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Friends, Family Remember Late Dolphins OL Eric Laakso on Wednesday

Eric3 Eric Laakso spent seven seasons playing for the Miami Dolphins and was part of two Super Bowl teams during the 1980s.

Yet when he was remembered by family, friends and teammates on Wednesday, it was as a person and not a football player.

“He was a gentle giant,'' his ex-wife Debbie said before breaking down.

Laakso, the starting right tackle for the Dolphins in Super Bowl 17 in Pasadena, was found dead of natural causes by Broward Sheriff's Deputies called to his home in Pompano Beach on Christmas Night. He celebrated his 54th birthday last month.

A service was held at Menorah Gardens in western Broward County on Wednesday afternoon with a capacity crowd spilling into the hallway.

A number of former Miami Dolphins attended the services – some who had never even played with Laakso. The Dolphins picked him in the fourth round of the 1978 draft out of Tulane and he started in 61 of 86 games with Miami from 1978-84. From 1980 until he was injured four games into the 1984 season, Laakso started 60 of 61 games.

“He was a guy you wanted on your side,'' said Jim Jensen, a teammate from 1981-84. “He would battle for you. Fight, scratch. He was a soldier on the field, but off it, he was just a teddy bear. Like was said, he was a gentle giant.''

Laakso was very proud of his time with the Dolphins and usually wore his 1982 AFC championship ring when hanging out with friends in Pompano. He said he liked how it resembled the Dolphins' 1972 Super Bowl ring. Some of those members of Miami's perfect team attended the service including Nat Moore, Dick Anderson, Larry Little and Manny Fernandez.

Kim Bokamper, who sat in the back of the crowded room, says when he and old teammates get together, the memories of football games long ago are usually not the things that get brought up. With Laakso, that was definitely the case. When he would talk about his days with the Dolphins, he would tell ancillary tales about visiting locker rooms or team flights or backyard cookouts after practices at Biscayne College.

The lone picture Laakso had on his Facebook page was a black-and-white shot of his sparring with Joe Klecko of the Jets, a referee trying to break up the fight. Laakso loved talking about the 1982 AFC Championship game victory over the Jets in a rain-soaked Orange Bowl, and had no love for the Jets.

“I tend not to think of Eric as a football player, but as a true friend,'' Bokamper said. “He was just a great friend and always had a smile on his face. He thought about everything he said and never flew off the handle. I never saw him upset with anyone. He was one of those guys when he walked into a room, you felt a warmness. He projected that.''

Laakso, who was inducted into the Tulane sports Hall of Fame in 1991, is survived by his two sons Shane and Brent as well as his father Olavi and sister Irma.