One of the greatest Dolphins – great for so many reasons – has passed away. Jim Mandich represented everything good about this franchise. A proud former player. A loyal alumnus. A kind, generous man. A radio personality so refreshing, so unusual, that every listener, every fan, thought of Jim as their friend.
He died too young of a disease too cruel for a man who deserved so much better. There is nobody to take his place because there is nobody like him. Never has been. Never will be.
I was lucky enough to get to know Jim reasonably well, to share a few beers, exchange a few laughs and talk a little football. Make that, a lot of football.
The conversation always turned to the Dolphins. Jim valued my opinion and, to be truthful, that made me feel very special. But more than that, he always wanted to feel the pulse of this team, to understand what was going on and to feel like the right decisions were being made.
Jim loved the Miami Dolphins, and the Miami Dolphins loved him.
Where do you start? You’ve got to start in 1970 when he first appeared on the scene, a second-round pick out of his beloved Michigan, a tight end with the best of hands and an air about him that appealed to so many. Don Shula loves to tell the story of the first time he met Mandich. The long hair. The old, beat-up car. Wasn’t exactly what Shula imagined.
"You were captain at Michigan!!!!!" Shula bellowed.
Through the years, Shula and Mandich became far more than coach and player. They shared a bond, a love, a commitment. And so many good times together.
I remember Mandich the player pretty well. I remember great hands and some great catches. I remember a guy that never hesitated to mix it up. I remember how he always relished the game. Mandich was so proud of being on that 1972 Perfect Team, so proud to have reached that remarkable plateau and so proud in the years after to re-live so many moments from that time. Mandich was so happy each year when the last undefeated team lost.
He would smile, offer you a wink, and say, “Yeah, I noticed.”
But today’s generation doesn’t know much about Mandich the football player. That was another time. So long ago. Today’s Dolphins fan knows of Mandich the outspoken commentator – on television, in many newspapers including my own Dolphin Digest, and mostly on his radio show.
That radio show was Mandich’s pulpit. He made every caller feel special. Ask him how he’s doing. "Never better....just driving around with my windows down."
Mandich never hesitated to offer his opinion, his remarkable insight. Especially about the Dolphins. Always about the Dolphins. When you tormented over another tough loss, Mandich was sharing your feelings. When you were upset, demanding a coach to be fired, Mandich was feeling your pain. When you rejoiced over a special, huge, meaningful victory, Mandich was right there with you. They may try to imitate Mandich on the radio. They’ll never duplicate him. He was equally respected by twenty somethings who never saw him play and sixty somethings who could recite almost every statistic.
“Awwwwright M-I-A-M-I!!!!” Mandich would shout over the air waves after a touchdown or a big play. When you heard that, you just knew everything was fine. And you always knew who was saying it.
But more than just a voice on the air, Mandich was an icon in the community. He gave back. His time. His money. His love for his former teammates. For years, Mandich was the host and founder of the Dolphins Touchdown Club in Miami Lakes. If you didn’t catch his act, you really missed something special. How he interviewed his guests. How he made everyone in the room feel so at ease. How he never minded asking the tough question, the question everyone wanted him to ask. And, most importantly, how he took so much pride in The Touchdown Club raising so much money for former Dolphins in need.
“We’ll never let you down,” Mandich would say to those players.
And he never did. Not in his prime and not when he was battling an awful disease. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he would say.
Feel sorry? Not for Jim Mandich. Not for a man who gave so much and asked so little. Sorrow? I felt envy. I felt endearment. I felt a special warmth. I felt an admiration for so many things he accomplished. And, more than anything, I truly felt I was lucky to know him.
But you were lucky too because, in so many ways, Jim Mandich let us all know him. Let us into his mind, his thoughts, his wit, his sense of humor and his heart.
You can define the greatest Miami Dolphin in many ways. But if you’re talking devotion, if you’re talking loyalty, if you’re talking about a man whose love for this franchise had no bounds, than Jim Mandich wins that one with ease. Thanks, Jim, for giving us all so much joy.