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MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami/AP) — Sun Life Stadium is in the midst of a large transformation.
Huge cranes are hovering outside the Orange Bowl stadium, as though trying to start a wave. They’re ready to raise the roof — after Thursday’s game.
The national championship semifinal between No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma will be played on a construction site. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ stadium is undergoing renovations that began nearly a year ago and will continue in 2016, with the topper being a giant canopy to be erected over the seats.
That’s the reason for the 300-foot-tall cranes, which greeted the Orange Bowl teams Tuesday as they bussed into the stadium for media day. Many of the players and coaches had been unaware of the renovation project.
“Coming up the escalator here, a guy was telling me they’re putting a roof on this thing,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I didn’t know that. I guess it has something to do with getting the Super Bowl.”
Swinney is correct: Ross’ incentive for spending more than $425 million on upgrades was to attract Super Bowls and other major events, such as Thursday’s game. The Miami area has hosted the Super Bowl 10 times, but not since 2010, and the Dolphins’ aging stadium has been blamed for recent unsuccessful bids.
Ross’ goal is to land at least three to five Super Bowls in the next 20 years. South Florida is one of four contenders for the 2019 and 2020 games, and NFL owners will choose the winners in May.
The Dolphins’ stadium, also the home of the Miami Hurricanes, is scheduled to host four college semifinals over the next nine years, including Thursday’s game. And the upgrades help the chances of winning a bid for a national championship game, which has been awarded through January 2020.
“We feel really good about prospects coming up for the next bid cycle, which we anticipate will be in two or three years,” Orange Bowl Committee CEO Eric Poms said. “We just went through a recent bid, and the feedback we got is the stadium is a tremendous asset.”
Players at media day said the stadium looks cool even with the remodeling yet to be completed. Oklahoma long snapper Jack Aubel, a South Florida native whose family had Dolphins season tickets for 10 years, said he looks forward to seeing the canopy in place.
“Hopefully it brings more Super Bowls here,” Aubel said, “and bring a better atmosphere to Dolphins games, since they can’t win.”
Eight columns stand in the corners of the stadium awaiting the canopy, which is being assembled in the parking lot. Beginning in mid-January, the cranes will lift 14,000 tons of steel into place.
Given the work yet to be done, the place looks pretty spiffy. Clemson tight end Garrett Williams, who has taken classes in engineering, was impressed by the new color scheme and seating arrangement completed before this season.
“Really nice,” Williams said. “I love the blue seats, and it just looks new. There are lot of luxuries you don’t normally see in a stadium. I saw down below they have, like, La-Z-Boy recliner seats. I don’t know who gets to sit there.”
Seats in the lower bowl go for up to $1,850. At the other end of the price scale, 1,500 temporary seats have been installed in the four corners of the stadium, where video boards will eventually be erected. Because of the renovations, capacity for the game is 67,000, about 6,000 less than a year ago.
All of the seats are new since last year’s Orange Bowl, with some now closer to the field. Suites and bathrooms have been redesigned, and concourses were rebuilt. There’s lots of new flooring, lighting, woodwork and concessions.
But the biggest upgrade will be the canopy, which will provide shade for more than 90 percent of the seats. That’s not a big deal for the Orange Bowl, which kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday and is historically a night game. But Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas, a Miami native, nonetheless applauded the change.
“I’ve been to one Dolphins game,” he said. “It was hot, that’s what I do remember.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)