We all remember the David Tyree helmet catch.
If I asked you where you were when he pinned that ball up against his noggin, clutching it for dear life as the Giants Super Bowl hopes similarly hung by a thread, you’d probably know right away.
The 2007 Super Bowl was a momentous occasion for Dolphins fans. After watching a nightmarish 1-15 regular season unfold, those who stayed faithful needed something to lift them up (the Cleo Lemon to Greg Camarillo overtime touchdown catch was great, but something with a little more substance, I mean).
My uncle was one of those faithful fans.
A Miami Dolphins fan from the northwest is a rare person to come across. But a kid from rough-and-tumble Hardin, Montana who grew up a fan? Practically unheard of.
I suppose we’ve got Dan Marino to thank for that.
This might only be true in my head, but my uncle’s awesome, curly, poofy hairstyle from his younger days was probably inspired by Dan the Man, though he’s never admitted as much.
Born just before the back-to-back Super Bowl victories that really kicked off the 1970’s, my uncle’s arrival must’ve been a harbinger of success for the Dolphins. He lived a blessed life early on as far as being a Dolphins fan was concerned — those were the days of Shula, Csonka, and Griese. And eventually, of course, Marino.
On several occasions, he’s told me that Patrick Mahomes is the only quarterback he’s ever seen that reminds him of Marino. It’s one of the reasons I’ll die on my hill arguing that Marino was the Mahomes of his generation and doesn’t get his due — because my uncle knows what he’s talking about and because even without a ring, Marino was a phenom that changed the quarterback position and put up 2020 stats in the 1980s.
But I digress.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 16, 2021
The Dolphins kept on winning all the way to the close of Marino’s career, by which time my uncle had left Hardin but brought his Dolphins fandom with him, and in 1999 I decided to make my grand entrance into the world.
There was only one problem.
Whereas my uncle’s arrival had been a signal of coming prosperity for the franchise in the 1970s, 80’s and 90’s, my coming was an unfortunate sign that a famine was coming. As we all know, the post-Marino world of the 21st century has not been kind to the Dolphins. I’ve been to four Dolphins games in my life, and they’ve lost every single one.
Seriously. I think there’s something wrong with me.
But it didn’t matter to my uncle, or he didn’t notice the impending doom that I had brought down upon his favorite sports team in the whole world. I grew up watching the games every Sunday at his house with him and my aunt. Sundays with Unkee were the best, and we even made it out to games in Seattle, Arizona, and San Diego during those early years. It took me a few years to understand just what was going on on the field, but there was no turning back once I did.
Thanks to my uncle, I was hooked. To my mother’s dismay, I had moved far beyond the world of Baby Mozart and into the wonderful violence of the gridiron.
My years of watching games with my uncle and aunt can be measured by the jerseys I got from them. There was Marino, of course, but then Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, and the Wildcat duo of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. There were days I couldn’t decide which jersey to wear to school, so I’d wear one over the top of the other and switch at lunchtime.
All was right in the world for my uncle and me in about 2016, when I was a senior in high school. We went to our first home game together, and the Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 after a late regular-season push. It was all awesome, even watching our team get dismantled by the Steelers in the Wild Card round.
Then I left for college.
Montana to Maryland is a hell of a hike. 2,000 miles wouldn’t be a doable weekend trip even if I weren’t going to a military school, so I spend most game days watching on my computer monitor. I sit at my desk in my Tua jersey, missing the old days when Unkee would pick me up, and we’d head to watch the Dolphins get pummeled silly for three hours. Even more exciting had been when I’d finally gotten my license, drifting through the week seventeen ice on the Montana roads as I sprinted to make kickoff with my uncle.
It’s funny looking back — the golden child of the Griese and Marino days sat next to the stinker who brought on the Beck, Henne, and Tannehill doldrums and never once complained. Win or lose — my mood having been wrecked for the rest of the day in the case of the latter — Unkee would look at me and say, “Hey, another good Sunday, E.”
Then, inevitably, he’d smile knowingly after week seventeen’s slate of games and tell me with a wink, “we’ll get ‘em next year.”
With my leaving home, eighteen years had passed in a flash and those long Sundays where we prayed for a few lousy points or prematurely predicted the end of the Patriots’ dynasty at Buffalo Wild Wings were gone.
Sundays together are a much more rare occurrence now. I’ve outgrown all my old jerseys — now they hang in my closet back home, relics of the past. And I can’t wear my new Tua jersey from my uncle and aunt to class as I could have as a kid — I go in uniform now, even though I’d like to fly the colors.
Now, a poetic thirteen years after the world watched Super Bowl XLII, I wanted to write a piece about who I was with when I saw that catch happen — when I watched the Patriots fail in the face of perfection, wilting at the prospect of being as great at the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.
I was with my uncle, and I’ll never forget it.
Andrew’s jersey from the Raiders game is signed & up for auction on https://t.co/gx5P8EjgHu . Lot #94 🐬 all proceeds benefit Jake Dieters – a 7yr old from our hometown area who has been diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor for the 3rd time. pic.twitter.com/apmVVbSdS1
— Sam Van Ginkel (@Sam_VanGinkel) February 16, 2021
Tyree made the catch, and my whole family erupted — I could tell you exactly where we were all situated in the room even though I was only eight years old. When the Giants scored the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game, and it became clear that the ‘72 record would stand alone for another year, Unkee hoisted me off the couch and tossed me up in the air by my armpits over and over again. My mom, my dad, and my aunt probably thought he was crazy. But didn’t every true Dolphins fan react that way?
And that’s the thing — with the introduction of distance and the luxury of time since those Sundays together, I can look back and say one thing for certain: My uncle represents what a Dolphins fan is, what every fan should be like.
He’s hopeful, even if superstition gets the best of him sometimes. He’s appreciative because he’s seen the high highs and the low lows that come with being a Miami fan. And he can find the best in any situation and make it light-hearted. While I grumpily watched Chan Gailey open up the offense for Ryan Fitzpatrick during the Raiders game last season, Unkee started chanting for Fizmagic one last time.
Sure enough, the Dolphins won that improbable game. There really is something to being a fan born right before all those decades of dominance in South Florida.
So I’m not home much for games anymore, but my uncle seems to be rubbing off on me — the Dolphins just capped off a 10-6 season, and for my money (and my uncle’s), we’re in the best spot moving forward of just about any NFL team. Maybe the luck I’ve brought the franchise during my 21 years on this earth is finally turning.
Or maybe it’s just that I enjoy the little things more, knowing that the best things can’t last. I’m more hopeful watching the games, I appreciate every win more, and I can make light of the losses now. Sundays in Montana at my uncle and aunt’s house are mostly a thing of the past, but I remember those days knowing one thing for certain.
My uncle, the golden child of those golden-era Fins, has shown me the essence of what it means to be a Dolphins fan.