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Record-breaking Dolphins Challenge Cancer a testament to team’s larger vision; coach McDaniel makes promise to fans

MIAMI GARDENS — Anyone who merely labels the Miami Dolphins a football team is selling them short.

Sure, at the heart of what the Dolphins are is an NFL franchise, one with a rich history, two Super Bowl titles and an eagerness to return to glory behind one of the league’s most competitive rosters.

But days like Saturday on the Hard Rock Stadium grounds are a testament to the bigger picture for the organization.

The Dolphins held the 14th installment of their signature annual charity event, Dolphins Challenge Cancer, which raises funds for innovative cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of University of Miami’s UHealth.

Dolphins vice chairman, president and CEO Tom Garfinkel estimated more than 7,000 participants gathered, including 460-plus cancer survivors, cycling a variety of distances to raise more than $12 million, topping the 2023 records of 5,641 participants and $10.5 million.

“I have people literally hug me and say, ‘This saved my life,’” Garfinkel said. “So that’s incredible.”

The Dolphins, in 2020, committed to raising $75 million, the largest known philanthropic pledge in the NFL. With the money raised this year in the buildup to Saturday and the $64 million contribution in the event’s first 13 years, they are bound to surpass their established goal.

“We’re really proud to lead the way and look forward to many more years of this and the great work that it does in helping fight cancer,” Dolphins owner Steve Ross said to the public at the event.

“It’s really special,” Garfinkel added. “This event existed when I got here, and all I’ve tried to do is just rally everybody to grow it further. And every year we grow it, and it’s very meaningful.”

Speaking of growing the Dolphins Challenge Cancer initiative, 2024 was the first year it was held with Hard Rock Stadium’s F1 Miami racetrack serving as the start and finish line for riders. The F1 paddock club connected to the football stadium provided a central hub for the event. This for a venue that also hosts Super Bowls, Miami Open tennis, major college football, top concerts and also get 2026 World Cup matches.

“We’re proud of the fact that it’s the only place that you could see Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and Serena Williams has played here and Roger Federer,” Garfinkel listed. “And Jay Z and Beyonce and Messi and Neymar and obviously all the great NFL players and the Dolphins.

“We’re proud of the fact that it’s the only place in the world where all of those different places merge in one place, and there’s no better place for that to happen than in Miami.”

DCC consists of cycling distances synonymous with some of the franchise’s Hall of Fame members: 99 miles for Jason Taylor, 54 (Zach Thomas), 39 (Larry Csonka) and 13 (Dan Marino). Garfinkel rode 13 miles. There’s also a 5-kilometer walk/run.

Approximately 20 Dolphins players participated Saturday, including defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, safety Jevon Holland, running back Raheem Mostert and linebacker David Long Jr. Outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips serves as co-chair for the event, along with Elizabeth Jenkins, widow of late Dolphins executive Jason Jenkins.

Phillips, who is rehabbing from a torn Achilles three months ago, feels the organization is well aligned with initiatives that are important to him and the public at large.

“I think that the organization does an incredible job with different initiatives that they have, whether it’s cancer research or other things,” he said. “For me, I just tell them that anything that you guys have any opportunities, just let me know and I’m here to support. So I’ve been really blessed to be with a team that cares so much about the community.”

McDaniel’s promise

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel grabbed a microphone and hyped up 5K participants Saturday. Of course, he got inspired to motivate runners as if they were the Dolphins players he leads, and he ended his monologue with a mic-drop moment.

“To fight the fight that everyone here has been involved in, whether it’s directly or just by your loved ones, that fight is for really everything, for life, that it’s a championship fight,” said McDaniel, on a stage with Hard Rock Stadium as his backdrop. “And that takes resolve and, really, the love from each other through the adversity that you’ve experienced together.

“That same mindset, I can promise you, the team in that stadium that’s playing there next year and for every other year following that, will be chasing that championship mindset each and every year to bring it to a fan base that truly deserves it.”

Ross introduced McDaniel to the crowd shortly after making comments of his own, and the affable coach playfully nudged him for calling him a television star. McDaniel joked he’d like to earn the introduction of “football winner” by next year’s DCC.

The Dolphins have two playoff appearances under McDaniel but still haven’t won a playoff game since 2000. He has the backing from the top of the organization heading into Year 3.

“Steve and I have tremendous confidence in all the football leadership, Mike and (general manager Chris Grier) and the decisions that they make,” Garfinkel said. “Everybody’s working together really well, which is important, and (we’re) very excited about the future.”

Throwback uniforms

While some fans clamor to make the Dolphins throwback uniforms permanent, there are no plans for the organization to move away from its modern garb.

“I love the throwbacks. I love that. I love when we wear them. I love celebrating our history,” Garfinkel said. “I think they’re very appropriate for celebrating our history. It keeps them special that we wear them a couple of times a year.”

Marino recently indicated in a Super Bowl radio row interview that Ross isn’t going back to the retro uniform beyond special occasions anytime soon.

Garfinkel also said he’s hopeful Miami will get one of the upcoming Super Bowls yet to be announced. The next three are set for New Orleans, Santa Clara and Los Angeles.