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Huizenga disappointed to leave Dolphins without NFL title

Wayne Huizenga turned a nifty profit last month by completing his sale of the Miami Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner in 1994.

DAVIE, Fla. -- Wayne Huizenga fared better in the NFL as a businessman than as a sports fan.

Huizenga turned a nifty profit last month by completing his sale of the Miami Dolphins and their stadium for $1.1 billion, nearly seven times what he paid to become sole owner in 1994.

But Huizenga considered the Dolphins different from his other investments. He knows the bottom line in the NFL is championships, and his team never made it to the Super Bowl.

"If I have one disappointment, the disappointment would be that we did not bring a championship home," Huizenga said Tuesday. "It's something we failed to do. It's tough out there with the competitive balance in this league, which is what's great about the league. Every team has the same payroll, and that is what has made the league so strong."

Stephen Ross, a New York real-estate billionaire, completed his purchase of 95 percent of the franchise Jan. 20. Huizenga retains a 5 percent interest in the Dolphins and will continue to attend games, as he has done since becoming a season-ticket holder in the team's first season in 1966.

But Huizenga won't be involved in franchise decisions, and at age 71, the man who once owned three South Florida professional teams is stepping off the sports stage. He described his sale of the Dolphins as bittersweet.

"I have mixed emotions," he said. "I love the Miami Dolphins and the NFL with all my heart, but I felt that this was the right time to sell the team. It was a process we started 2½ to 3 years ago, when the economy was very good. ... Someone was willing to step up and pay those prices."

Huizenga also was the founding owner of Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins and the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers. But the Dolphins always were Huizenga's first love, and while his Marlins won the World Series and his Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals, success in the NFL proved elusive.

Huizenga purchased a minority share in the Dolphins in 1990 and paid $168 million to become sole owner of the team and its stadium. He earned a reputation as a hands-off owner and won raves from his employees, even though he made six head-coaching changes, starting when he eased Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula into retirement.

Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, interim head coach Jim Bates, Nick Saban and Cam Cameron followed. By 2007, a franchise that once was a perennial playoff contender had the league's worst record at 1-15.

With the sale to Ross already in the works, Huizenga cleaned house and hired Bill Parcells to run football operations. Parcells oversaw a remarkable revival in 2008, with Miami winning the AFC East by beating the New York Jets on the final day of the regular season.

"It was a magical feeling," Huizenga said. "I had tears in my eyes. I kept looking away so I wouldn't have to wipe my eyes in front of everybody."

The Dolphins lost in the first round of the playoffs to finish 11-6, but Huizenga is confident the franchise is finally headed in the right direction under Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano.

Huizenga's best decision as an owner?

Huizenga was reluctant to revisit other Dolphins decisions or discuss his legacy, saying he doesn't worry about it. But he said he regrets dismantling the Marlins after they won the 1997 World Series, a cost-cutting move that hurt the popularity of both baseball and Huizenga in South Florida.

"We lost $34 million the year we won the World Series, and I just said, 'You know what, I'm not going to do that,"' Huizenga said. "If I had it to do over again, I'd say, 'OK, we'll go one more year. But I'm telling you right now, at the end of this year, I'm out of here.' But that's in hindsight."

Huizenga sold the Marlins in 1999 and the Panthers in 2001, and now he's giving up his favorite team. He predicted Ross will be "a great owner" whose priority will be to win a championship.

And Huizenga said his hands-off style of ownership remains the best path to the Super Bowl, even if the past 15 years suggest otherwise.

"We're in a much better position than we were before because of Bill and Jeff and Tony," Huizenga said. "My advice to Steve would be to let them do their thing. I may be successful in other businesses, but that doesn't mean I know football. Steve Ross may build the biggest and best buildings in the world, but that doesn't mean he's better than Bill Parcells. I hire those people and let them run the show."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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