Mike Dee's eyes welled up and, for a moment, the loquacious CEO of the Miami Dolphins stood in silence.
Dee was looking for the words to describe how Jim Mandich would have viewed the second-annual Dolphins Cycling Challenge, and, as the sun started to rise outside of Sun Life Stadium early Saturday morning, his emotions overwhelmed him.
The 2011 Dolphins Cycling Challenge was dedicated to the memory of Mandich. The Dolphins legend died seven months ago, but the pain is still present for those who knew and loved the gregarious "Mad Dog."
Diagnosed with bile-duct cancer early in 2010, Mandich's battle with the disease was the motivation behind the first Dolphins Cycling Challenge. "Mad Dog" led a lap around Sun Life Stadium to launch that first event, and the photograph of an ill Mandich giving a thumbs-up was the lasting image — used as inspiration and plastered on every banner and handout associated with the Challenge.
But it was something that Mandich told Dee on that day last September that resonated much more than any photo could.
"Jim, last year, when we rode the ceremonial lap, said to me, 'I'm going to ride with you next year.'" Dee said Saturday, pausing afterward to regain his composure. "He's riding with us today. He's riding with us."
Mandich's presence was ever apparent on Saturday. From his number 88 on the back of the race jerseys and the photo banners, to the chants of "all right Miami" and the dedicated first water stop — dubbed "88 Mad Dog Lane" — the former tight end and broadcaster's legacy was carried by over 700 riders who, over two days, will ride six courses in three counties.
"I am so glad that we are making this bigger and better, and it's going on for the second year, which will grow and grow and grow each and every year, in honor of my husband," said Bonnie Mandich.
"It's a celebration," former Dolphins linebacker and current broadcaster Kim Bokamper said. "Last year at this time, Jim was with us, and a lot of people here, including myself, are riding here in memory of Jim Mandich, and we want to keep that memory going as long as we could. It's great to be here, but we miss him not being here."
Mandich, who took an active role in the organization of this year's event, said that having nearly a year to work on the second installment of the Challenge helped it grow.
Dolphins and event organizers set goals to double the number of riders and the money raised for the University of Miami's Sylvester Cancer Center in the second Cycling Challenge, and Dee was proud to announce that both of those goals were achieved, as the riders raised more than $800,000.
"We kind of know what we're doing now," Dee said. "If all goes well, every year you build on this, and it's something that becomes really instrumental in the community."