MIAMI (AP) -Before Stephen Ross made his billions as a lawyer and real estate developer, he was a sports fan with roots in Miami.
The Dolphins were his team, and now they are on paper, too.
Ross agreed Friday to buy 50 percent of the franchise, Dolphin Stadium and surrounding land from owner Wayne Huizenga for $550 million, with an opportunity to become managing general partner.
``I have always been a great sports fan, a Dolphins fan, and I have always wanted to own an NFL team,'' said the 67-year-old Ross. ``To have this opportunity is kind of like a fantasy.''
The Dolphins are coming off a 1-15 season, worst in franchise history, and haven't been to the playoffs since 2001, their longest such drought. But Ross was still eager to invest in the franchise.
``What better time?'' he said. ``You only can do better. The opportunity doesn't come along every day.''
He is chairman of Related Companies, an international real estate development company. Ross, who has homes in New York and Palm Beach, ranked 68th last year on Forbes' list of richest Americans with a net worth of $4.5 billion.
The lack of success last season prompted a housecleaning by Huizenga. In December he hired Bill Parcells as executive vice president of football operations, and last month Tony Sparano became the team's fifth coach since 2004.
Huizenga said Parcells knew the sale was in the works, and he had no problem with it. Ross said he hadn't met Parcells but looked forward to working with him.
Like Huizenga, Ross said he'll ``defer to football people'' rather than be a hands-on owner.
Ross, who attended Miami Beach High School, went to the University of Florida. He earned degrees from Michigan and Wayne State law school.
He began his career in Detroit as a tax attorney, and his name is attached to the Michigan business school.
Ross was in his 20s when the Dolphins became an AFL expansion team, and in his 30s when they won back-to-back NFL championships in 1972-73.
``I remember the Dolphins first started and George Wilson was the coach initially,'' Ross said. ``Then Don Shula, how he took them from being a losing franchise to a winning franchise, I was part of that for all those years going to those games, and that excitement lasts a lifetime.
``That is all part of it, really wanting to be part of making that happen again.''
The deal requires NFL approval, which could come at an owners meeting in Palm Beach beginning March 30. Because the agreement is pending, Huizenga declined to discuss when he expected to give Ross to the chance to purchase full interest in the Dolphins.
``There is no time frame. There is a formula,'' said Huizenga, the team's sole owner since 1994. ``That is one of the things the league does not want us to discuss at this time.''
Last year Forbes Magazine valued the Dolphins franchise at $942 million, with a revenue stream of about $215 million. The valuation makes Miami the 15th-priciest NFL franchise.
Ross was a minority partner with the New York Islanders, and was part of a group in 1990 that tried to bring baseball to Miami before Huizenga became founding owner of the Florida Marlins.
Ross also made an unsuccessful bid for the New York Jets in 1999.
``My interest and passion has strictly been football,'' he said. ``I was involved a little bit with hockey, but really my passion is football, and the only team I wanted to own was the Dolphins.''
Huizenga said it was time for another person to take control of the franchise, but said he and his family would continue to stay involved with the team.
``I will certainly be a part of this team, a partner in this team, until I die,'' said the 70-year-old Huizenga. ``After I die, my family will have the opportunity to continue owning a piece, so we will be a partner for a long time even after Steve becomes managing general partner.''
Huizenga bought the Dolphins from the heirs of team founder Joe Robbie for $138 million.

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