Schwartz: My Grandfather and The Miracle In Miami

In 1991, my brother and I had been planning all season to go see the Jets finish their regular season on Sunday December 22nd against the Dolphins in Miami.  After all, it was a chance to not only go visit family in the South Florida area but it was also an opportunity to see Gang Green in enemy territory.  In this case, I would be seeing the Jets play a game in December while I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts and not dressed in layers of clothing with a winter coat.

That season was my first as a Jets season ticket holder in Section 339 Row 12 Seats 24 and 25 at Giants Stadium.  The campaign began with 16-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Meadowlands but that was followed by three straight losses.  With six wins in their next eight games, the Jets were 7-5 and were right in the middle of the playoff hunt.  Regardless of how the season would play out, I had the tickets to the Jets/Dolphins game in Miami and I was going to go regardless of whether or not the Jets were alive for the playoffs. 

As it turns out, that day would involve more than just the Jets.  My grandfather, David Schwartz, had passed away in January of 1991 and in the Jewish religion there is an “unveiling” of the headstone which customarily takes place a year after the funeral.  Since I was going to be in Florida for the Jets game, my family decided to move up my Grandpa Dave’s unveiling from January of 1992 to the weekend that my brother and I would be in town…and it would be scheduled for Sunday December 22nd, the same day as the Jets/Dolphins game at Joe Robbie Stadium.   My reaction was okay it will be early in the morning and that will give me plenty of time to make the hour or so drive from Delray Beach to Miami Gardens.

As the season progressed, it was hard to tell if that final game of the season in Miami was going to have any meaning.   The Jets would go on to lose three straight games including a 10-6 loss to the Patriots on December 15th at Giants Stadium.  Somehow, the Jets were still alive for a playoff spot but they still needed help that day to make the season finale in Miami the following week mean something .  As the Jets game was ending, the Dolphins were just starting their game against the Chargers in San Diego.  With a win that day, Miami would wrap up the final AFC wild card spot, but a loss would mean that the winner of the Jets/Dolphins regular season finale would go to the playoffs. 

That game in San Diego was still going on when I got home to Long Island from the Jets game and since it wasn’t on television in New York, I tuned to the “NFL In Action” show on WFAN to find out what was going on.   The Chargers beat the Dolphins 38-30 setting up an epic Jets/Dolphins game in South Florida the following week with the winner going to the playoffs.  The Dolphins were 8-7 but the Jets at 7-8 would have the tie-breaker with a win because they had already beaten the Dolphins earlier in the season and a victory would give them the season sweep.

So now I was really looking forward to the weekend in Florida.  My family would be together for my Grandfather’s unveiling and then my brother and I would head to the Jets game with the goal being a win to clinch a playoff spot.   I’m figuring the unveiling would be early at like 9am.  The ceremony takes about a half an hour and that would leave time for my brother and I to change into Jets stuff and head to the game.

However, upon landing in Florida on Friday, I was told that the unveiling would start at 11am.

Now I know my family stuff was more important, but my family made the unveiling that weekend knowing I was going to be in town for the game and they made the ceremony at 11am?  You have to figure it’s not going to start on time and I have about an hour drive to the stadium.  How am I going to get there, deal with the traffic, park the car and get into the stadium in time for the opening kickoff?

My Uncle Bernie to the rescue!

I loved my Uncle Bernie may he rest in peace.  He was a huge sports fan and I always loved going to games with him and talking sports with him.  Uncle Bernie loved horse racing as well so he devised a plan for my brother and I to get to the game on time.  He told me to take the Florida Turnpike to the game and to stay all the way on the right when I got to the toll booth so that I could get off at Calder Racetrack which is right next door to Joe Robbie Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium). 

He told me to park there and take the shuttle bus over to the stadium and based on his calculations, we would get to the game on time.  Well of course the unveiling started late but my brother and I did a quick clothing change in the car and we were on the way to the game right at noon.  I followed my uncle’s directions and we literally sat down in our seats as the opening kickoff was taking place. 

Now we were ready for some football. 

The Jets were winning 17-13 in the final minute before Dan Marino threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Ferrell Edmunds to give the Dolphins a 20-17 lead with 44 seconds left.  I was upset enough as it was that it was looking like the Jets would lose and not go to the playoffs but I was even more concerned with that shuttle bus ride back to the parking lot with all those Dolphins fans giving us crap.

But back came the Jets as they drove down the field to set up Raul Allegre’s game-tying 44-yard field goal with no time left in regulation.  Allegre was signed that week to fill-in for the injured Pat Leahy and he nailed the tying field goal just moments after a nice run by Freeman McNeil who got out of bounds with two seconds left.  Then, in overtime, a long pass from Ken O’Brien to Rob Moore set up Allegre’s game-winning 30-yard field goal to give the Jets a 23-20 win and the final AFC Wild Card spot.

(Jets kicker Raul Allegre from Miami Dolphins vs Jets game Dec 22, 1991 File 91-5116 Photog Dougherty)

It was the best and most memorable NFL game that I ever went to and I can’t help but think that Grandpa Dave made sure the day had a happy ending.  We honored him in the morning at the unveiling of his tombstone and then he made sure to “open some holes” to make sure my brother and I got to the game on time.  That ride back to Grandma Sylvia’s condo was pretty enjoyable, especially when we stopped at a rest area for a drink and…well a pit-stop and a fun exchange with some Dolphins fans.

That night, my family was together, my Grandfather was smiling down on us, and the Jets were in the playoffs.   

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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