The love affair between Bonnie Mandich and Jim Mandich, the late Miami Dolphin tight end and member of the team during its perfect season in 1972, is one for the movies.
Eldest son Michael Mandich starts to tell the story and sets the scene in the mid-1970s.
“She was a stunningly beautiful woman. She was asked to be Miss Vermont during her college years. She came to Miami at the urging of a friend and went to an Orange Bowl game. This mutual friend knew a couple Dolphins players and my dad made a funny pass at her. No way you could publish it, but she denied him and that piqued his interest even more.”
Seven months after Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich’s death from bile duct cancer in April 2011, Bonnie Mandich completed that story as the Dolphins posthumously honored him with its 22nd induction into the team’s Honor Roll.
“His pickup line to me was, ‘You must be waiting for me,’ ” she told the Miami Herald in 2011. “I was like, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Pirouette for me. I’ve seen girls that look really good from the waist up, but they’ve got big behinds.’
“I said, ‘No!’ So he starts walking around me, and I thought either this guy is crazy or he’s really fun. We went out on our first date and we’ve been together ever since.”
The couple wed in August 1981. Mandich supported her husband’s efforts on and off the field. “She would fight like tooth and nail if anyone said anything about us or her husband,” son Michael said.
Bonnie Mandich died in her sleep at her Miami Lakes home of natural causes on July 11 at 61, her son said.
“I’ve known Bonnie as long as Jim and that goes way back to the 1970s and . . . she truly died with a broken heart. They were so involved,” said former safety Dick Anderson, Mad Dog’s teammate during the undefeated season and a fellow Honor Roll member.
“She was as true a partner in the businesses and activities he was involved in as anyone I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t think you could find a more dedicated partner than Bonnie was to Jim,” said Anderson.
When Mad Dog left the field he became a football announcer on WQAM (560-AM) and WIOD (610-AM). His boisterous “Awwwright Miami” underlined big Dolphin plays. He also opened his restaurant, Ziggie and Mad Dog’s in Islamorada, and ran a drywall contracting company. His wife worked alongside him.
A beautiful, vivacious, fun individual .
Dick Anderson, a former Dolphin, on his teammate Jim Mandich’s widow, Bonnie Mandich
In 2010, Mad Dog became the face of the Dolphins’ Cancer Challenge to raise money for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Bonnie Mandich was on the Challenge’s board of directors.
After his death, Bonnie Mandich helped spearhead the Challenge. “The Challenge became a family thing,” said Michael Mandich, its chief operating officer.
“I’m trying to keep his memory going for myself, for the children, for people to come in and understand what a great human being he is,” she told the Herald in 2011.
The most recent Challenge raised more than $5 million in February, its best number yet.
“She was the picture of the event,” Anderson said.
Bonnie Mandich was born Dec. 13, 1954, in Spring Lake, New Jersey. “She moved down from New Jersey with her car and not much else to her name,” son Michael said. She was an equestrian who competed in hunter and jumper events in Wellington into her 50s. At heart, her son said, she was “a Jersey girl.”
But she was ours, too.
“She was just a great lady that came to South Florida, similar to her husband, and fell in love with South Florida and became a part of everything that was good,” said Nat Moore, a wide receiver for the Dolphins for 13 seasons through 1986 and Honor Roll member. “The Mandich family, in general, made South Florida a better place.”
Mandich is survived by her sons Michael, Mark and Nick, grandson Thomas and brother Rick Height. A viewing will be at 6 p.m. Monday at Palms West Funeral Home, 110 Business Park Way, Royal Palm Beach, with a 7:30 p.m. wake. A Mass will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at St. Therese de Lisieux Catholic Church, 11800 Lake Worth Rd., Wellington. Donations can be sent to the Dolphin Cancer Challenge, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens, FL 33056 or visit www.dolphinschallenge.com.