The Miami Dolphins first ever training camp could have beached their inaugural season in 1966. That year the Dolphins training camp in St. Pete Beach, FL, was ruined by practice fields covered in sand and broken seashells. The expansion Dolphins were lucky they didn’t suffer any catastrophic injuries.
On the first day of training camp, Dolphins players were already expressing concerns over the practice fields. One player stated “I’ve seen a lot of better high school fields than this”. Several players were hurt by jagged pieces of seashells that showed up on the worn field.
The Dolphins practice fields were put together rather quickly. Fresh sod was laid down only three weeks before the opening of camp. The fields simply weren’t ready to be used by a professional football team. What made the situation more bizarre was that a local semipro team, the St. Pete Blazers, were practicing on a better field than the Dolphins.
The accommodations were also less than desirable. The Dolphins were staying at the Colonial Inn Motel. The air conditioning was unreliable, and the players were tormented at night by the sound of barking seals at a nearby theme park. Source: Miami Dolphins: Colorful Tales of the Aqua and Orange by Alex Marvez
The Dolphins camp in St. Pete Beach wasn’t suppose to be a shipwreck. In April of 1966, a group of boosters called the Suncoast Sports Group convinced the Dolphins to hold their training camp in the Tampa area, by offering to finance their training camp expenses for five years. The Dolphins were suppose to practice and stay at the newly built Happy Dolphin Inn. When visiting the site, Dolphins head coach George Wilson stated it was “fantastic”. He went on to say, “This has everything you are looking for in a training camp. The facilities are good as if not better than any in either the American or the National Football League”. So what happened?
Simply put, the Suncoast Sports Group wasn’t able to raise enough money for a successful training camp. Early on there were signs of financial trouble. In June of 1966, the Suncoast Group shifted the Dolphins accommodations from the Happy Dolphin Inn to the cheaper Colonial Inn. It didn’t really matter. In the end the Dolphins paid the majority of the bills.
Eventually the Dolphins were fed up to the point of no return. Three weeks into training camp, the Dolphins left the beach and moved their practices northeast to Boca Ciega High School in nearby Gulfport, FL. A few weeks later the Dolphins would leave the Tampa area completely, moving their training camp to Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL.
As expected from an expansion team, the Dolphins struggled on the field. They started the season 0-5, and finished the year 3-11. They avoided having the AFL’s worst record by defeating the equally bad Houston Oilers 29-28 in the last game of the season. Did the screwy training camp negatively impact the Dolphins? Probably, but I don’t think anybody felt it ruined what could have been a championship season.
Since their disastrous camp at St. Pete Beach, the Dolphins have never left the Miami metro area for a training camp.
Additional Info and Links
- A bird’s eye view of the 4900 block of Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach, FL. The location of the Dolphins infamous seashell covered practice fields.
- From the looks of this postcard, it seemed the Colonial Inn wasn’t as bad as the Dolphins claimed it was. Of course you can’t see inside the rooms, and every place looks great on a postcard.
- At least into the mid 2000s it seemed the Colonial Inn was still around.