1968 Manny Fernandez
Manuel Jose Fernandez was an excellent high school athlete, outstanding as a wrestler, discus thrower, and football player at San Lorenzo, California High School. It was perhaps his wrestling skills that best served him on the football field as he had to use "body Braille" in order to take on offensive lineman. His 20/200 vision which required "Coke-bottle thick" glasses off of the field, left him able to see no more than flashes of color in front of him while on the gridiron. As a 6'2", 250-pound defensive tackle at Chabot Junior College, he matriculated to Utah where he banged heads with offensive lineman Norm Chow who of course has become one of the most respected offensive coordinators in the game. He played well at Utah, but any professional success with the Miami Dolphins came as a surprise. As was stated in one preseason publication in 1969, "The only consistent pass rush that the team got last year (1968) came almost by accident. Joe Thomas, the personnel chief, signed a kid named Manny Fernandez, almost as an afterthought. The big guy turned out to be the Dolphins' best lineman." What wasn't clearly stated was that Thomas actually signed Fernandez with the fervent hope that he would make the squad so that the team could present Miami's extensive Hispanic community with one player who they could identify with, relate to, and call their own. The one problem, readily admitted by Fernandez was that he could not speak Spanish!
He could however, play football as a lightning-quick nose tackle in an odd man line and he was the rare athlete who could save his best performances for the most important games. In the Dolphins' great early-1970's Super Bowl run, Fernandez was dominant, making six tackles and a sack against the Cowboys, seventeen tackles and a sack of Billy Kilmer when they faced the Redskins, and five tackles and a sack against the Vikings. His great performance of 1972 found most teammates giving full respect to game MVP Jake Scott, but leaving the field with the absolute conviction that Manny was clearly the most dominant player on the field that day. Seventeen tackles and a sack in a Super Bowl? Who could argue the point? He was All AFC in 1971, second team All AFC a number of times, a member of the Miami Dolphins All Time Team, and he has been named to almost everyone's All Time Super Bowl squad. After eight seasons of taking on the toughest of the tough in the middle of the line, he attempted to switch to linebacker for the 1976 season. He came in light enough, fast enough, and certainly tough enough but if seeing the ball or the opposing quarterback was a problem from the nose tackle spot, it was virtually impossible as a linebacker and Fernandez retired. Among the most respected and popular of the Super Bowl era Dolphins, Manny Fernandez remains a Dolphins icon.
Even though the Dolphins were still a relatively new franchise when Fernandez signed, having fielded its first team in 1966, his Riddell RK Husky helmet already had a history of its own. In December of 1965, Houston Oiler owner Bud Adams had walked into the San Diego Chargers locker room, uninvited, after the Oilers and Chargers had faced off at Rice Stadium. Knowing that San Diego defensive linemen Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd were playing out their options, he engaged them in conversation, promising them significantly more money than they were receiving from the Chargers. Needless to say, San Diego head coach Sid Gillman was angry to the point where he swore that he would have his revenge for this illegal and unsportsmanlike behavior. After the season, the Oilers traded "in principle" for the two Chargers stars and in order to make the biggest splash possible, Adams made the announcement at halftime of the AFL All Star Game that was being played in Houston. Bragging that this would immediately make the Oilers contenders for the AFL Championship, Gillman received extra amounts of criticism as the deal included the Chargers compensation, defensive end Gary Cutsinger, linebacker Johnny Baker, and defensive back Pete Jacquess. Though Jacquess had intercepted a great eight passes as a rookie in 1964, Gillman was excoriated in the press for "giving away" two of his best players for very little in return. However, Sid had his immediate revenge as he reneged on the deal and turned Adams into the league office for tampering and the trade was nullified. As Gillman ecstatically screamed, "I've done it, I've finally screwed the fat Indian!", AFL Commissioner negated the trade and fined Adams. Jacquess however did come over to the Dolphins for the 1966 and part of the '67 seasons where he traded in the number 47 he had worn with the Oilers for number 44. Fernandez's rookie season helmet had the number 44 hand-written within the shell, indicating that Jacquess, before leaving for the Denver Broncos where he played through the 1970 season, had owned this unique helmet prior to Fernandez.
The front add on aqua stripes and different mask cover up Manny's DG140 Dungard holes, but they can not cover up the history of this rare helmet and even more rare man.