Eight-and-a-half years ago, I witnessed what is to me the greatest sports story in South Florida history: the 2003 Florida Marlins playoff run. This team epitomized everything that was great about sports. It was a fun team to watch, it had old and new faces, it was an underdog in every sense of the word, and it created one of the most unbelievable playoff runs of all time.

Sports are meant to be an escape. Like a good book, a strong NBA match-up takes you away from the real world and, for a few hours, it makes you forget about your responsibilities. Remember that 25 page report your boss asked you to “whip up” over the weekend? No you don’t. You’re too busy watching stoic defenders get posterized in front of a manic crowd.

Sports are meant to unite the masses. About a week ago, some asshole in a Ford F950 riding on 44’s cut you off without using his blinker…and the prick didn’t even wave. Guess what? You just high-fived him after seeing that ridiculous diving catch by the centerfielder. Or better yet, your team just fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line on what would have been the game winning drive and you proceed to learn new profanities from said ass-clown while you both denounce your sports faith and inexplicably bond like brothers.

Sports are meant to bring friends and families close. Think about it. How many times have you made plans with your friends under the premise of watching “the game?” If you answered “none”…actually, if you answered anything less than 20: stop reading this, find the big obnoxious X in the top right corner of your screen (or top left for you Applephiles), click it, and proceed to beat yourself over the head with a mallet.

Sports are meant to be fun. Just like an intricate oil painting, sports….no, you know what? Fuck it. This one is self-explanatory. If you need me to explain to you why sports are fun through some horribly structured and uncreative analogy, you’ve obviously never played one. Please see the above paragraph for further instructions.

Finally, sports are meant FOR THE FANS. It’s such a simple concept that gets lost in the madness of owner talks, player unions, $200 million contracts, and NCAA sanctions. The reason why sports even exist is to entertain the fans. It’s not about the players or the coaches, and it’s certainly not about the owners or the leagues. Without fans, sports would not exist. Period.

So how the hell does this all relate to Miami? Two words: Winning and Misery.

There is nothing harder for a sports fan to witness than your team’s self-destruction during the season or, worse yet, in those many months between the championship game and opening day. And if you follow South Florida sports, you are no stranger to this situation. The Marlins dismantled their 1997 World Series team about as quickly as it took me to decide that I hate the horrendous outfield sculpture that now infects their new ballpark. In the years between the end of the Hardaway-Mourning era and the emergence of Dwyane Wade (called the Dark Times), the Miami Heat struggled to find their identity and were just plain irrelevant in the NBA. And now the Dolphins, the second biggest cause of heart-disease in Kendall behind Sergio’s bistec empanizado, are rapidly committing sports suicide by amputating key members of their squad.

But keep your heads up, Miami sports fans. Yes, Pat Riley was right when he said that there’s only winning and misery. But what Don Corleone Mr. Riley didn’t fully articulate is that without misery, there would be no winning. Without the years of irrelevance, that feeling when the Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA Championships would not have been nearly as euphoric. Without these months of turmoil and heartbreak, the moment when the Dolphins become Super Bowl contenders again will not be nearly as amazing. Without that self-destruction following 1997, watching the Marlins in 2003 beat the Giants, come back against the Cubs, and dominate the seemingly unbreakable Yankees would not have been as memorable or as significant in this sports fan’s life.

So to all Miami sports fans: keep your heads up, keep on cheering, and you’ll eventually get the chance to rush the field at the AFC championship game and scream “SUCK IT BRADY!” at the top of your lungs. And you can bet your ass that F950-guy will be standing there next to you with two middle fingers up in the air.