1994. Nobody, back then, even dreamed that Barcelona vs. Real Madrid — El Clasico — would be staged at Hard Rock. Garfinkel and Stephen Ross did, then made it happen.

“The pioneering we did back in the day is really showing, bearing fruit,” Tim Robbie said.

This year’s World Cup in Qatar is still slightly more than 150 days away, but already, the buzz for 2026 is building. On this Father's Day weekend, Tim Robbie is looking forward to traveling around the country in 2026 to see matches.

And, yes, he’ll be attending the World Cup in The House That Joe Built, as it was sometimes called.

Walking right by the statue of his father on the way in.

Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.