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Best Of 2003

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Place to Gamble

We got some Canes over here, whoosh, whoosh! Yes, it's a pretty lame cheer, but fans shout it loud and proud on any given Saturday in the Orange Bowl, and for good reason. UM is and has been a perennial football powerhouse since 1983, but gone are the days of the swaggering, trash-talking, fatigues-wearing hooligans who played for Jimmy Johnson. The NCAA violations, scholarship reductions, assorted PR gaffes, and the specter of Luther Campbell left a bad taste in the mouths of critics and fans alike. It's always darkest before the dawn, right? Even when things got really bad, they eventually got better: J.J. and his hair jumped to the NFL; their replacement, Dennis Erickson (despite winning two National Championships in '89 and '91), abandoned the team right before the school was hit with NCAA sanctions; Butch Davis exorcised the demons, cleaned up the program, and took the Canes to victory over the Gators in the 2001 Nokia Sugar Bowl. Then Davis bailed for the NFL, leaving the team and the fans in the lurch. Would the Canes revert back to their evil ways? After Athletic Director Paul Dee conducted a nationwide search for Davis' replacement, the UM players lobbied for Assistant Coach Larry Coker, who in turn led Miami to an undefeated season in 2001. In 2002, the Canes rocked the Nebraska Cornhuskers like a Category 4 storm in the Rose Bowl only to crash back down to Earth in a devastating loss to Ohio State University a year later in the Fiesta Bowl. Although the loss to OSU ended Miami's historic winning streak at 34 games and some egos (and ligaments) got bruised, rest assured that the Canes will reload and return to dominance. Whoosh, whoosh!There's no better place to undertake the vice of gambling than Dania Jai-Alai's "Cellar," a smoky crypt of simulcasts flickering on dozens of screens. Above it in the auditorium, spectators lend a classier air to the goings-on as they watch live games taking place in the fronton, the court on which this hoary Basque game is played. The Cellar, however, is a classic den of iniquity. It's here that paychecks are really lost or multiplied. Here, you can avoid the lines by placing bets on self-service terminals for everything from harness racing to jai-alai. Color touch-screen terminals allow you to open an account, establish a balance, and handle all your betting online from your own carrel. For the more mobile-minded, there're the palm-sized wireless terminals. They make trips to the Cellar's bar a whole lot easier.

Best Miami Heat Player

You've got your workhorse Brian Grant, your streak shooter Travis Best, and your rookie phee-nom Caron Butler. But in the murk of the Eastern Conference basement, only one light shines with star power: Eddie Jones. Maybe Jones can't single-handedly lift the Heat into the playoffs or even make the team a consistently scrappy opponent. (Those 30-point losses take their toll.) But on any given night, he's fun to watch. He's whip-fast and unpredictable. He'll spin past some cement-legged defender to tomahawk the ball through the hoop or lay back and, with a sleepy, ruminative stroke, sink a three. (He always has one of the highest three-point percentages in the league.) Injury-prone, constantly rumored to be trade bait, Jones can't carry the team like Alonzo Mourning used to do. But he has provided Heat fans with more than his share of enjoyable moments this past season -- and there weren't many.

Best Boating

With one of the only working lighthouses in South Florida, easy access to the ocean, and freedom from drawbridges, why take your boat anyplace else? Instead of getting stuck in the rush-hour-thick marine traffic of the Intracoastal, the New River or one of South Florida's narrow canals where the no-wake zones won't let you go past the double digits and the bridges have longer waits than the tollbooths, set loose from the Hillsboro Inlet and fly off into the ocean. Port Everglades might be bigger, but in the Hillsboro Inlet, you won't get run over by a cruise ship bigger than a skyscraper. You will be just minutes away from some great dive spots with living coral reefs, can find a quiet place to coax some fish out of the ocean, and speed, sail, or glide through the water. Either parallel the coast for a few hours or head for the Caribbean. After your trip, you can dock at the Cove and enjoy a nice dinner.

Best Place to Hang with Gators

When we passed by an alligator baking under the sun in a round puddle that was too small to contain his long tail, the 7-year-old with us observed, "He's in his hot tub." And in a way, he was. You get intimate with the gators out in Shark Valley, where a paved, 15-mile bicycle trail cuts through the heart of the 'Glades. They are everywhere. We must have seen 60 or so on a recent two-hour stay at the park, which is on Tamiami Trail (or U.S. 41) 18 miles west of Krome Avenue. There were dozens of babies and one great big granddaddy that must have been more than 100 years old. Add to that huge Florida garfish, majestic anhingas and herons, and the occasional deer (we missed out on that sight) and you've got one magical afternoon. You can either bring your own bicycle or rent one of theirs (at $5.25 an hour -- and some come with baby seats if a real newcomer is tagging along). About the midway point is an observation tower that gives you an incredible vista of the River of Grass. Or if you don't feel like pedaling, you can walk a couple of their short trails. Or, we add with a sigh, you can kick back and ride the tram for $12 ($11 for seniors, $7.25 for children 12 and under). Whatever you choose, we guarantee you'll see just about every form of wildlife. Except sharks, of course.

Best Player on the Marlins Payroll

How can we tell Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria doesn't give a flying fish about winning in this town? Let's just take a look at the ones that got away. Two spring trainings ago, in a salary-dumping move, the team traded its closer, Antonio Alfonseca, and its fifth starter, Matt Clement, for Julian Tavarez and a pitching prospect. What happened? The absence of Alfonseca disrupted the bullpen, forcing setup men to try out for the closer role, while rookies were plugged into middle relief and setup slots. The result: inconsistency and blown saves. Tavarez is and always has been a bum, and he pitched like one. Meanwhile, Clement finally had his breakout year, going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and keeping down his walk totals while striking out 215 batters -- all for an awful Cubs team. During the 2002 campaign, the Marlins "brain trust," in two more salary-driven transactions, traded away the team's most feared hitter (Cliff Floyd) and most experienced starting pitcher (Ryan Dempster). Granted, Dempster struggled for most of last year, but don't even try to argue that Carl Pavano is an improvement. Juan Encarnacion is a nice player, sure, but compare his on-base percentage and slugging percentage last year (.324 and .449) to Floyd's (.388 and .533). This off-season, management executed a series of deals -- and nondeals -- that, in true Ari Fleischer fashion, it has tried to spin as a demonstration of its commitment to winning. They term it "small-ball" -- pitching defense and speed. Baloney. Replacing a jovial clubhouse presence and consistent hitter like Kevin Millar with a known bust like Todd Hollandsworth is an insult to both the players and fans. All this to save the $500,000 difference in their 2003 salaries. Way to pinch those pennies, guys. The three-way trade with the Rockies and Braves was the capper, though. Yes, the contracts of Preston Wilson ($28 million through 2005) and Charles Johnson ($26 million over the next three years) were onerous, and both players were underperforming, especially CJ. But to go through all those machinations and end up with a punch-and-judy hitting center fielder who never draws a walk (Juan Pierre), a young reliever with more tattoos than total major league wins and saves combined (Tim Spooneybarger), and to be paying Mike Hampton $30 million over the next three years to play for the stinkin' Braves? Ludicrous. Outrageous. Disgusting. But hey, at least we then got Pudge, right? Yeah, this year. Don't come crying to us when the Marlins are paying him the rest of his back-loaded $10 million contract to play for somebody else, too.

Best Golf Course

Few places on the island of the rich and famous make outsiders feel more welcome than the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course. Well, at least they won't look at you funny for being worth less than a million. This city-owned mini-course, at 2,450 yards, is perhaps the island's best deal and affords some of the best views. For $17 in the morning and $15 after 2 p.m., duffers get amazing ocean views on four holes that run along the dune and Intracoastal sights from three holes on the opposite side of Ocean Boulevard. Check in at the shack-sized clubhouse, and for an extra $10, jump in a cart if you're absolutely lazy. Don't worry about checking with the starter, because there isn't one. Carts have the keys in 'em. Frequent customers can buy a 12-play card for $210 that makes this 18-hole course the best for the buck. Be warned, however, that this short course was designed for those who can afford to spend their weekdays golfing. Thin fairways running along water and sloped greens make for tough shots. And if you want to fit in, bring your plaid pants and speak loudly about how much you love the entire Bush family.

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Best Place to Gamble: The University of Miami Hurricanes Football Team Dania Jai-Alai

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