THURSDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The phone rang shortly after news broke that Dolphins legend Mark Duper had been diagnosed with signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease that is caused by head trauma and has depleted Duper’s memory and caused mood swings, anger, depression, panic attacks and headaches that “irritate [the expletive] out of you.”
It was his quarterback, Dan Marino, calling.
“Do you remember me, Dude?” Marino cracked, according to Duper, who said Kim Bokamper sent him a similar text.
Both were trying to lighten the mood after hearing Duper’s startling, distressing news.
“Dan was trying to make me laugh,” Duper told me by phone last week. “Mark Clayton said, ‘I talk to you every day, dude. Why didn’t you tell me you’re having all these tests on your brain… at UCLA? I had to hear it on the news.’ I told him it slipped my mind.”
Many other former teammates have called: Lorenzo Hampton, Fred Banks, Roy Foster, Nat Moore. “Some of them are worried about me,” he said.
Duper is worried, too. CTE --- which has been linked to depression and dementia -- is not a death sentence by any means. But Duper, 54, wonders how this diagnosis will affect his quality of life. Sadly, it already has.
“When I got the results, I said, ‘Holy [expletive]! Now I’ve got to deal with this!’” he said after becoming the ninth former NFL player (including Tony Dorsett) diagnosed with the condition.
“I’m worried about the future. Will I recognize people when I get old? It’s tough sleeping at night, because my mind is racing. I’m thinking about it.”
Duper, who caught 59 touchdowns passes and averaged 17.4 yards per catch in a glorious 11-year career, already has had one serious health issue: He had a cancerous kidney removed in January.
He thought his memory loss was simply a result “of getting old.” The tests revealed otherwise.
“I’ll go to the grocery store and forget what I went for,” he said. “When you’re walking and get to where you’re going, you ask yourself, ‘What did I come here for?’ It happens every day. It’s a bad feeling, frightening.
“And I’m forgetting lots of names. I couldn’t remember Don Strock’s name, and I played 10 years with him.”
Duper cooked dinner outside the other night, brought the food inside when it started raining, then went back outside, intending to retrieve a stool.
“But when I got outside, I thought, ‘What did I come out here for?’”
Instead, he stood in the rain, lost for an answer.
Duper said the NFL was “negligent” but he’s not angry and not considering legal action beyond the scope of the league’s recent concussion settlement, which has not been approved.
“Football is how I made my living and I don’t regret it,” he said. “But if the NFL would have taken precautions, this wouldn’t have happened. And the NFL should have had a better pension plan. I’m disappointed in that.”
His mood was buoyed recently when two doctors --– one in Jacksonville, one in Miami --– called and “said they can help me.” He’s visiting family in Louisiana for Thanksgiving but intends to see them both soon.
“I look at it this way: Thinking positively helps anyone,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the same spirit.”
He reassures people he isn’t suicidal: “I ain’t killing myself. My mind is way too strong for that.”
Duper and Clayton, who formed the potent Marks Brothers receiver tandem during the most recent Dolphins halcyon days, talk every day.
“We have a pool going – we pick teams and see who wins the most,” Duper said. “We talk about the games. We don’t talk much about [my condition]. But Clayton is thinking about getting that test.”
Others are too, despite fearing what they might hear when they get the result.
“Roy Foster and I asked Duper about getting the test,” said former Dolphins running back Mark Higgs, 47, who owns a transportation company. “I take the same vitamin three times I day, when I should be taking it once, because I forgot I took it.”
But among Dolphins, Duper is the only one so far with the CTE diagnosis. “It definitely scares me,” he said.
### Jets coach Rex Ryan bemoaned Wednesday: "I’m only 1-3 against Miami at home, that’s not good." For as much as Geno Smith's putrid play recently gives the Dolphins an advantage, keep in mind that the Jets lead the league in run defense (both in total yards and yards per attempt), and you all know how ineffective the Dolphins' running game has been in a handful of games this season.
### Joe Philbin insisted rookie cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are "coming along nicely" despite their limited playing time. In their defense, the cornerbacks ahead of them played very well Sunday, even with Dimitri Patterson still sidelined. (Patterson didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did safety Chris Clemons, who has knee and hamstring issues.)
### Ryan Tannehill, on rookie running back Mike Gillislee, who hopes to get some work in Daniel Thomas' absence: "He's explosive. I saw a lot of burst out of him today."
### Jets safety Ed Reed said Tannehill reminds him of a young Joe Flacco. Asked by New York writers if he likes that comparison, Tannehill said: "I don't know. I'm not much into comparisons." (He would probably take being compared to last year's postseason Flacco over this year's regular season Flacco.)
### Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who has a hip injury, wasn't able to practice Wednesday, and his absence would be huge if he cannot play Sunday against the Dolphins.
### Duper, on Mike Wallace, who leads the league with 12 drops: “He has to improve catching the ball. He has great potential he hasn’t touched yet.”
### The most interesting development from tonight's 95-84 Heat win at Cleveland, Miami's eighth in a row overall? Erik Spoelstra's evolving trust in Michael Beasley. With Shane Battier out, Spoelstra played Beasley a season-high 25:35, sticking with him for 11 first-half minutes even though he went 0 for 2 from the field during that stretch.
But Spoelstra liked his rebounding and his energy, and he found his offensive rhythm in the second half to close with 17 points and nine rebounds.
"He gives us something different," Spoelstra said afterward. "He gives us that athleticism. He's gaining confidence. He's getting much better in his pick-and-roll coverage."
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were effusive about Beasley after the game.
"We're lucky to have the kid," Wade said. "A lineup with him gives us firepower. He's been better defensively."
James said Heat players have shown him "how important it is to be a professional."
He's "an unbelievable talent," James said. "Talent wise, he's worthy of a No. 2 [overall] pick."
Even though he's here primarily because of his offense, Beasley said tonight: "I'm not worried about the offensive side. I'm more focused on defense and rebounding. Bird and Chris [Bosh] need help [rebounding]. And I ain't got nothing better to do."
### Even with Battier out, Udonis Haslem was a DNP-CD (did not play/coach's decision) for the third game in a row. "I've seen a lot of different situations," said Haslem, who was a good sport about it afterward. "I'm be happy when my time comes."
### For highlights from LeBron's eventful press briefing with Cleveland reporters tonight, please see the last post.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Happy Thanksgiving to all.