MIAMI, Fla. - The Miami Dolphins reluctantly played their exhibition game at New Orleans on Friday, not wanting to leave their families, friends and homes as Hurricane Frances neared the eastern coast of Florida.
At least three players — receiver Chris Chambers and tight ends Donald Lee and John Jones — stayed behind without permission. Defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, wide receiver Antonio Freeman and fullback Rob Konrad also were absent.
Players requested that the game be canceled, but NFL officials decided it would be played as scheduled Friday night. The league moved the game up 30 minutes to give the Dolphins extra time to return home.
‘‘We worked very closely with the Dolphins to assist them in managing the situation,’’ NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays postponed weekend games.
The Marlins postponed a Saturday game against the Chicago Cubs and were still deciding whether to delay the series finale Sunday. The teams already had postponed Friday’s game. No makeup dates have been set.
The Devil Rays postponed games Saturday and Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. The games will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Sept. 30.
In addition, Saturday’s World Cup qualifier between Mexico and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was postponed because the visitors couldn’t get out of the Miami area and travel to Pachuca.
The Dolphins felt confident weather conditions would let the team charter return immediately after their game. However, they also made contingency plans to stay in New Orleans if the hurricane caused travel problems.
It was unclear why Chambers, Lee, Jones, Ahanotu, Freeman and Konrad remained in South Florida. They may have been opposed to traveling during the hurricane. They also may have missed calls informing them when the team charter was leaving.
The Dolphins called players late Thursday night to let them know they were making the trip. They reassured players Friday morning that it was safe to travel because the hurricane had lost intensity and slowed its move toward the state.
Hurricane Frances weakened into a strong Category 3 storm Friday with 115 mph top sustained winds, down from 145 mph a day earlier. It still could push ashore waves up to 10 feet high north of where its center hits and dump 10 to 20 inches of rain, meaning deadly flooding was possible in a state with hundreds of miles of lowlying coastline.
The core was now expected to hit Florida as early as this afternoon.
At Calder Race Course in Miami, officials canceled all racing and simulcasting for Friday and today. Calder postponed the Juvenile Showcase from today to Monday, and moved the Miami Mile Breeders’ Cup Handicap from Monday to next Saturday.