In the middle of March, the sports world came to a halt with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic - causing events to be canceled like the NCAA tournament (or moved like the NBA and NHL playoffs) and leaving many people wondering if sports would return to normal any time soon.
Over the course of the last nine months, sports has slowly began the return to that sense of normalcy - and with it, South Florida has become front and center in the story of coming out on top in the restarts.
From a surprise trip to the NBA Finals to a postseason return for several teams, the 305 and 954 have become hotbeds for sports success that come along with mask wearing and reduced attendance in an effort to help stop the spread.
But, which stories involving teams from South Florida were the best of the best? Which were the most inspirational in 2020, a year that did not give many moments the general public would want to remember?
Here are the top six moments from the South Florida sports world in 2020.
No. 1 - Miami Heat Dominate in the NBA bubble, Makes it to Their First Finals since 2014
When professional basketball stopped their season in March, the Heat were a playoff team but had just a .500 record over the final six weeks of the regular season. Winning just three games in the seeding portion of the league’s bubble in Orlando had Miami entering the postseason as the fifth seed.
Well, only on paper it looked like a mountain to climb because the Heat made quick work in a first round sweep of the Indiana Pacers and a five game series win over the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Miami entered into a collision course with their old playoff nemesis, the Boston Celtics, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami won that series in six games led by stars like Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, making it back to the NBA Finals for the first time in six seasons. The Heat would drop the series in six games to a Los Angeles Lakers team led by LeBron James - making the Heat a relevant team in the eyes of many to complete for the NBA title this season.
No. 2 - Miami Dolphins Become One of NFL’s Surprise Teams With a Double-Digit Win Season in 2020
Entering this season, the two time Super Bowl champs had looked anything like the glory days of those teams with three straight losing season. However, there was some hope with the Fins finishing 2019 with a winning record in head coach Brian Flores’ first year after starting off with seven straight losses.
Fast forward to an offseason of trades and drafting Tua Tagovailoa in the first round to a season that saw ‘Tua Time’ as the team’s starting quarterback along with wins over defending NFC champions San Francisco and knocking rival New England out of the playoff picture in the home finale.
A wild comeback win last Saturday over the Las Vegas Raiders has Miami with their most wins since the 2016 season - the last time that the Dolphins made the playoffs - entering the final week of the season. For Miami, the final game of the regular season is simple: win on the road Sunday at Buffalo and it’s back to the postseason.
No. 3 - Major League Soccer Returns to South Florida With Inter Miami CF’s Inaugural Season
September 8th, 2001 was the last time the MLS had a home in our area when the Miami Fusion played their final game as an organization. Fast forward nearly 19 years - and nearly six years since the franchise was announced – and the men in black and pink kicked off for the first time.
The team would have an ominous start, becoming the first MLS team to lose their first five games in league history. Momentum started to swing with their first home game and first win on August 22nd and a 4-3-1 record to end the regular season and qualify for the playoffs.
The Herons would get shutout in their first postseason game by Nashville SC, but plenty of positives could come from a year where Inter Miami lost just eight of their final 18 games along with plans for an eventual move into a state-of-the-art facility near downtown Miami.
No. 4 - Miami Hurricanes Football Becomes Relevant Again After Rocky 1st Season Under Manny Diaz
At the end of the 2019 season, ‘The U’ was a shell of its former self with a 6-7 record that included three straight losses - one of which coming against cross-town rivals FIU. It raised questions about whether Miami could get back to contending for a title, questions that started to be answered with the arrival of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King.
Miami started the year with three straight wins, including a massive blowout of rival FSU, before losing their first game on the road against Clemson. The ‘Canes rattled off five more wins, including comeback victories over N.C. State and Virginia Tech, before suffering a setback in their regular season finale against North Carolina.
‘The U’ headed back to the postseason this year when they played Oklahoma State on Tuesday in the Cheez-It Bowl. With King returning for the 2021 season there is already talk that the ‘Canes might be ready to challenge the Tigers for the ACC crown next season.
No. 5 - Miami Marlins Overcome Rocky Start, Make it Back to National League Playoffs
While the men in whatever color scheme they are using now do have two World Series championships on their resume, the Marlins also had just four winning seasons in the previous 16 seasons entering the 2020 campaign - one that saw Major League Baseball condense the year down to just 60 games starting in July.
After playing their first three games, Miami got a week off after a COVID outbreak confined some players to a hotel in Philadelphia. The Marlins would get back on the field in August and be one of the surprise teams in the MLB, finishing the season with a 31-29 record and their first playoff berth since 2003.
The Marlins made quick work of the Chicago Cubs in their Wild Card series before being swept by the Atlanta Braves in the divisional round, Miami’s first playoff series loss in franchise history. Like many seasons in the past with Miami, one has to wonder if this was a one-time thing or something the team will build on for the future.
No. 6 - South Florida High Schools Dominate State Championships for 2nd Straight Season
It was just one season ago when seven teams went to Orlando and brought home championships, setting a record for the state. Over the summer, it seemed like officials running the FHSAA were going to do anything to keep that from happening again by keeping the season going with COVID numbers rising in South Florida.
Those officials from North and Central Florida were able to succeed in that - as only SIX of the eight classifications had teams from South Florida this year with five of those teams bringing home the title. The results meant 12 of the last 16 state champions have come from either Miami-Dade or Broward counties.
The highlights from one week and a half ago in Tallahassee included Miami Central, who somehow was the underdog, shutting out their foe while scoring 46 points - while St. Thomas Aquinas won the final game of the weekend to set the state record with their 12th championship in program history.