Put away the white handkerchiefs. Jim Mandich wouldn’t want fans of the Miami Dolphins using what they waved in celebration during the team’s perfect season in 1972 to wipe away tears. Especially in his honor. Instead, raise a Green Lizard (that’s a Heineken for those unfamiliar with Mandich’s favorite beverage) to the former tight end, who died Tuesday from bile-duct cancer at age 62.
Anyone who ever listened to the longtime color commentator for Dolphins radio broadcasts knows that he liked his beverages in green bottles, his opinions in black and white, and his college football in maize and blue. A first-team All-American in 1969 for his beloved Michigan (or Meeeeeeeshigan, as he would say), Mandich would go on to spend eight seasons with the Dolphins (1970-77) and play for the only two Super Bowl-winning teams in Miami history.
He was a guy’s guy in every sense of the phrase, the kind of man who friends described as loyal beyond words and who strangers found warm and approachable — “just drivin’ around with the windows down,” as he was fond of saying during his talk radio days.
He also was a great storyteller, as I discovered on countless occasions while I covered the Dolphins from the early 1990s to 2001. During that time, as the 1972 Dolphins began celebrating milestone anniversaries, I wrote dozens of features about the team and its players. Mandich was my go-to guy, always quick with the perfect story about the NFL’s only perfect team. When I was hired to contribute to a book called Hit & Tell: War Stories from the NFL’s Wildest Players, Mandich again came through for me. I remember catching up with him at a Miami Heat game; we sat courtside during warmups, and he shared the following memory. The story tells you everything you need to know about Mandich and that era of Dolphins.
It was two days before Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston. The defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins were preparing to battle the Minnesota Vikings and their scrambling quarterback, Fran Tarkenton. A group of Miami playersâ€”including Mandich, running back Larry Csonka, linebacker Nick Buoniconti and safety Jake Scottâ€”were dining at a Houston restaurant when they noticed Tarkenton and some Vikings players across the room.
Mandich describes what happened next:
“I can remember the palms getting a little sweaty and the hair standing up on the back of the neck. I don’t know if it was the beer kicking in or the testosterone or what, but either Csonka or Buoniconti stands up and says, ‘Let’s do it! Right here. Right now.’ There was a framework in the room of ‘That’s the enemy.’ … It was like, ‘Let’s strap it on and take care of business.’
“Tarkenton tried to cool things down by sending over a round of drinks. Jake Scott and Tarkenton were both Georgia guys. But Francis was polished, Mr. Corporate. Jake, on the other hand, was this country redneck. And let me tell you something: I can remember Jake’s neck being as red as a Coke machine when Francis came over.
“We sent a clear signal to those guys. ‘We don’t want your damn drinks. We don’t want to know you. And we’d prefer you to be nameless, faceless guys so we can go out Sunday and kick your butts all over the place.’ Which is what we did.” (The Dolphins won Super Bowl VIII 24-7 in a game that Miami dominated from start to finish.)