Dolfan Encounters: Web Weekend X: Part 1

I recently had an extremely rare and amazing opportunity as a fan to attend the Dolphins 10th annual web weekend alongside the writers, internet broadcasting hosts and others.  This was an amazing event and gave a few of us an absolutely unbelievable opportunity as fans to get to see the inner workings of the team and meet a number of past and present Dolphins players, employees and management.  There is no way that any article can sum up the experience, but I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the highlights with the readers out there.  This was not only my first web weekend that I have attended, but also my very first Dolphins home game ever in Miami.

With so many unbelievable events, I’ll be breaking the trip into a series of articles surrounding the festivities.  Anything written here won’t even do this trip justice, but I will attempt to do my best to cover the items in as much detail as possible.  I made a decision to truly immerse myself in the “Dolphins Experience” while I was down there, even down to attempting to only eat at restaurants while in Miami that were owned by (or in some way affiliated to) current or former Dolphins greats.

Day 1: Thursday, 17Oct13

Day one was an “unofficial day,” but I wanted to arrive early to ensure I didn’t miss a moment of the weekends activities.  Rising at the ungodly hour of 1:30 am EST, I quickly showered and rushed to the airport to catch my 5:30 am flight.  I arrived at the airport shortly after 4 am, and while I was hoping for an upgrade to “grill class,” I had to settle for my bag with a fast food breakfast sandwich and a window seat.  Shortly after takeoff, the need for sleep finally beat out the adrenaline rush of my excitement, and I passed out to awake in time to peer out the window like a true tourist.

While there were no official festivities planned for Thursday, I wanted to settle in, check into Shula’s and make sure that I hit Offerdahl’s.  My buddy Nat (unfortunately, his last name is NOT Moore) grabbed me from the airport and we headed up to the Deerfield Beach area of North Miami.  After settling in and relaxing a bit, Nat and I headed over to John Offerdahl’s Café Grill in Hollywood, FL.  While I had looked up the menu online, I had no idea what to expect.  I walked into the restaurant around 2 pm, and immediately noticed the memorabilia everywhere.  The bakery case had me drooling, and while I would like to blame the fact that I hadn’t eaten since 5:30 am, I would’ve been drooling over it if I was absolutely stuffed.  The bagels looked delicious, and the other baked goods looked out of this world.  Nat had never been there before either, and after some brief discussion he tried the soup and half sandwich, while I got the barbecued chicken sandwich on a fresh whole wheat bun.

While we waited for our food, I took a look around the restaurant.  Tons of memorabilia and photo’s adorn the walls, and a video screen had John “The Gridiron Griller” Offerdahl and Bru doling out grilling advice.  In short order, they called our number and we settled in to eat.  For less than twenty dollars, the food was phenomenal.  Nat and I planned to hit the bakery case after, but frankly we were both too full from our lunch.  Neither of us is exactly tiny, so that should tell you just how filling the meal was.

After a few quick errands, and a bit of time at Nat’s, it was time to go and check in at Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club in Miami Lakes.  It took a little bit of effort to find the place when we got there as the hotel, while significantly spread out, is fairly nondescript.  It took a bit of time to find my way to the front desk, but once I did the check-in process was a breeze.  I made the LONG trek to my room, made a few calls home and relaxed a bit before heading to Shula 2 for dinner and an early night.

I had been to a Shula’s Steakhouse before, but never to Shula 2.  I was a bit disappointed.  The staff was very nice, and I received good service from my waitress Amanda.  I would have several more meals at Shula’s over the next several days, and I never really left impressed with the food or the venue.  With so many other amazing portions of the weekend, I will skip the review of Shula 2’s, but there is no meal of the day that I recommend the food there, at least not that I tried.  The service was always fantastic and friendly towards me, however.

Day 2: Friday, 18Oct13

This is the day we begin to get into the meat of web weekend.  After a relaxing day at the hotel, and along main street in front of the hotel, I met up with several other staff members from the site and we climbed into a car with Brian Miller to head to the Dolphins training facility.  After a few lefts and rights, a brief scenic tour of the Nova Southeastern campus we arrived at our destination.  After being buzzed in by security, we had a few minutes to admire the Dolphins décor that adorned the main lobby.  There are glass encased lockers and memorabilia of all types throughout the area.  There are championship banners along the grand staircases to the second level, but your eyes are immediately drawn to the center of the room, halfway up the wall.  There, above the security desk, sit the two Lombardi trophies that this franchise has brought home to South Florida.

After a few minutes admiring the memorabilia, we were escorted in to the players cafeteria by the Dolphins Sr Director of Digital Print and Media, Scott Stone.  Scott would serve as somewhat of the grand MC of the events throughout the next several days, and he escorted us through the facility to the players cafeteria.  We quickly found seats amongst our fellow internet writers, and listened to the Dolphins Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer Claudia Lezcano give a talk around the Dolphins brand, the care and work that went into the rebranding of the franchise, and the process that they went through in making such a drastic change to the Dolphins logo.  It was an engaging talk, and she fielded a number of questions from all of us surrounding anything we could think of, including the means by which the new logo fits on anything at small size such as a custom phone case.

Amidst discussing the logo, Claudia also gave us the tidbit that they are looking into adding a possible third jersey design to the mix.  While they haven’t settled on a concept for the alternate jersey as of yet, we may possibly see one next season, and the orange jerseys that so many fans dread WERE considered.  Personally, I am hoping the alternate jerseys involve the navy blue color, but we’ll see how they turn out when and if the concept is settled on.

After a bit, we were met by our first special guest of the weekend as Joe Philbin walked in.  Coach Philbin gave a brief talk to all of us, and seemed genuinely appreciative to have the opportunity to stop by.  He handled the questions very openly whenever possible.  When I asked Coach about Michael Egnew and his surprising development in his second season into a solid blocker who is seeing the field better, he talked about how he wasn’t surprised and he sees the work that Michael has put into honing his craft day in and day out.  After several more questions, Coach Philbin stopped to take pictures with all of us and to sign items for us and chat with us individually for a bit.  He was warm and friendly towards everyone, and left a short while later.

After Coach Philbin left, we milled about for a  few minutes before being joined by our next group of special guests.  Dolphins punter Brandon Fields and long-snapper John Denney came into the room and sat down with us all for an informal Q&A session.  Brandon talked about the means by which he puts so many punts in such precise locations.  When asked who he emulated growing up, he mentioned Ray Guy and how he had the opportunity to work with him to hone his craft.  Every time he steps on the field, Brandon picks a target to aim for, and said that has helped him throughout his career.  Talking to Denney, the obvious first question was regarding the fumble recovery in the Atlanta game that turned the tide.  Denney indicated that he was able to get his hands on the points of the football and pull it out of pile, which is why he was able to come up with the ball amidst a group of Falcons players.  We discussed the effect of the new rules regarding defenders playing off the center on the center for kicks, and how it impacts the long snappers ability to be one of the first ones down field in coverage.

The question was posed to both players around handling off target snaps, and Fields immediately replied that he couldn’t recall any offhand, and Denney could only recall once that Fields had to save him from a bad snap.  We joked briefly about the difference in targets when Caleb Sturgis practices to be the emergency punter, and how he looks so miniscule back there after getting used to snapping to Fields.  After our informal chat (where we ALSO found out that Brian Tyms does the best impression of Philbin and others behind the scenes), Fields and Denney signed commemorative tickets for all of us and posed for pictures.

After a brief conference call with former Dolphins executive Brian Weidmeier to wish him a happy birthday, we began our first tour of the facility.  We started with a tour of the FinSiders studio, where Jesse Agler, O.J. McDuffie, Sam Madison and Tristin Jones were on a quick break during a pre-recorded interview.  Everyone was more than willing to pose for pictures with the group, or individuals and answer any questions.  I could be wrong, but I believe Sam Madison may have even snapped more photo’s of all of us (including “selfies” with us) than all of our web weekend group did combined.

After the studio, we took a tour of the back areas behind the FinSider broadcasts, including the control room and the backdrop for NFL Network interviews, before heading back to the team cafeteria.  Madison, McDuffie and Agler came back in to talk to us all again briefly, and signed several items for folks, posed for pictures (many of them selfies in Sam’s case) and pretty well just hanging out with the group.

Following the Finsiders departure, Scott talked to us all for a bit and we headed back to the hotel.  Our group hung out by the pool before learning of its closure at dusk (seriously? At dusk?), and then moved to the patio area outside the Shed Dogs room for a bit.  After a quick and disappointing second meal at Shula 2 with DolFans NYC, we called it a night to get ready for the charity event Saturday morning.

In the coming days, look for additional posts around this phenomenal event and the activities that ensued.

Fins up!

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