Jim Mandich rode in the first Dolphins Cycling Challenge, and in spirit, he will be riding again Saturday and Sunday in the third annual event that harnesses pedal power to the cause of curing cancer.
It will be a “Mad Dog” kind of weekend, with his alma mater, Michigan, playing Minnesota, his Dolphins playing Indianapolis and 1,500 cyclists exploring the roads of South Florida. Football, bikes, beer, community service — those things made Mandich a happy man. The broadcaster and former tight end, a member of the 1972 Perfect Season team, died April 26, 2011, at age 62 after a year-long fight against bile duct cancer.
The Dolphins Cycling Challenge embodies Mandich perfectly. It’s a rolling gathering of people of all shapes and backgrounds, on Italian racing machines and garage-sale clunkers, who arise at the crack of dawn to commune with friends and strangers, do something healthy and join the effort to conquer cancer, one mile at a time.
Mandich “could connect with anybody, at any level,” his former teammate, Dick Anderson, always said. Mandich won Super Bowl rings; he owned a successful contracting company; he went fishing in the Keys, and he commentated on Dolphins games for 17 years. Yet he never forgot his roots as the son of a hard-working Ohio saloon keeper. If a floor needed mopping, he was the first to pitch in. Mandich was a beloved Miami Dolphin, but his genuine warmth and curiosity made him a fan — a fan of people.
“Ridin’ around with the windows down,” is how he described a typical day during his sports-talk radio show.
Befitting Mandich, the ride stops for a tribute to him at Monty’s Raw Bar, a favorite watering hole where he was known to down a “Green Lizard” or three.
On the ride, you might find yourself pedaling alongside Mark Duper, pausing for a snack with Kim Bokamper, high-fiving Joe Rose, being passed by O.J. McDuffie, chatting with Zach Thomas.
This year, the ride will also stop at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, where Mandich was treated, to hear words of encouragement from its director, Dr. Stephen Nimer, and cheers from patients and staff.
No one can escape cancer’s tentacles. It’s the plague of our time, and if you are not acquainted with it personally, you know a relative, friend or neighbor who is. The diagnosis is all too common and the prognosis too often grim.
“Four out of five people have had a direct relative suffer from cancer,” said Michael Mandich, the oldest of Mandich’s three sons, who lost his grandmother to breast cancer. “One in 10 cancer cases in the U.S. are in Florida.”
Michael, 29, who was also a tight end at Michigan, has been appointed CEO of the DCC. He completed the two-day, 170-mile ride from Sun Life Stadium to West Palm Beach and back the first two years and plans to do it again Sunday. He has raised almost $70,000 from his donors. His mother, Bonnie, is doing the 30-mile ride, and brothers Mark and Nick are doing the 70-miler.
The scrupulously organized, ultra safe event is becoming a South Florida institution. The number of participants and the amount of money they raise through pledges has doubled each year. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee — who created the event — is projecting $2million this year, and 100 percent goes to the Sylvester center.