Miami Dolphins: Superfan headed to Pro Football Hall of Fame

Leading up to Super Bowl LIII, the Pro Football Hall of Fame selected three NFL superfans to commemorate forever in Canton, Ohio. After news broke, I caught up with the Dolfan Maniac himself--Roger Avila, to learn more about his love for the Miami Dolphins and his entering into immortality this weekend.

Before he was a Miami Dolphins superfan, Roger Avila Jr. rooted for the New York Jets. Originally from Queens, young Roger was raised to be loyal to his hometown teams. So when the Avilas moved to South Florida in the late 60s/early 70s, he’d have to become a Dolphins fan.

However, honorable traits weren’t the only things passed onto him through the Avila bloodline. For Roger, even the damaging habits that ran in his family played a role in the man he’d become. And just as fire strengthens steel, Roger’s past forged for him a purpose–leading him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Maniac (mey-nee-ak)

Ironically, it was a football celebration that would change Avila’s life forever. On April 26th, 16 years ago, Roger left the Omni Hotel in downtown Miami headed to his brother’s place during the NFL draft. A day that began with football soon gave way to alcohol and drugs. Alcoholism was a known predisposition to the Avilas.

A fight broke out between the two of them. Only this time, Roger’s brother wielded a weapon. With a baseball bat from inside the home, Roger was subdued. He’d suffer a broken jaw and leg and required medical attention. Furthermore, his wife and kids had witnessed the entire spectacle.

For three months, Roger was unable to work. His wife scurried to make ends meet. All the while, Roger was sinking into a deep depression. Combining morphine, Demerol and other mind-numbing pain killers eventually took a toll on him. He’d had enough.

“I came to a point in my life where I couldn’t shake off my drug addiction. I kept spending the money and leaving my family with out rent and selfish acts on my behalf. A habit I thought I would let go of once I got married, but all I did was bring it into my marriage. That’s when ummm…”

Despite a restraining order against him, Roger swung by the house to grab some personal items. He cashed an insurance check worth a couple of thousand dollars, called his drug dealer and headed to a hotel.

“I’m getting out of this world.”

Roger had no further plans to prosper. He was committed to harming himself. Unfit to manage his own life, Avila was convinced he could end it without a hitch. What happened next seemed almost impossible, but so is the fact that Roger Avila, the Dolfan Maniac, will soon become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The early years

In the mid-50s, Roger Avila Sr. fled Cuba before the infamous Castro regime took over. Roger’s grandfather, a police officer in Cuba at the time, warned Avila Sr. of the developing situation.

“He would tell my dad, you need to get out of here. It’s going to get bad in Cuba.”

Several years later, Roger Avila Jr. was born at St Vincent Hospital in Manhattan, NY. For him and his father, they’d avoid the Cuba conflict entirely. Sadly, Roger’s grandfather wouldn’t be so lucky. Shortly after that, he’d be killed for his actions.

The first six or so years of Roger’s life the Avilas resided in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, NY. It was there that Roger was introduced to football, most notably, Joe “Broadway” Namath. And because the Jets were the hometown team, the Avilas rooted for them. However, it wasn’t until they’d seen a game inside the Orange Bowl that the two would genuinely fall in love with the game.

According to Roger’s parents, his childhood asthma forced them to leave the cold of New York City in search of a warmer climate. This per a doctor’s recommendation. The Avilas regularly traveled to Florida in their Volkswagon Beetle for family vacations. So when choosing a destination, the Sunshine State checked all the boxes.

As Roger recalled his new home in Hollywood, Florida, the beach and sunshine were most apparent. Unfortunately, he’d also experience prejudice for the first time. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was home. Of course, perfection wasn’t far off. It was roughly 30 minutes southwest as a matter of fact.

Welcome to Miami

Athletics are also ingrained in the Avila bloodline. Avila Sr. worked a ton, but he used his limited time with Roger to share his love for sports. It was no ordinary love, however. It required enduring, unwavering faith and most importantly, loyalty.

“We would go to the Orange Bowl games and it would rain. And we would still sit in that rain…My dad says if your team is going to be out there getting wet, then we’re going to be getting wet. We’re not going nowhere.”

Roger and his dad arrived in Miami at the most convenient time. Within a couple of years, the Miami Dolphins would reach the Super Bowl. The following year, they’d never lose. The year after that, they won it all again.

From 1971-1973, the Dolphins won or tied in 43 of a possible 48 games. Roger has vivid memories of the Bob Griese and Earl Morrall era. Especially how Morrall replaced Griese in week five of ’72 and Griese returned later in three games, including the Super Bowl victory.

Avila also has a distinct recollection of the fans.

“The reaction of the crowd, and the people, and the fans is what caught me more than the game.”

This game must be unique, he thought. How else do you get all these people riled up collectively? In a way, Roger craved that feeling. He took pleasure in engaging people. So when he saw how football, more notably, the Miami Dolphins made people react, he took notice.

“How can I make somebody smile? How can I make somebody laugh? How can I make them excited? And I always had that in me.”

The Dolfan Maniac is born

Football entered into Roger Avila’s world, and he’d never look back. By 1988, Roger met a girl, got married, and had a baby boy. By the time Avila’s son was of school age, he was already involved in youth football. With his son now playing the game, Avila took to coaching–a tenure that lasted a ‘lucky number’ of 13 years.

Dolphins

To this day, Roger has 25 plaques in his home dedicated to his volunteer coaching days. Not a penny earned. All for the love of the game.

Almost concurrently to his coaching venture starting, another opportunity presented itself to Avila.

“In 1994, Topp’s Stadium football card had a contest. The best dressed fan will win a spot on a football card behind the Dolphins players.”

DolphinsTo preface, Avila wasn’t known for dressing up. No one dressed up in those days. It was much different than today’s experience. Regardless, Avila was all in. He’d use a small Dolphins helmet of his sons that had no business being on his head. Add to that a pair of Dolphins logo sunglasses and a pom-pom used like a wig. He threw on a pair of Zuppa pants (naturally), a couple of golf gloves and a Dan Marino jersey to finish it off.

“Sure enough, I won!”

Since the contest took place before the game, Avila headed to his seat in his getup. It would take some courage, though. Dressing up like a crazed fan in those days wasn’t as widely accepted as today.

“They looked at you like you were crazy…Look at this guy. He must be drunk.”

At one point during the game, the crowd wasn’t as enthused as one would hope. Then, some guy hollered out, hey maniac! Roger thought nothing of it. The voice came again, hey maniac! Stand up and get the crowd going! Roger realized it was him he was referring to and thought hmmm, maniac? That sounds good. So Avila jumped up, urged those around him to get loud and sure enough.

“They reacted to the costume. I said, you know this is a pretty good deal. I’m gonna start dressing like this.”

Dolphins

Since then, Roger Avila continues adding to his outfit. From face paint to football pants, he’s continuously looking for new ways to inject enthusiasm into his fellow fan base. But first, he had to get to the games.

Avila found ways to get in that stadium. Whether through sponsors or splitting with friends, Roger was able to attend Dolphins home games regularly. Sometimes the seats were decent, but to offset unfavorable vantage points, Roger stayed on the move. Moving around the facility offered a better view and an opportunity to invigorate more people in the process.

By this time he had become a household name in Miami Gardens. Together, Roger Avila’s commitment to his hometown team and a passion for inspiring joy and excitement in others culminated into his alter ego known as the Dolfan Maniac.

September 11, 2003

Fast forward to that night in the hotel room. What happened next was Roger intentionally overdosing by swallowing a handful of cocaine. He’d immediately regret his decision. Falling to the floor, he found himself out in the hallway, yelling for help. The effects were significant. Roger felt death upon him and at one point experienced a departing from his own body to where he could peer down on himself.

When shouting for someone to get help went unanswered, Avila grew desperate. So he cried out to Jesus. He’d recover, and from that moment, Roger dedicated his life to Christ and what was spoken to him that day.

“What God taught me through the scriptures is not to be religious. And not to be Bible thumping nobody or none of that. He says just follow me and let them see the light. Love them, Roger. Love everyone. And I said to God, For everyone that I hug and everyone that I love, I’m doing it as if I’m doing it to you. So ever since then, for the last 16 years, that’s all I’ve practiced was to love people. And it’s hard because people don’t love you back. People go behind your back and they slander you. People hate you. People make fun of you. But I won’t give into their way. I don’t follow them. I’m following the Lord.”

Roger’s new path has led him to experience life from a renewed perspective. Three years later he’d be called to minister to the incarcerated. For the past 13 years (there’s that number again), Roger has volunteered his time as a chaplain assistant at Metrowest Detention Center in Doral.

Dolphins

A real transformation took place in the life of Roger Avila. It’s unmistakable to anyone who encounters him. He truly loves everyone. And the Pro Football Hall of Fame has taken notice. Roger has always exhibited loyalty and passion, but 16 years ago, he transformed into a man of compassion, high character, and faith.

Inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there now rests a place for fans. That place is the Ford Hall of Fans, a new concept that has gradually spread to other sports throughout America. This relatively new campaign is meant to honor and reward those who have demonstrated exuberant qualities in addition to obsessing about their respective franchises.

It began with a call from his ticket sales representative. The Dolphins had nominated Avila to represent the franchise for a local competition. A date was set for an interview, and when it came, camera operators and other technical professionals set up camp in Roger’s living room.

Avila was told this was between Dolphins fans only, but it was all a ruse. The interview was created to put cameras in place and buy time.

“All of a sudden I hear this knock on the door. And I thought it was my dad just wanting to come by to see whats up.You know? When I opened that door, I saw Dan Marino, man. I became a nine-year-old girl right there.”

Marino broke the news to Avila that he had been nominated as one of several fans to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Avila couldn’t get over the fact that Dan Marino was standing in his living room.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even hear nothing. When I saw it was Dan Marino, all I heard out of his mouth was wha wha wha wha wha wha. I didn’t hear nothing.”

For the next four weeks, the nation voted. The field was narrowed to three finalists who then went through the same scenario as the players, coaches, and owners do before being inducted. Set up in hotel rooms, the three of them and their close relatives awaited a knock from the Pro Football Hall of Fame President, David Baker. Then, another curveball.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame elected to enshrine all three superfans during this weekend’s festivities. Additionally, the inductees received Super Bowl tickets and invitations to special events, including a Hall of Fame luncheon. At the luncheon, guest speaker Joe Namath provided further proof that Roger’s journey was no accident.

Coincidentally, Avila’s first impression of professional football started with Namath, and here he was at the pinnacle of his fandom before him again.

Coming full circle

Loyalty was paramount. Regardless of the Jets success at the time, young Roger trusted his father and stood behind his team and their MVP quarterback. But for whatever reason, the Avilas found themselves in South Florida. Sure, the asthma was a thing. But Roger has always struggled to believe it was the leading cause for their relocation.

That wouldn’t change Avila Sr’s philosophy, however. And Roger holds onto that unto this day.

“I stay loyal. Wherever you put me I will stay loyal…If you notice, I’m loyal to my hometown team, my family, my children, my wife of 32 years, my job, I still have the same job since 1994.”

In the beginning, things seemed to work out for Avila and the teams he rooted for. First, he’d witness the Jets win the Super Bowl. Once he and his father began rooting for the Dolphins, a dynasty transpired. With that said, Roger isn’t too concerned with people assuming anything about his fandom.

A lot of people want to be a fan to a winning organization. And so they’ll put their stickers and their flags up. But in reality, not everybody can make the Super Bowl. So a lot of fans take off their flags and stickers and don’t want to put it on until they start winning again…Win, lose, or tie, I’m a Dolphin till the day I die.”

Dolphins

Sure it was much smoother sailing in the beginning, but the rough seas at the center of Roger’s journey nearly destroyed his spirit. With God’s grace and direction, Roger’s purpose became clear. The qualities gained through his lineage have been strengthened while the struggles of his past have grown weak. For these reasons, Roger Avila is the perfect example of what it means to be a hall of fame superfan. And faith, which is similar to loyalty, is at the center of it all — faith in his franchise and most importantly, faith in God.

“There’s no way you can shake my faith.”

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles