Oct. 25, 2011
By Bruce Madej
Jim Mandich was a paradox. He built a thriving construction business in Miami without knowing anything about construction. He became Bo Schembechler's first Wolverine team captain in 1969 even though he was considered a little on the wild side. He was a great tight end at Michigan and in the NFL despite the fact he did not have great speed or great height, even for his era.
But more importantly, as Miami Herald sportswriter Greg Cote wrote, "How could a man nicknamed Mad Dog be so kind, so giving?"
Mandich was one of a kind.
So it is apropos that on the 30th anniversary of Bob Ufer's passing -- another one-of-a-kind in the field of broadcasting -- Mandich is posthumously being honored by the Letterwinners M Club with the Bob Ufer Award. Mandich passed away this past April after a long bout with bile duct cancer at the age of 62. The award is presented each year to an M Club member in recognition for his or her outstanding service to the University of Michigan Athletic Department.
Mandich holds the Michigan record for receiving yards by a tight end in a season with 662. He is second all-time in career receptions and receiving yards among Michigan tight ends and he is a member of the Michigan Hall of Honor and College Football Hall of Fame.
"His hands and his intelligence for how the game was to be played were amazing," said fellow U-M All-American, Michigan Hall of Honor and College Football Hall of Fame honoree Tom Curtis. "These are things that cannot be judged by a tape measure."
And in real life, it was the same.
It's the way he gave of himself to his family, friends, teammates and the surrounding communities. It was his outlook on life and how to live it.
"Jim had a special ability to connect with people," added Curtis. "He had something special."
What was special is how he treated people. He was straightforward, funny, loving, but more importantly, giving.
The Michigan family never had to ask Mandich twice for help. He responded immediately. The same can be said for the Miami Dolphins and the community he supported. Even Solon (Ohio) High School stayed in touch with Mad Dog throughout his career and posthumously honored him and his family just three weeks ago at one of its home games.
During the first timeout of the Michigan-Purdue homecoming game, Jim Mandich, represented by his family, will be recognized for his efforts as a Wolverine football player.
While his football persona was what he was known for by most, his lasting legacy is that of a caring person.
"He could be crass, he could be playful, and he was definitely opinionated," said U-M Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dave Brandon. "He didn't sugarcoat anything. When he became your friend, he stood by you at every step."
Even as Mandich began to succumb to his terrible disease, his spirit remained strong. He was forced to discontinue his daily talk radio show in Miami, but he wasn't to going to give up the color analyst gig on the Miami Dolphins Radio Network. He continued to report on Dolphin football and stay in touch with Michigan every step of the way.
Last November, in an interview with Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News, he talked about his illness and how he coped with the ongoing battle.
"One of the things very sobering, you go into that cancer ward and you're feeling sorry for yourself until you're sitting next to a 14 year old, beautiful young lady and a 22-year-old young kid, and I've lived life," Mandich said. "I was able to dispel that woe-is-me, why-me pretty quickly. I just said to myself, 'No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You've lived a damned good life. You've got a lot to be thankful for.'"
"He was real," said Michael Mandich, a U-M letterwinner on the football team and one of the Mandich's three sons. "Whether you were a millionaire executive or made $8 an hour, he would hit right at the heart of what you were thinking."
Even though former Michigan and current Arizona Cardinal placekicker Jay Feely played at U-M three decades after Mandich, he developed a strong relationship with the tight end.
"I was proud to have called him my friend," said Feely. "I will always remember his lasting line, 'In life, you have to swing the bat.'"
Mandich continued to do so right to the end.
In the same interview with Chengelis, Mandich was asked if he was able to find time to pay attention to Michigan football.
His answer: "Are you kidding me?" Mandich said. "Of course I care about that stuff, to the point of irrationality. It will always be Michigan first, cancer second."
"There isn't one word you can use to describe Jim. He was hard-nosed, tough, loving, contentious, funny, enjoyable, charismatic, giving, just a super guy who played on an undefeated NFL team and won Super Bowls in the pros," Brandon said. "In Ann Arbor, he was one of the all-time great Wolverine players, gaining All-America, Michigan Hall of Honor and College Football Hall of Fame honors. And, more importantly, he was elected captain by his teammates. There is no greater honor for a Michigan football player."