As Super Bowl XLIV approaches, the National Football League has delivered a not-so-sporting message to hosting South Floridians: Bend over.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned local officials that this might be the last Super Bowl game held at Dolphin Stadium unless the facility is refurbished at a cost of $250 million, give or take.
Although the league is wallowing in profits, it has no intention of bankrolling the renovations. The Dolphins haven't said how much, if any, the team would contribute.
Most likely, the money would have to come from public funds, possibly hotel bed taxes collected in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It's old-fashioned extortion, but the NFL has no shame. You'd have better luck negotiating with the Gambino family.
Forget the recession. Forget the fact that our boneheaded politicians just committed $490 million to a new baseball park that is doomed to be a budgetary suckhole for decades.
And forget the fact that the football stadium was renovated just a few years ago for $200 million-plus, and that the Dolphins admit they don't need any upgrades for regular-season games.
Mr. Goodell is a fussy fellow. He would like swankier skyboxes and new hi-def lighting, please. He would also like an expanded roof on the stadium to prevent raindrops from dampening the festivities.
Some members of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee say that sprucing up the place at public expense is a worthy investment. We are told that the 2007 Super Bowl brought $463 million to South Florida -- an outlandish estimate.
Now we know what happened to Ricky Williams' old stash: The league's accountants are smoking it.
Virtually every independent economic study, including one by the Florida Senate in 2005, has shown that publicly funded sports stadiums are a rotten deal for taxpayers.
Philip Porter, an economics professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said that having an occasional Super Bowl in a major winter tourist destination such as Miami amounts to basically a hiccup.
"If you wanted economic impact," he told The Herald, "you'd do a lot better taking the money you would spend on a stadium and drop it out of a helicopter."
The boondoggle is still in the larval stage, and last week Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said it's premature to speculate how the renovations would be financed.
He said, "We're going to see if there is an appetite in this community...to try and get this done."
There's no community appetite -- only nausea at the prospect of another tax gouge by a sports franchise. That's why this stadium scam will never appear on a ballot. Voters would sack it with a vengeance. Public input is the last thing the NFL wants. It's easier to go behind closed doors with pliable politicians.
Already some of them are in a dither after Goodell's threat to exclude South Florida from future Super Bowls.
Think of how absurd that would be. This year is the 10th time in its history that the big game will be played in the Miami area -- more than any other city.
The reason is simple: There's no better place in February to be.
Some surmise that Goodell is grumbling about Dolphin Stadium just to squeeze a fatter offer from South Florida for future Super Bowls.
Every city seeking to host the championship must submit a bid that includes plenty of discounts, freebies and perks. For instance, in its successful quest for the 2010 game, Miami organizers offered the use of private yachts to all 32 NFL team owners.
(Because of the wheezing economy, the millionaires' flotilla has been prudently replaced by fishing expeditions for inner-city kids).
If Goodell is bluffing about the stadium just to jack up Miami's next Super Bowl bid, that's one thing. But if he's seriously considering blackballing Dolphin Stadium as a host site, we can only conclude that he's been moonlighting as a test dummy in the league's full-contact concussion studies.
Still, based on recent history, there's good reason to worry that local leaders will surrender to the NFL's clumsy arm-twisting. If that happens, they deserve an angry flogging by fed-up voters.
Any officeholder who feels inclined to waste tax dollars on another stadium makeover should take a cue from The Who, the iconic rock band that will perform at this year's Super Bowl halftime.
Don't get fooled again.