"On TV you see the pictures, but you don't see the real devastation until you go and see what those people are actually living through," said offensive tackle Jeff Dellenbach. "Most of us don't know what it's like to be without water or electricity for three weeks, and then you go down there and you see those people who have nothing left, little kids who don't have toys. It's tough to take. I have a buddy in the National Guard, and he'd told me a lot before I went. But until you go there and get the smell—there's just a smell. The Army referred to it as the smell of death. Talking to those people, you could tell they were scared. They didn't know which direction they were headed in."
"You could see the broken bones in their hands, the blood, the panic in peoples' eyes," said linebacker John Offerdahl, one of a group of volunteers to reach 1,000 migrant workers who were stranded for three days after the storm. Offerdahl operated his three bagel stores around the clock to deliver 6,000 free bagels to South Dade.
What he saw, Offerdahl says, "definitely had a permanent impact on me—negative and positive. From a negative standpoint, it was devastation, calamity. From a positive standpoint, I've seen a lot of good people come down and help, put forth a hand to help a brother in need. For a community, and for a civilization, you need to have people who care."
For players who had seen South Dade in person, "normalcy" was a word that still didn't apply on Sunday. "It's not going to be normal for those people for a long time," says Marino, who with his wife, Claire, had distributed goods in Homestead six days after the hurricane.
Because the game was not a sellout and thus was blacked out on local TV, South Florida's only broadcast link to the home opener was the Dolphin radio network. This only added to the war-zone feel of the region. In one tent city run by the Marines in Homestead, enthusiasm for the game was mixed at best. Just after kickoff a long line formed at the mess tent for the next meal. "Right now, no one really cares about football," said Chasity Coney, a South Miami Heights resident who said she was wiped out by the hurricane. But another resident of the tent city, Sherman King, lay in a bunk listening to the game. "This is better than getting drunk for taking your mind off all the problems," he said softly.
Even the broadcast crew from the team's flagship station, WIOD, was hurricane-damaged. Hank Goldberg, for 15 years the Dolphins' radio color commentator, was fired by the station the Tuesday before the game for, he said, wanting to move on with life and sports rather than sticking exclusively with hurricane-related programming on his nightly general talk show. According to Goldberg, WIOD program director Gary Bruce "wanted me to continue doing relief messages—no sports calls. Believe me, people didn't want to talk about the hurricane anymore. It was talked out. Then he wanted me to cancel [an appearance by former Dolphin safety] Dick Anderson. I wouldn't cancel him."
"We just didn't feel it was appropriate to discuss sports, and neither did our listeners," says Bruce, who declined to comment specifically on Goldberg's leaving.
Former Dolphin tight end Jim Mandich, who is one of the hosts of a sportstalk show on WIOD, was thrust into Goldberg's color commentator role for Sunday's game. And that was just the latest in four weeks' worth of hurricane-spawned pressures on Mandich. "I'm particularly sensitive to the hurricane situation because my full-time job is as a building contractor," said Mandich, "and almost all day, every day, I'm dealing with people who have no home or no roof. There is a surge in demand for construction services, but I don't think anybody is happy with the way this business has developed. You just try to meet customer needs—which are infinite."
Still in storage at Joe Robbie Stadium is nearly half the $500,000 worth of merchandise NFL Charities sent to clothe and to brighten the spirits of hurricane victims. Each Tuesday, the Dolphins' regular day off, some players will visit South Dade to help boost morale. The team will also collect money at home games throughout the season for the Red Cross. Says Maraleen (Fudge) Browne, the Dolphins' community-relations director, "In December people are going to have to be reminded that people are still suffering from this."
And for many families, like the Garrisons, Sunday's game provided one day of relief, at best.