When the Miami Dolphins face the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, 16 players on their roster will get to experience a real home game for the first time in their NFL career.
Those 16 players obviously include the seven rookies on the roster, but also the second-year players who never got to play in front of a capacity (or near capacity) home crowd in 2020 because of the COVID-19 restrictions around the NFL.
"I'm excited," second-year guard Solomon Kindley said Friday. "I'm going to keep my composure and just go out there and playoffs. I got a brief experience of it last year having a few fans, but everybody told me that it's going to be rocking. I'm going to be ready for it."
The Dolphins opened the 2021 season last Sunday with a 17-16 victory against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in front of a capacity crowd of 65,878.
It definitely was a new experience for Robert Hunt, a second-year guard out of the University of Louisiana, and it left him wanting more.
“I think it will be fun," Hunt said. "Actually playing in New England last week in front of a full crowd, that was different coming from Louisiana-Lafayette. We don’t get crowds like that, so that was great to see. And it was fun. I can’t wait to see how we turn out here in Miami.”
Capacity at Hard Rock Stadium is 65,326, and it would be fair to expect something close to a sellout crowd for the Dolphins-Bills game.
It will be quite a contract from last season when the Dolphins operated at a maximum of 20 percent capacity and their home crowds ranged from a low of 10,772 against the New York Jets and a high of 13,354 for the December game against New England.
Away from Hard Rock Stadium, the largest crowd for a Dolphins game was 16,653 at Jacksonville and they played in front of zero fans five times.
So the prospects of playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd certainly is appealing even to Dolphins veterans, whose last game at Hard Rock Stadium in front of a large crowd was in December 2019 when 60,968 people attended a wild overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Last year, I know that we were able to have, I think it was (13,000) or something, and that at the time felt like a packed house," fourth-year tight end Mike Gesicki said. "To get the fans back in the building at Hard Rock, I’m super excited about that. I know they’ve been waiting a long time to get back out there. There’s a lot of excitement in South Florida right now and everybody is fired up, as they should be. They didn’t have an opportunity to get out to many games last year, so to have this first home game, it’s something that we’re all looking forward to and something that the fans should be looking forward to as well.”
Said linebacker Jerome Baker: “Yeah, we are all excited to go out there and play in front of fans. One thing I think we want to prove to our fans is that we are going to go out there every Sunday and compete and truly play as a team. We’re excited. Hopefully the fans are excited. It’s going to be a good one Sunday.”