Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins to honor Rishard Matthews’ brother, an American hero

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews adjusts his helmet before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews adjusts his helmet before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. AP

The crowd at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, much like those that will gather at sports venues around the country, will come to admire men who are often regarded as heroes. Fathers and mothers will bring their kids to a football game to cheer and idolize great athletes and maybe use those athletes as role models in a life lesson.

So that’s a lot of hero worship that will be going on.

But when a scheduled pause early in the second quarter stops this game, and the Dolphins pay homage to the memory of Christopher Ruiz, then the day's most clear picture of a hero will be seen by everyone watching the stadium’s big boards or looking onto the field.

Ruiz served in the U.S. Marines — the real America’s team — and rose to the rank of sergeant. He met his wife, Lorelyn, in high school and married his high school sweetheart after he returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He was only 29. He and Lorelyn had three kids, ages 5, 3 and 1, who Ruiz called his “babies.”

Seven weeks ago Ruiz was in Afghanistan working as a civilian contractor, training locals to serve and fight for their country just as he had served and fought for his.

The military portion of Ruiz’s life was about to end because he was scheduled to leave Afghanistan on Oct. 28, the end of what could be described as his final tour of duty. And he had plans back home.

Ruiz told people he was thinking of joining his local Menifee, California, police force, which made sense because he had led a life of service abroad and didn’t want to stop once he got home.

Except that Christopher Ruiz never got home alive.

He was one of six U.S. Airmen and five other civilian contractors killed in the crash of an Air Force C-130 as it tried to put down at the Jalalabad Airfield on Oct. 2.

“They answered their nation’s call and died in service to our country,” Brig. Gen. Dave Julazadeh said in a news release. “There are no words that truly express the depth of the sorrow and pain we feel.”

Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews knows that is true. You see, Christopher Ruiz was his brother and even now, seven weeks after this great loss, Matthews cannot let go.

“All the emotional part, the first couple of weeks was a struggle, but you do have to move forward,” Matthews said. “I’ve tried to be strong and positive for the family, but it’s definitely in my head all the time.

“It’s always in your head.”

Ruiz and Matthews were actually stepbrothers. Rishard’s father Renauld married Ruiz’s mother Estella and became his stepfather. But try telling Matthews that wasn’t his full-blooded sibling who passed in that midnight crash seven weeks ago.

“He was a guy that always wanted to serve his country,” the Dolphins’ receiving touchdowns and yards leader said. “My dad served in the Marines for 21 years, and he always wanted to do that, too. It was his No. 1 thing. In high school, he was in the ROTC.

“He just always wanted to serve his country. He served in Iraq. He came back and went back as a civilian contractor. He was a family guy. A guy that never disrespected anybody.

“Just a great guy. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

The Taliban took credit for downing the doomed transport plane on Twitter. But the U.S. military said that is not true.

“The government says there was a mechanical error, but we’ll probably never know the whole truth,” Matthews said.

This is true:

Before he died, Christopher Ruiz had a profound impact on Rishard Matthews. The wide receiver, sometimes moody earlier in his career and prone to bouts of unhappiness when he wasn’t playing, saw the world a little differently when he compared his situation with his brother’s.

“He’s the reason I started rethinking stuff I used to complain about,” Matthews said. “He was gone for almost a year and was really in … well, I talked to him sometimes, and he’d tell me the situations he was in and how hard they had it.

“They couldn’t go to the bathroom, couldn’t sleep sometimes. The way he had to live, it made me appreciate where I was. He made me proud to be an American.”

Matthews found out about his brother’s death when the Dolphins were in London.

He played that game and every game since with a heavy heart. But he was buoyed when the team asked about honoring Ruiz.

“The biggest thing is I get to spend time with my nieces and nephews, and with my stepmom,” Matthews said. “I get to be there for them. It’s a wonderful thing the organization is doing. They reached out to me when they found out so it’s greatly appreciated.

“I want to keep his memory alive. I want to be closer with his kids. Being around my family is how I’d want to honor him. He was definitely a hero. I’m glad on Sunday other people will look at him as a hero, as well.”

Armando Salguero: 305-376-4993, @ArmandoSalguero

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