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MIAMI – Dolphins coach Brian Flores has a trademark look on game days: a dark gray vest over a long-sleeved white shirt, khaki pants and black shoes accompanies an expression that is generally business. That’s what he wore on Sunday during the team’s win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Flores is not in the habit of changing clothes before talking to the media, but that was not the case after the Jets game. He entered the podium wearing a navy blue FDNY (New York City Fire Department) T-shirt.
It was a gift from his uncle, Darrell Patterson, a retired firefighter. Given how “instrumental” Patterson was in his life, Flores said, it seemed appropriate to wear it during his recent return to New York.
“Brian will tell you that he sees me as a role model and I’m flattered that he says that,” Patterson said.
Flores’ father, Raul, was a merchant navy who was often away from their home in Brooklyn for several months at a time. When Raul was gone, Patterson – married to Raul’s sister – made an impact that he could, for Flores and his brothers Raul Jr., Luis, Danny and Christopher.
“I’m just glad we were able to step in and be a good role model for the young men,” he said. “That’s all it takes, you just show them that you have an interest in them.”
They “took pleasure in the little things,” Patterson said. Collecting cans for the neighborhood and taking their profits to the gaming hall, bowling, camping – a variety of activities that built the foundation of their relationship.
Patterson was present last Sunday to watch his former favorite team take on his new favorite team.
“The Jets never did anything for me,” he joked. “Brian has done a lot for me.”
Patterson introduced his nephew to football almost 30 years ago, and Flores appreciates the support Patterson has always shown him – from his childhood to this week, when Miami (4-7) hosts 5-6 Carolina Panthers (13.00 ET, Fox).
“The great thing for me with Darrell is that before football, before anything else, he was always someone who was in my corner,” Flores said. “We are not blood relatives, it was just someone who flowed into me because it was in his heart to do so.”
In the afternoon he introduced Flores to football, Patterson said he came to visit Flores’ mother, Maria, on a beautiful autumn day and watched Flores and his brothers watch television. They told him Mary was afraid to let them venture out into their Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn.
“A bunch of our middle school friends were in gangs,” Danny told ESPN in 2018. “Our parents didn’t want us involved in that culture and lifestyle.”
But Patterson would not let the day go to waste, so he packed the kids in his car and drove to a field in nearby Queens, where a youth team was rehearsing.
“They were just so excited that their faces lit up,” Patterson said. “They saw the boys in their uniforms and their equipment, and they knew that was what they wanted to do.”
The coach asked a then 12-year-old Flores to run a 40-yard line and was so impressed that he asked him to take some equipment from his van.
“He thought he died and went to heaven,” Patterson said of Flores.
Said Flores: “It did not take long … I fell in love with the game very quickly.”
Raul and Maria, immigrants from Honduras, knew nothing about football. But if it had Patterson’s blessing and kept their boys out of trouble, they were on board.
Patterson was there “every step of the way,” Flores said. He took them to every practice, recorded every game and watched them with his nephew all the way from the small league to the high school where Flores played for Poly Prep Country Day School.
Flores continued to play linebacker at Boston College, where he was when Patterson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000.
“He did not really want to tell anyone. I do not even think I’ve ever got the right word,” Flores said. “It was just, ‘Oh, I’ve got cancer, it’s not a big deal. You do not have to worry about it.'”
Patterson had his prostate removed, a procedure and recovery that made him unable to work. He withdrew from Ladder 118 in Brooklyn Heights four days before losing six men in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I knew it had a big effect on him. It still does,” Flores said.
September 11, 2001
Patterson hears that the Sept. 11 memorial is nice, that planners were tasteful in its construction. But he has never been and has no interest in doing so.
He was training at a YMCA in Queens when he saw the reports on television. He ran to the nearest payphone and called his station – technically former station, but it did not matter at that moment.
Paul DiPaolo from Engine 205 answered the phone.
“You better get over here, it’s not good,” DiPaolo said.
Patterson drove his station wagon to the fire station to pick up equipment and two other firefighters and drove to the scene of the attack. The bridges throughout the city were closed, but when police officers saw their equipment in the back of the station wagon, they let it through. But eight hours had passed since the attacks, and there was not much for Patterson to do.
“We thought we would be part of a rescue effort, but there was no one to save,” he said. “It was just chaos, soot and dirt.”
Patterson used a disposable camera from a Duane Reade pharmacy to photograph what he saw. He said he looked at the pictures once before packing them away in a box; he does not think he will ever remove them again.
“If you look at [the pictures], then the memories come back, “he said.” And you want as far away from them as you can. “
Many things about that day are hard for him to remember, but not the names of the men who died. When he talks on the phone, he starts listing them before cutting himself off.
A firefighter for 26 years, Patterson would not have retired if it were not for his diagnosis.
“He definitely would have been in the towers,” Flores said. “I’m thankful he was not and I’m just trying to enjoy the time I have with him now.”
Flores and his brothers call Patterson every year on September 11 to let him know they’re thinking of him – “you can set your watch for that,” Patterson said.
The thought of their annual gesture almost makes him cry over the phone.
‘Always text him’
Retired from firefighting but not far from the job itself, Patterson currently teaches fire safety in New York City. He and Flores typically talk on the phone once a week, though Patterson actually rarely calls.
“I always write to him, I’m not calling him because I know he’s on the phone with the league, with the owners, with the players – and he has a family,” Patterson said. “I will not take from them.”
Flores shoots this behavior down when he can.
“Uncle Darrell, you can call me anytime.” That’s what he’s telling me, “Patterson said. “I do not think he knows how important he is. I do not think anyone bothered to tell him he is the coach of an NFL team.”
Flores, who has led Miami to three straight wins since a humiliating seven-game losing streak, is aware of that. In another scenario, he said he might have been a firefighter training football next door.
Patterson is moved by the revelation, but insists he can not wait to see his nephew lift a Lombardi trophy with the Dolphins – Patterson’s favorite team after relinquishing his Jets fandom.
Maybe the stoic Flores will then crack a rare smile?
“It might require a little more than that,” jokes Patterson.