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"Beyond the Game" Shows Rare South Florida Sports Artifacts at HistoryMiami

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What's the first thing you think of when someone mentions Miami sports? The 1972 undefeated Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins team? The 1997 Miami Marlins World Series squad? Maybe one of the Miami Heat title runs? Those might be the most famous teams or the freshest in our minds, but Miami has a much broader and deeper relationship with sports, one that goes back way before it South Beach was fashionable. This Saturday, HistoryMiami aims to remind you of this fact with "Beyond the Game: Sports and the Evolution of South Florida." 

The exhibit, opening this Saturday and running through January 17, 2017, highlights the way sports has shaped and reflected the cultural growth of South Florida. The display will cover 5,000 square feet of space in the museum's third-floor gallery and will showcase artifacts from HistoryMiami's collection, donations from individuals in the community, as well as the area's professional sports teams and venues.

The exhibit will open with a free family-friendly event featuring an unveiling of the numerous artworks and artifacts that create a timeline of Miami sports that stretches back to the 1920s. Everything from Miami Jai-Alai, Hialeah Park, the Orange Bowl, Muhammed Ali's Miami Beach 5th Street Gym, the rise of the University of Miami football program, Miami Marine Stadium, and more recent events will be represented in various forms in the exhibit. The show is meant to touch on not only how sports shaped the Miami we know today, but also how it helped put Miami on the map as a legitimate sports town that just happened to be located in paradise. 

Notable items that will be on display include original Miami Heat flooring from the Miami Arena, an Orange Bowl trophy from the University of Miami, the Hialeah Park infield sign, and memorabilia from the Marlins' inaugural year. Dan Marino's contract and a Don Shula play sheet will also be on view. In addition, the museum will show footage of Muhammad Ali at the 5th Street Gym, as well as video interviews with local sports icons Mike Lowell, Mercury Morris, and Randal Hill.
The exhibit was curated by Gaspar González, a Yale-trained historian (and former New Times writer) known for creating Emmy-winning documentary programming. According to González, what makes this exhibit unique is the way the moments and items remembered in "Beyond the Game: Sports and the Evolution of South Florida" shaped how people saw South Florida has a whole

“From a historical perspective, the thing that is most striking is how central South Florida's sporting scene has been to its identity almost from the very beginning. Hialeah Park and Miami Jai-Alai date to the mid-1920s, and both were not only important tourist destinations but really shaped the way that people understood South Florida,” González says. “These kinds of attractions conveyed a sense of South Florida as a unique place.”

González says the exhibit is the result of numerous projects he's worked on and his experience living in South Florida. 

"Over the years, I've chronicled quite a few of these sports venues and teams. In 2007, I made a national PBS documentary, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, which, among other things, chronicled the 5th Street Gym, and I'd written extensively about Hialeah Park in 2001 and 2002 [when I was a staff writer at New Times].

"Those experiences, along with growing up here, suggested to me that the larger story of South Florida could be told through the area's sports scene and how it evolved from the 1920s on."

In addition to all of the items listed above, many lesser-known artifacts and pieces of Miami History will also be on display. Though it's difficult to choose a favorite, González says his is one of the better-known items that will be on view. 

"There are a lot of unique artifacts, many of which have never been shown anywhere," he says. "But if I had to choose one, I'd probably say it's the 19-foot-long aluminum 'Hialeah' sign from the racetrack. 

"It's that instantly recognizable pink script, and to me, it's so evocative of the midcentury, the golden age of horse racing, the Hialeah Park flamingos, Old Florida tourism, and all of that."

Many of the items on display beginning this Saturday will be things you were aware of but had no idea anyone saved. To find some of the pieces on Google or on an episode of American Pickers is one thing, but to be able to look at all of these special items in one place is an amazing opportunity. 

"We've got Angelo Dundee's 'endswell,' which is this small piece of metal that boxing cornermen use to press down around a fighter's eye to reduce swelling during a fight. The one we have is one Angelo used for a lot of his career, so you can imagine him employing it in the classic Ali fights and dozens, if not hundreds, of others," he says. 

The exhibit covers South Florida sports to the present day, Gonzalez says, but he's already thinking about items that might make it into a future show — most notably, a certain Marlins moment that he's dreamed up in his head. 

"If we were looking down the road, how about the bat that Marlins pitcher and occasional pinch-hitter José Fernández used to drive in the winning run — Ichiro Suzuki dashing from first base all the way around to score — in the 2016 World Series?" 

"Beyond the Game: Sports and the Evolution of South Florida"
Saturday, July 16, through January 17, 2017, at HistoryMiami. A grand opening this Saturday will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and feature team mascots, games, and fun for the whole family. The event is free, but RSVP is required via eventbrite.com. Beginning Sunday, July 17, tickets cost $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $5 for children; children under 6 get in free.

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