Dave Hyde Sun Sentinel Columnist 11:43 a.m. EDT, April 27, 2011
He arrived at Dolphins camp for the first time in a 1962 Dodge Valiant covered with psychedelic flowers. His hair was to his shoulders. Hippie beads were around his neck. And he wore the smile that always said life was good.
"You,'' Don Shula
asked upon meeting him that day, "were the captain of Michigan?"
"Yes sir,'' he said.
That was the spring of 1970 and now, more four decades later, Jim Mandich leaves us. He died Tuesday night of cancer
. He was 62. And he didn't just lead a good, representative life. He led a novel.
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Jim won Super Bowl
rings, married and raised three boys, made good money, went broke, picked himself up and became president of a construction company, a radio talk-show host and the Dolphins game analyst with the tradmark line after a big play of, "Awwwright, Miami!"
That's what he did. It barely scrapes who he was.
"Are you guys doing all right?" he phoned to ask of Heat announcers Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino when the team was in a five-game losing streak. "This must be tough on you."
This was in March. Mandich was the one with cancer. He was the one with undergoing chemotherapy
sessions. He was the who had lost so much weight.
And he was worried about them?
Mandich, you see, was a helper, an encourager. Oh, he was a tough guy. He once shattered his hand catching a touchdown, had 18 screws surgically implanted in it and played the next week in the 1973 AFC Championship Game. And he was authentic. He once got fired at Channel 10 for refusing another beer advertiser when everyone knew he was a Heineken man - "green lizards," as he said.
But at his core Mandich wanted to make everyone better. He was rare that way. He took young guys under his wing and encouraged peers, all with the geniune feel of a man who used to do his homework in his father's bar in Solon, Ohio.
He never forgot who helped him along the way and gave back tenfold. That's why you could walk into a bar in Augusta, Ga., where Mandich made an annual pilgramage to the Masters, and see him holding court with Steve Hutchinson, the All-Pro guard by way of Coral Springs and Michigan. Mandich was a helping hand all his years. Him, and a few dozen others like him. Why do you think Ryan Mallett tweeted out Tuesday night his condolences went to the Mandich family?
Here's a story: Each Tuesday during the Dolphins season for the past several years, Mandich had a luncheon at Shula's Steak House in Miami Lakes. People bought tickets. They ate lunch.
They also laughed through Mandich's monologues and interviews with players. He'd get Justin Smiley to talk about spotting his future wife, a San Francisco cheerleader, in the game program one year. The next, he'd get Joe Rose on some riff about women.
But those luncheons weren't for him. He raised at least $60,000 a year from them to help former Dolphins in need. He was on the board of Dolphins who privately decided how to divvy up the funds raised to those players.
In so many ways, Mandich personified those '72 Dolphins he was such a part of. He became as big a success in business as he did in football, then an even bigger and more beloved personality in the community.
He touched so many people in such a good way that when word spread more than a year ago he had cancer he was flooded with calls. Take my private jet if needed, Jim. I'm a doctor, Jim. This hospital is best, Jim. Here's a remedy my aunt tried for that, Jim.
"Overwhelming,'' he called that.
It never stopped, either. How could it? When you're captain at Michigan, when you're a star at the Dolphins, when you carry yourself through life in the manner Mandich did, everyone you met couldn't help but help.
When he started 30 years ago as president of Lotspeich Construction, he put a picture of his family on the wall. Then one with him and friends at a game. Then another.
By the time he retired, he had filled three walls with snapshots of him and family and friends and the times they had. On Sundays, he invited all of us along for the ride with him.
"Alllright, Miami!" he'd shout.
I never knew what was more fun watching the play or hearing the joy in Mandich's voice.
"Life is good,'' he'd always say, which never quite did his life justice. It was great. Authentic. Unique, even. That's what makes his passing hurt so much.