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Is This Heaven? No, It’s Miami Gardens

The Perfect Day

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Sunday, December 22nd at Hard Rock Stadium saw the Miami Dolphins defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in a 38-35 overtime thriller. With a 16-point lead with minutes to go in the game, an essentially vacated stadium was left with hundreds of fans, decked in two different shades of Orange.

Before getting to the most dramatic, enjoyable and confusing hour of my football season, let’s take a trip back to the beginning of what was the most Perfect day in my football life. A life that is still waiting, patiently for the ultimate prize, while reflecting on the past which has always been a source of pride and inspiration for the future.

Before truly getting into the day of all days, a quick preface of the magnitude of the situation for me. We all know that I am not a Floridian, but one at heart and connected via “snow bird” parents, who spend their winters in Long Island’s version of Del Boca Vista. Do not walk in the clubhouse barefoot. I would never, but I witnessed some poor guy who was banned. Sorry, a 17-hour car journey had me replay Seinfeld’s episode run in my head to pass the time.

This was the day I marked on the calendar as soon as news of scheduling and game dates broke. Knowing my family would be in Florida on our yearly holiday retreat, the stars aligned for me, my son, Brandon and my Father, Marty.

We were going to the Dolphins game together, a triple-generational experience, for the very 1st time. I was in the middle of two Fin-Rookies, making their debut at the Hard Rock, and boy was it…well, Perfect.

With many thanks to several people who will be mentioned throughout this experience my crew and I will treasure forever, I want to begin with the inspiration of the day; the best section of fans in Findom, The D.w.A. “Hit-Squad” that is The Deep End.

Although my 30 years of bleeding aqua and orange was mainly in enemy territory, social media has given me a new source of fan pride, appreciation and frankly, acceptance.

New York, Buffalo, New Jersey and Philly are all addresses I have held, so you can imagine the difficulty as many of us have had as displaced Phin-Phans. The congregation of the holy group That is The Deep End crew, is nothing short of remarkable. Unlike many bases I have seen from my own personal geography, the fans at East Gate 12 are the most passionate, welcoming, and kind souls in all of football.

Witnessing their passion through social media in 2018, through ups and downs, along with the many other groups, Facebook pages and handles out there, #DolphinsTwitter had been a virtual cafeteria for me like back in high school, although this time people are wearing my colors…the colors.

Orange and Aqua.

I decided to reach out to a prominent displaced Fin-Fan, known to The Deep End and the Twitter-verse as @DolfansRI. He was kind enough to help make this happen, and through the magic of ticket-transferring, there was a guarantee of friendly fans sitting in those epic seats…The Deep End.

It was a bit prior to this time that things truly started to pick up steam for me, as watching cartoons with my four year-old had him toss out some of the greatest words he has ever said to me….and I will paraphrase Jordan Sarney:

“Daddy, Aquaman is Orange, does he like the Dolphins?”

A creative bomb went off in my brain; I went to the computer and my fun “alter-ego” was born; Orange AquaMan.

Through the year-long roller-coaster that has been my football and actual life, there are people who have welcomed me into their communities, and like a Ricky Williams hand-off, I am running until I can’t see the field anymore. Being welcomed by Pro Football Network and The Pholks here at The Phinsider, has been invaluable to me.

With some momentum, I started throwing Hail Mary passes that were Miraculously received like they were multiple laterals or even a “shot in the dark toss” from a punter to a kicker.

One pass was appropriately received by a personal Mount Rushmore inductee of mine, OJ McDuffie and his @TheFishTank81 co-host, Seth Levit. Being on the fringe of history listening to the heroes of my childhood and legends of my Dad’s 1970’s football viewing, I was entering a surreal year which was capped off with a Perfect 8 hours.

At 9:00 am, Brandon, my Dad and I entered Hard Rock Stadium as part of the pre-game flag ceremony, which allowed my 8-year old’s sneakers to hit the same ground as Miami Dolphin players. His smile was huge, his eyes where bigger, and my heart was full.

After a quick rehearsal of what was truly one of the biggest thrills and honors of my life, we were prepared to partake in one of sports’ grandest traditions; the Star-Spangled Banner. After getting our instructions along with about 300 other fortunate fans, it was time to say hello to some fellow phans and phriends.

I will say this, for a then three win team and now a four win team, you would never know it from the passion of this base. Whether it be rooting, supporting, or simply being philanthropic, this base takes the lead from the very top, as one of the classiest organizations in sports - The Miami Dolphins.

While navigating South Carolina a few days prior to the Bengals game, I threw another Hail Mary. This one was a game-winner…

Waiting in line for our entrance onto the field for the flag ceremony, I was suddenly tapped on the shoulder by a Dolphin employee who simply asked, “Are you Jason?”

“Yes,” I said bewildered and not prepared for the moment ahead.

I was handed two complimentary Dolphin hats. I was as close to speechless as I have ever been, which is not often. It seems as if when a fan asks, the organization responds.

I’d like a QB, a few offensive linemen and smart Free Agency for my next request, please…

This similar story was duplicated in specificity by other fans that day with their own tales of terrific customer service and hospitality, in which the Dolphins aren’t just best in class, but Best in Show.

The flag ceremony was a life memory I will never forget. A helicopter fly-over directly above our heads while sprinkles of rain bounced off Old Glory, as I was in all of mine alongside my father and son, was the icing on the pre-game cake. Not the 1st cake of the day, however, and not to be consumed by Ryan Fitzpatrick. After all, our team’s leading rusher did a great job trimming the 9-pronged birthday weight from the off-season.

7 kids, 2 adults. That is lots of flour, sugar and vanilla.

Before the ceremony, it was the perfect time to say hello to fellow Twitter Fin-Addict, Big E, himself, Ian Berger! It was he who inspired the idea to get this opportunity to hit the field and hold the flag.

Great guy, and great call, Big E!!

Following the nice meet up, my crew and I swam our way through the under-toe to Row 3 of The Deep End, my son, decked out in Orange, Aqua and passion, officially became Orange AquaBoy, and I became whole. The full circle family feeling of pride in my son, while my father captured the moments was something I will forever treasure.

Another captured moment was a bit unexpected, however the celebration to one of those Hail Mary passes I heaved months ago. Leaning over section 129, number 81 himself, The Finbassador of Miami, was doing what OJ McDuffie always does - catching the pass.

The pass in this case were nearly more pictures taken by the former star Miami wide receiver with fans than receptions he hauled in from Dan Marino while he led the NFL in them back in 1996 with 98.

This was the “touchdown pic,” as well as some incredible words from a true, genuine human in Mr. McDuffie. After explaining to Brandon exactly who OJ is and what he did while a professional athlete, and what he does now as a person, You Tube highlights explained the importance of what that encounter meant to me.

Oh, I almost forgot...the game!

What. A. Contest!

At halftime of this game was another treat that I only found out days before Sunday, that being The Perfect Season celebration of the 1972, 17-0 Super Bowl Champion, Miami Dolphins.

NFL: DEC 22 Bengals at Dolphins Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Again, as a Miami Dolphins Historian and Aficionado, these were living legends sipping campaign in celebration of something that happened once in 100 years.

Now that’s a 1% I am proud to celebrate!

The icing on the second cake was literally the icing on the 90th birthday surprise of “The Don” himself, Coach Shula - the winning-est Coach in NFL history.

To say chills went through me is the understatement of this piece, and MAN do I wish I had some of that cake!

Back to the game.

The final few minutes was emblematic of the Dolphins season. We all saw it, and confusion was at a high-point.

Draft placement or victory?

Yet another moment I will never forget was seeing another Fin-Fan legend, Papa Pump, as my crew and I navigated to the player’s tunnel section of 154 to see some eventual victory laps and a hopeful hand-out or two of some game-worn gear.

The 16 point lead evaporated like the early mist of rain, and the only water in sight was tears of sadness suddenly about to flow from my eyes. The confusion started to move in like the eye of a hurricane, and under it were a pair of fan-bases who went back and forth with their preferences like a ping pong ball in Forest Gump.

After a little ambiguity as to our preference, Papa Pump and I helped rally the troops, and went with the adage I grew up with…

“You Play to Win The Game.”

Following a Jason Sanders game-winning field-goal, the victory was secured and the day was capped. Actually, the day was really capped with an easy exit at 5:45 from parking lot #13.

NFL: DEC 22 Bengals at Dolphins Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yup...lot #13.

My 8-year old enjoyed and endured 8+ hours of his first experience some 10+ years before I enjoyed my own, as my Father became a teenager once again in his return to past experiences he never had.

At one point, I simply had to ask myself, “Is this Heaven?”

An omnipotent voice in my head solemnly responded...

“No, It’s Miami Gardens.”