The Miami Dolphins' team priest, Father Don Walk, strode without notes to the microphone on the field at Joe Robbie Stadium on Sunday. This would be the easiest and most relevant invocation at a football game in living memory—"in living memory" being perhaps the most commonly used phrase in Greater Miami these past four weeks. "God and Father of us all," he began, pausing and then saying the next four words in a slow and deliberate cadence, "we need this day."
Two weeks late and a month into the worst catastrophe the Dolphins and their fans have ever witnessed, Miami played its 1992 home opener. It would be inaccurate to say the game was being played four weeks after Hurricane Andrew, because the southern half of Dade County still lies too stricken to say the devastation wreaked by the storm's 150-plus-mph winds on Aug. 24 has ended. So the citizens of Miami badly needed, and finally got, a day of diversion from their struggle OUT OF THE STORM, as the logo on The Miami Herald's front page continues to label its daily hurricane-related news package.
The Dolphins' opener had been scheduled for Sept. 6, against the New England Patriots, but that game was postponed until Oct. 18 because police and emergency resources were still too dear to the relief effort to expend them on a football game and because the team felt, as coach Don Shula said, "it was the right thing to do." By Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams, Joe Robbie Stadium, located at the relatively unharmed north end of Dade County, bore barely a mark from the hurricane. There was a big circular hole in each of the two scoreboards, where team logos had been blown out. Otherwise the stadium was a haven of normalcy, or the illusion of it, for the 55,945 fans who came in out of the storm—far short of the 73,000 capacity but nearly 4,000 more than the Dolphins had anticipated, given the circumstances.
Out of South Dade, badly needing this day, came Steve and Susan Garrison, with their three children, Rusty, 13; Matthew, 11; and Stephanie, 8. Early last week they decided they were going to Sunday's game, "come hell or high water," said Susan. The Garrisons had endured both when Andrew passed through Homestead, the town most ravaged by the hurricane. The roof of their 3,000-square-foot house was torn off, and the interior was gutted and waterlogged. At the adjacent plant nursery they own, the winds had ripped irrigation pipes out of the ground. And Susan had found the family's six Dolphin season tickets soaked and stuck together, unusable, on her desk.
From the camper trailer that is the Garrison's temporary home, Susan phoned the Dolphins and was told that she would be issued temporary passes for the family's regular seats on Sunday and that her tickets for the seven other remaining home games would be reprinted—a service the team was providing for numerous fans whose tickets were either soaked or literally blown away. That settled it. "We're going to take a day off," Steve said. "You've got to have some kind of diversion. We always like to go to the Dolphin games, but this one is special."
When the hurricane struck, Susan and the children squeezed into a closet at home. "I stood against the closet door holding mattresses because the windows were imploding into the house," said Steve. "The roof was coming apart. Containerized plants from my nursery flew in through the windows and roof."
Steve, a former police officer, spent six days armed with an Uzi and a .44 Magnum, protecting his property from looters while the family worked to salvage what was left of their home and business. "It's like we're in a war zone in Homestead," said Susan. "At first I was just trying to find food. For three weekends we did nothing but work. Our sons worked like little men to help us save our business. Now they're just excited to get out of Homestead for a day, especially to go to a Dolphin game. They've been psyched all week about pizza, hot dogs and popcorn—things people usually take for granted, but they haven't had in weeks."
The drive to the stadium, which normally takes the Garrisons an hour, took two on Sunday, primarily because so many traffic lights were still not functioning. And with the 4 p.m. kickoff, Steve was concerned that if the game went into overtime, they would have to leave early to beat the nine o'clock curfew in effect for Homestead.
But overtime was never a factor, as the Dolphins easily defeated the Rams 26-10. Dan Marino's two touchdown passes in the first 11 minutes, a one-yard toss to tight end Ferrell Edmunds and a 38-yarder to wideout Mark Duper, set up the crowd for precisely what it needed—an anxiety-free afternoon. Los Angeles didn't get on the board until the third quarter, when Jim Everett's 23-yard TD pass to Willie Anderson made the score 17-7. Miami placekicker Pete Stoyanovich, who had converted a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter, added three more field goals to keep the Rams at bay. The win was the second in seven days for the Dolphins, who had opened their season with a 27-23 Monday-night defeat of the Browns in Cleveland.
In the days leading up to the L.A. game, many Miami players still spoke with emotion about the devastation they had seen while delivering food and other supplies—and boosting morale—in South Dade. Because most of the Dolphins live in North Dade or Broward County, their homes were not seriously damaged. And before Andrew few players had had occasion to visit the predominantly low-income areas, which were the hardest hit. For many players, visiting these ravaged communities was a shocking experience.
"On TV you see the pictures, but you don't see the real devastation until you go and see what those people are actually living through," said offensive tackle Jeff Dellenbach. "Most of us don't know what it's like to be without water or electricity for three weeks, and then you go down there and you see those people who have nothing left, little kids who don't have toys. It's tough to take. I have a buddy in the National Guard, and he'd told me a lot before I went. But until you go there and get the smell—there's just a smell. The Army referred to it as the smell of death. Talking to those people, you could tell they were scared. They didn't know which direction they were headed in."
"You could see the broken bones in their hands, the blood, the panic in peoples' eyes," said linebacker John Offerdahl, one of a group of volunteers to reach 1,000 migrant workers who were stranded for three days after the storm. Offerdahl operated his three bagel stores around the clock to deliver 6,000 free bagels to South Dade.
What he saw, Offerdahl says, "definitely had a permanent impact on me—negative and positive. From a negative standpoint, it was devastation, calamity. From a positive standpoint, I've seen a lot of good people come down and help, put forth a hand to help a brother in need. For a community, and for a civilization, you need to have people who care."
For players who had seen South Dade in person, "normalcy" was a word that still didn't apply on Sunday. "It's not going to be normal for those people for a long time," says Marino, who with his wife, Claire, had distributed goods in Homestead six days after the hurricane.
Because the game was not a sellout and thus was blacked out on local TV, South Florida's only broadcast link to the home opener was the Dolphin radio network. This only added to the war-zone feel of the region. In one tent city run by the Marines in Homestead, enthusiasm for the game was mixed at best. Just after kickoff a long line formed at the mess tent for the next meal. "Right now, no one really cares about football," said Chasity Coney, a South Miami Heights resident who said she was wiped out by the hurricane. But another resident of the tent city, Sherman King, lay in a bunk listening to the game. "This is better than getting drunk for taking your mind off all the problems," he said softly.
Even the broadcast crew from the team's flagship station, WIOD, was hurricane-damaged. Hank Goldberg, for 15 years the Dolphins' radio color commentator, was fired by the station the Tuesday before the game for, he said, wanting to move on with life and sports rather than sticking exclusively with hurricane-related programming on his nightly general talk show. According to Goldberg, WIOD program director Gary Bruce "wanted me to continue doing relief messages—no sports calls. Believe me, people didn't want to talk about the hurricane anymore. It was talked out. Then he wanted me to cancel [an appearance by former Dolphin safety] Dick Anderson. I wouldn't cancel him."
"We just didn't feel it was appropriate to discuss sports, and neither did our listeners," says Bruce, who declined to comment specifically on Goldberg's leaving.
Former Dolphin tight end Jim Mandich, who is one of the hosts of a sportstalk show on WIOD, was thrust into Goldberg's color commentator role for Sunday's game. And that was just the latest in four weeks' worth of hurricane-spawned pressures on Mandich. "I'm particularly sensitive to the hurricane situation because my full-time job is as a building contractor," said Mandich, "and almost all day, every day, I'm dealing with people who have no home or no roof. There is a surge in demand for construction services, but I don't think anybody is happy with the way this business has developed. You just try to meet customer needs—which are infinite."
Still in storage at Joe Robbie Stadium is nearly half the $500,000 worth of merchandise NFL Charities sent to clothe and to brighten the spirits of hurricane victims. Each Tuesday, the Dolphins' regular day off, some players will visit South Dade to help boost morale. The team will also collect money at home games throughout the season for the Red Cross. Says Maraleen (Fudge) Browne, the Dolphins' community-relations director, "In December people are going to have to be reminded that people are still suffering from this."
And for many families, like the Garrisons, Sunday's game provided one day of relief, at best.