Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium has hosted six Super Bowls, five NCAA championship games, two World Series and was even the site of WrestleMania.
This is also where Dalvin Cook took over football matches.
The Vikings running back will return to Hard Rock for a Sunday noon game against the Miami Dolphins, his first NFL game in his native Miami. He will have to have a good performance to surpass some of his previous performances there.
“I’ve been playing at this stadium since I was back in high school,” he said.
It all started when Cook was a junior at Miami Central High School in 2012, and the Rockets went there to play at Miami Booker T. Washington High, then ranked No. 7 in the nation. The game was so important that it was moved from the much smaller Traz Powell Stadium, where Cook’s high school team played most of its games.
The Rockets upset the Tornadoes 37-26 as Cook played the lead in the second half. Playing as a defensive back, he intercepted a pass in the third quarter and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Early in the fourth quarter, Cook added a 1-yard touchdown run. Then, with five minutes left, he scored on a 70-yard touchdown run to put Miami Central up for good at 30-26. On that long TD run, Cook looked trapped in the backfield before backing up and running along the right sideline. Then he crossed the field on the left side and scored, with a broadcaster narrating the highlights of the game saying “he ran about 100 yards”.
“He had a run that, oh man, was amazing,” said Roland Smith, who became Miami Central’s head coach the following season for a nine-year run and is now director of high school relations. from the University of Miami. “He reversed the pitch and passed everyone. It was just one of those races you remember. It was a great game. He always seemed to amaze me with the races he did.
Cook was back at the Hard Rock for two games with Florida State against the Miami Hurricanes in his freshman season in 2014 and his last in 2016. In Game 1, he carried seven times for 92 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winning 26-yard run with 3:05 to go for a 30-26 win. In the second, he carried 27 times for 150 yards and caught a pass for 59 yards and a touchdown in a 20-19 win.
Cook wasn’t done showing off in his hometown in 2016. In his last college game, in the Orange Bowl at the Hard Rock, he carried 20 times for 145 yards and scored a touchdown in a 33- 32 against Michigan.
“That’s what I dreamed of,” Cook said of his big games at the Hard Rock. “It’s a childhood dream, just living it, trying to enjoy the moment.”
With that in mind, you better believe that Cook, in his sixth season with the Vikings, is looking forward to playing in Miami with the only NFL team he’s played for.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Cook, who leads the Vikings (4-1) rushing with 373 yards. “I have a lot of supporters in my hometown. It’s always nice to have warm weather.
Cook joked that he will have “my little section” of fans at Hard Rock. In fact, that might not be that far from the truth.
Cook’s mother Varondria White said there will be “lots” of people at the game to support him, although she was unable to provide an estimate as many people bought tickets through themselves. As for Cook’s immediate family, White said there will be around 15 people seated together.
White said family and friends will start the day at 8 a.m. EDT with a tailgate party in the parking lot. She expects there to be lots of chicken wings, sausages and baked beans.
White actually went through this exercise two weeks ago. His other NFL son, Buffalo rookie running back James Cook, played in Miami on Sept. 25. The Bills lost 21-19, but Dalvin’s little brother had four catches for 37 yards and a point for three yards.
So far this season, White has only seen Dalvin play in person once, in Minnesota’s 23-7 win over Green Bay in the opener at US Bank Stadium, when she has attended three of James’ matches. But she said it would balance out.
White is looking forward to seeing the two sons in action on Nov. 13, when the Vikings play Buffalo in what she dubbed the “Cook Bowl.” Preparations are already underway, with White saying around 40 Miami fans will show up wearing “split shirts”, half being Dalvin’s Vikings jersey and the other half James’ Bills jersey.
“We have someone who does,” she said. “They have a shirt business, which is good, so they’ll make all the shirts for us.”
Sunday, at least it’s good for White that the Bills game starts at 3:25 p.m. CDT after the game at the Hard Rock. Twice earlier this season, when Buffalo and Minnesota played at the same time, she watched one game in person and the other on her phone.
“I’m thrilled he’s back home,” White said of Cook’s NFL debut in Miami. “I’m very excited for the family who can’t quite get up (in Minnesota) to see him.”
With Cook heading home, White recalled the first time he played football in Miami. He was 5 years old and played for the Carol City Chiefs.
“I just remember when Dalvin got the ball back nobody expected it, but he was going around the side and going,” she said. “Everyone was like, ‘Wow.’ He was just a little kid and that was before he grew into his body but he just took the ball and ran, ran, ran I knew then if he stayed the course he would be fine He had some speed in him.
Cook continued to play in the youth leagues. By the time he was in eighth grade, he joined the Scott Lake Miami Gardens Vikings for a two-season run.
“He was a very explosive player, very hardworking, the first in practice and the last to leave,” said Antonio Wimberly, then Scott Lake coach who will be at Sunday’s game. “He was the kind of player you wanted in your team.”
Cook then played three years at Miami Central and, as a senior in 2013, had one of the best seasons in Florida high school’s recent history. He rushed for 1,940 yards, averaged 11 yards per carry, scored 24 touchdowns, was named Mr. Florida Football, and led the Rockets to the Class 6A state championship.
“I believe he was the best (high school) running back in the country then,” said Smith, who this season won his first of six state titles with the Rockets.
Now Cook is one of the NFL’s top running backs, making the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons. But he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.
Wimberly now coaches the Miami Gardens Ravens, a 13- and 14-year-old team. He said that in recent years Cook has provided the team with jerseys, helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys and book bags.
“He gives back,” Wimberly said. “He trains with us in the offseason.”
Smith said that while at Miami Central, Cook regularly visited the school during the offseason and spoke to the team’s players. He said Cook and Nike provided around 90 rings to players and coaches after the Rockets won the state title in 2019.
“They may have cost $35,000 to $40,000, but it wasn’t the money, it was just the gesture,” Smith said. “These rings are really beautiful.”
Cook said he’s made it a priority since joining the NFL in 2017 to give back to his hometown.
“If you’re really from Miami, you’re really not leaving Miami,” he said. ” It’s like that. Just having the opportunity for me to have a bigger platform and be in the NFL and show the kids of Miami that there’s something bigger than downtown Miami and the projects and the disadvantaged areas. These are bigger pictures here. You can become a star player in the NFL, you can get a college scholarship. You can go do all of these things if you put your mind to it.
Due to Cook’s popularity in the city, his mother said “a lot of kids wear 4”. This is Cook’s first season in the NFL with number 4 after wearing 33 for five years. NFL rules didn’t allow running backs to wear single-digit numbers until 2021.
Back when Cook was going wild at Hard Rock Stadium for Miami Central and Florida State, he wore number 4. He’s happy to be back in that number for Sunday’s game.
“It’s special there,” he said. “Back to old sensations, old emotions. It’s gonna be fun.”