Greg Cote

Greg Cote: An odyssey of oddities in South Florida sports

Kyle Mackey (15) throws a pass during one of his three games as the Dolphins’ quarterback during the 1987 season, which featured replacement players.
Kyle Mackey (15) throws a pass during one of his three games as the Dolphins’ quarterback during the 1987 season, which featured replacement players. AP

They are tucked away in a franchise’s history like small curios that gather dust in a family’s attic, unseen and largely forgotten.

In the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers’ combined 123 seasons in South Florida, we have seen all shades of athletes pass through, from rare superstars of the Dan Marino and Dwyane Wade echelon to a mostly faceless parade of bit players.

Then, somewhere on the far periphery, in a category all their own, are the oddities. These are the athletes who were here only one season, sometimes just a fraction of one, but were notable for some strange reason — whether good or bad. Maybe it was for what they’d done before coming here to retire. Maybe it was for what they would become after leaving. And maybe it was for something else entirely.

I excluded players who fit this premise but played here three seasons. Sorry, Wahoo McDaniel and Harold Miner.

I even excluded players who worked here two seasons. You’re out, Andre Dawson and Alan Ogg.

These are the one-season specials, the one-hit wonders.

Will you join me as I open the door and climb up into the attic for a look around?

Kyle Mackey recalls being in a swimming pool with about two-dozen elderly women when the phone call came. He was teaching a water-aerobics class then at a health club in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas.

Don Shula was calling.

It was 1987. NFL players were suddenly on strike. Shula needed a quarterback. Mackey had played at East Texas State, and Shula knew his father.

The quarterback hesitated to cross a picket line, but his father pleaded with him to take the opportunity.

The rest is history, albeit a bizarre little slice of it.

Mackey, now 53 and a football coach at Silsbee (Texas) High, played three games as a “replacement player” for the Dolphins, the first in Seattle.

“It was so loud that it affected everything,” he recalls.

In his second game, Mackey became the first Dolphins quarterback to win at newly opened Joe Robbie Stadium.

His last game, before the strike ended after 24 days, was at the Jets.

The parting gift to his fleeting NFL career was a busted mouth from a collision with a face mask that required 52 stitches. He stayed in the game. The Dolphins lost in overtime, but owner Joe Robbie embraced Mackey as if he were a hero upon the team’s return to Miami.

He was cut the next day, the moment the strike ended.

“I’ve been looking for a backup quarterback like you,” Shula told him, “but I can’t keep you.”

It was because Dan Marino, from union-strong Pittsburgh, would not play with a teammate who had crossed the picket line.

So Mackey’s Miami career was done after three games, although Shula, feeling bad about that, privately paid him anyway for the remainder of that season.

A month after getting that phone call, the Dolphins’ temporary quarterback was back in the pool in Grand Prairie, teaching aerobics to old folks.

There is plenty more up here in the attic. Let’s explore chronologically and see what we find:

▪ George Wilson Jr., Dolphins, 1966: Coach George Wilson’s son wasn’t very good but has the distinction of quarterbacking Miami’s first win, in his first start for an expansion team then 0-5. He died of throat cancer in 2011 at age 68.

▪ Rick Casares, Dolphins, 1966: The career-long Bear and 1956 NFL rushing champion ended his playing days here, appearing in six games before sustaining an ankle injury and being cut by the owner, Robbie. “I’d been player of the week the game before,” Casares told me in a 2005 interview. “Driving out of town I saw my face on a team billboard.” He died in 2013 at 82.

▪ Jimmy Hines, Dolphins, 1969: “The World’s Fastest Human” held the world record in the 100 meters for 15 years and had just won the 1968 Olympic gold medal when the Fins took a shot on him. He caught two passes for 23 yards. Dolphins teammates called him “Oops” for his utter lack of football skills.

▪ George Mira, Dolphins, 1971: The former Miami Hurricane, now 74 and still living locally, completed 11 of 20 passes as a little-used reserve. His lone start came in a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh, but Mira was 0 for 2 before leaving the game.

▪ David Overstreet, Dolphins, 1983: Overstreet showed great promise as a first-round rookie, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but tragically died the June before his second season when his car veered off a Texas highway, slammed into gas pumps and exploded.

▪ Scott Pose, Marlins, 1993: The center fielder batted leadoff on the first Opening Day, meaning he had the first at-bat in franchise history. He played only 14 more games for the club.

▪ Trevor Hoffman, Marlins, 1993: He had 601 saves in what should be a Hall-of-Fame career. The first two came as a Marlins rookie before being traded at midseason in a deal that brought Gary Sheffield.

▪ Mike Golic, Dolphins, 1993: Long before attaining fame as an ESPN radio host, Golic ended his career here as a defensive tackle, playing in 15 games with seven starts.

▪ Doug Pederson, Dolphins, 1993: The newly hired Philadelphia Eagles coach appeared in seven games as an undrafted rookie, yet holds a unique piece of Dolphins and NFL history. With Marino out with an Achilles injury and replacement Scott Mitchell injured earlier in that game, the third-string Pederson was the Dolphins’ quarterback when Shula won his 325th career game to surpass George Halas’ record.

▪ Manute Bol, Heat, 1993-94: The Sudanese Bol, at 7-7 tied for the tallest player in NBA history, played briefly here late in his career, appearing in eight games and making only one of his 12 shots. He died in 2010 at 47.

▪ Dan McGwire, Dolphins, 1995: The 6-8 quarterback and younger brother of baseball slugger Mark McGwire appeared in one game. He got sacked, and then his only pass fell incomplete.

▪ Lawrence Phillips, Dolphins, 1997: Appeared in two games, with 18 carries for 44 yards. Phillips died last week at age 40 of a suspected suicide while serving a 31-year prison sentence in California for crimes ranging form domestic violence to the killing of a cellmate.

▪ Mike Piazza, Marlins, 1998: The newly minted Hall of Famer played five of his 1,951 career games for Miami, going 5 for 18 with five RBI. Traded for, then traded away one week later.

▪ Cecil Collins, Dolphins, 1999: In his only season in the NFL, Collins rushed for 414 yards on 131 carries before legal troubles overtook him. “Cecil the Diesel” served 12 years in prison for entering a sleeping woman’s apartment, his second such offense. He was released in March 2013.

▪ Thurman Thomas, Dolphins, 2000: Buffalo’s Hall of Famer ended his career playing for the Bills’ rival in nine games, with 28 carries for 136 yards. The last of his 109 career touchdowns came as a Dolphin.

▪ Anthony Mason, Heat, 2000-01: The Miami-born Mason, who died of a heart ailment last February at 48, was signed a backup but became a starter with Alonzo Mourning’s unexpected kidney ailment. He went on to average 16.1 points and earn his lone all-star appearance.

▪ A.C. Green, Heat, 2000-01: Ended his 16-year career here as a reserve who averaged 4.5 points. The devoutly religious Green was best known for a record 14-year ironman streak of not missing a game, and for his claim to have been a virgin his entire NBA career.

▪ Tim Raines, Marlins, 2002: Raines, who narrowly missed being voted into the Hall of Fame last week, ended his 23-year career here, batting .191 with one homer.

▪ Cris Carter, Dolphins, 2002: He thought his Hall of Fame career was done and was negotiating with HBO when Marino coaxed him back in at age 37. Carter appeared in five games, with eight catches for 66 yards and the last of his 130 career touchdowns.

▪ Christian Laettner, Heat, 2004-05: The Duke legend ended his long NBA career here (in Wade’s second season) as a reserve who averaged 5.3 points.

▪ Ed Belfour, Panthers, 2006-07: Belfour, third in NHL history in goaltender wins, ended his long career here with a 2.77 goals-against average in 27 games.

▪ Todd Bertuzzi, Panthers, 2006-07: Infamous for the 2004 on-ice brutality against Steve Moore, Bertuzzi played here for an injury-marred seven-game stint. He scored 324 career goals. One came as a Panther.

▪ Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Heat, 2007-08: He came out of a year’s retirement to finish up with Miami in a four-month stint at age 36, averaging 3.8 points in 16 games.

▪ Jerry Stackhouse, Heat, 2010-11: Nearing the end of his career at 36, Stackhouse spent a month with the Heat, playing in seven games with one start.

▪ Eddy Curry, Heat, 2011-12: A classic Pat Riley reclamation project (albeit a failed one), Curry lost 70 pounds before appearing in 14 games for the Heat late in an ebbing career.

▪ Adam Greenberg, Marlins, 2012: Perhaps our favorite cameo of all, because it was just that. Greenberg had been hit by a pitch in his only plate appearance, as a Cub in 2005, sustaining a skull fracture that (he thought) ended his career. But the Marlins signed him to a one-day contract so he could finally get an official at-bat. On Oct.2, leading off the bottom of the sixth, he strode to the plate to a standing ovation as Aerosmith’s Dream On blared. Greenberg struck out on three pitches. No matter. “It was magical,” he said.

▪ Tim Thomas, Panthers, 2013-14: He won a Stanley Cup with Boston, sat out a season, then reappeared as a Panther. Thomas wore No. 34 in honor of John Vanbiesbrouck, whom he’d followed as a kid.

▪ Greg Oden, Heat, 2013-14: Another reclamation that didn’t pan out, Oden, a former overall No. 1 draft pick, had his last shot here in an injury-marred career, averaging 2.9 points in 29 games. He was last seen playing for the Jiangsu Dragons in China.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of the South Florida sports attic.

Sometimes, for better or worse, all it takes is a year or less to make an impression as a franchise footnote.

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