Pat Riley and the Miami Heat are showing the other South Florida sports teams the path to greatness

During the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat made one of the biggest splashes in sports history. Already winners of an NBA Championship with Dwyane Wade back in 2006, the Heat not only re-signed Wade to keep him in Miami through the prime of his career, but they also went after the two most coveted free agents to hit the market in a long long time.

The signing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh was something that people all over the world were following, and suddenly the Miami Heat became as hot of a topic as the blazing basketball logo on their uniforms. Nobody but Pat Riley can say for sure how long ago he envisioned putting this masterpiece of a team together, but when it happened the Heat became the biggest story in professional sports, thrusting South Florida into a worldwide spotlight.

As amazing and brilliant as it was for Riley to make the dreams of Heat fans a beautiful reality, I'm sure nobody realized that these moves would act as a trendsetter for the other franchises that call South Florida their home. Since the Miami Heat made their moves, they became a nightly fixture on sports news shows worldwide, got a page on ESPN.com dedicated just to the Heat, and they backed it all up with a trip to the NBA Finals.

In other words, the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers needed to do some work if they wanted to be able to stand along side the Heat in the spotlight. Much to the delight of my fellow South Florida homers, they have done just that. The Florida Panthers went out and signed almost an entire new team, and the result has been a season spent almost entirely in 1st place in their division.

For a team that hasn't made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season (and hasn't won a playoff game since April 17th 1997), this is a huge accomplishment for the Panthers. Their loyal fans have been eagerly awaiting a trip to the postseason, and they might just get it this year. Combine that with how blindingly bright the Panthers' future is, with several potential superstars being groomed in the minors, the Cats have absolutely stepped up to the plate just as the Heat did.

Then there is the Miami Marlins. A year ago, most of us would have figured that the big story surrounding the team heading into the 2012 season would be the beautiful new retractable roof stadium they are in the process of moving in to. Yes, Marlins Park is as amazing as we all hoped it would be, but the newly named Miami Marlins have followed in the footsteps of the Miami Heat by aggressively pursuing and signing some big-time free agents.

The Marlins brought in what would've been the most sought after manager in the majors, had he ever been made available. Miami made sure that there was no bidding war, trading the White Sox for manager Ozzie Guillen, a former Marlins 3rd base coach and an obvious perfect fit for both the town and the team.

The Fish then became the biggest story of the offseason, signing their own ‘Big 3' and thrusting themselves into contention for their first ever division title. The Marlins are viewed as such a big story that the channel Showtime is going to feature them on their show ‘The Franchise.' The first episode won't air until the week after the All-Star game, but there are already three cameras following the Marlins around day and night. I think its safe to say that they've done a good job keeping up with the Heat, so far.

That leaves us with the Miami Dolphins. It's taken them the longest to make the progressive steps that the Heat, Panthers and Marlins have made, but the Fins are on the brink of making a move that could be considered just as big as the Heat signing LeBron James. The Dolphins are considered by many to be the favorite to sign free-agent Peyton Manning, a move that would propel them into national spotlight being shared by the other pro teams in South Florida.

Even the guys who started all this superstar trending are letting it be known that they are in favor of Manning coming to Miami. First it was D-Wade, sending out a message on his Twitter account lobbying for Peyton to join him in Miami.

"I'm just gonna put it out thr..peyton that number 18 wld look gr8 in a dolphins uniform..steve ross let's go.. marlins & heat style..All in"

Then LeBron James threw in his two cents...during a live interview following the Heat's win over Atlanta on Wednesday. Even though he is a Cowboys fan, James said that he wants "Miami sports to be great" and made it pretty clear that he would love Manning to come bask in the glow of the ever-growing South Florida spotlight.

The final plea came from hometown boy Udonis Haslem. He was born and raised in Miami and is a big Dolphins fan. That means he has suffered with the rest of us while the Fins have made the playoffs just once in the past eleven seasons, but Udonis said that he is already thinking of what he'd say to try and convince Manning to ‘take his talents to South Beach.'

"I'm already working on that. I'm thinking Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. If we can work that out, we've got big Brandon Marshall, then we're on our way. We got a solid defense. So, if you all hear me, Peyton and Reggie, you know what I mean, wink, wink, make it happen."

So there it is, South Florida. Another reason to love Pat Riley and your Miami Heat. Not only have they given us a historic NBA team that should treat us to amazing highlights and annual trips to the playoffs (and hopefully the NBA Finals), but now we can also call them pioneers and trendsetters.

If you guys are like me then you have noticed how different regions have enjoyed sports dominance (Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc), with teams in every sport consistently making the playoffs and competing for, if not winning, championships. I've watched, and waited, for Miami to become one of those regions, and now it finally looks like we're going to be one.

If the Dolphins can pull off signing Peyton Manning, the Heat's ‘Big 3' might have to step aside here and there to allow Manning and the Dolphins into the spotlight, and it seems that not only are they perfectly fine with that, but they are encouraging it. For now, we can just sit back, relax, and watch as Miami becomes bigger and bigger on the map.

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