At half-past 1 last Tuesday, the Dolphins were just finishing up their final true practice before their second game in five days.
The shrunken work week meant even less time than normal to prepare for the Buffalo Bills; every second on the practice field was essential. But Davone Bess, a starting receiver and one of the most important cogs of a limited Dolphins offense, wasn’t there.
Instead, he was at a nearby hospital, acting more as a coach than a player.
Bess’ wife Rachel gave birth to the couple’s third child Tuesday afternoon, a baby boy named Kaiyen.
Such life events are stressful in ideal settings. And life as a pro football player during the season — particularly when your team is struggling — is no picnic either.
Combine the two, and there’s the potential for an emotional perfect storm.
Yet Joe Philbin, Bess’ first-year coach whose No. 1 job description is to bring a winner back to Miami, had a message for his overloaded pass-catcher:
Take all the time you need, even if it’s at the expense of the team.
“Family is very, very important to me, and if a player needs [time] or there is something that he feels is an issue within his family, whatever that may be, and he needs time to address it and deal with it, then I wholeheartedly support it,” Philbin said Friday.
Now, the timing was fortuitous for Bess. He only missed a couple of practices because of the delivery.
But if he wasn’t so lucky, and little Kaiyen wanted to arrive two days later, then the Dolphins would just have had to make do without their second-leading receiver.
“If your family needs you for something, then they need you,” Philbin added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Super Bowl or Game One of the preseason. If there is an issue in your family that needs attention then you need to be there.”
While this credo might make fans a bit uneasy — particularly if the Dolphins ever do make it back to the Super Bowl — no one even the slightest bit familiar with Philbin’s family-first philosophy and his tragic history should be surprised by it.
He owns a $1.8 million home in Davie, but says his most valuable possession is his wedding band.
His two kids who still live under his roof go to school at the University School on the Nova Southeastern University campus, just walking distance from Dad’s office. They often stop by the training complex after classes let out.
And cognizant of the hours his coaches put in each week, Philbin holds a once-weekly Family Day for his staff at Dolphins camp.
Each Monday evening, his coaches’ wives and children are invited to a big group dinner. The kids are allowed to play on the team’s practice field.
All this is a reflection of Philbin’s strong commitment to family, which was put on national display during his unspeakable loss last winter.
Philbin’s son Michael died in an accidental drowning in the icy waters of Oshkosh, Wis., just days before Philbin accepted the Dolphins job. On the rare times he’s been asked about the tragedy, or even alluded to it, during large press gatherings, he’s gotten choked up.
So when it comes to weighing a seminal family event against something as temporary as a practice or even a game, it’s a no-brainer for Philbin.
Yet in the high-profile, highly compensated world of professional athletics, not everyone sees it so cut-and-dry.
In some corners of the NFL, there’s still a mindset that sympathizes with Bob Young, the former offensive line coach of the Houston Oilers.
Young took heat when he infamously said in 1993 that Oilers offensive guard David Williams “let the guys down, and he let hundreds of thousands of fans down” by electing to be with his wife for the birth of their first child instead of playing that Sunday.
It was a decision Bess, luckily, didn’t have to make. He was on the team charter to Western New York on Wednesday, and said after Thursday’s loss he had better get some sleep on the way back home.
“I’m on duty,” Bess said. “Off of work, and back to work. It’s another responsibility. Ready to own up to it and happy about it.”
Words that surely make his coach proud.