By Doug Swift
“You want the greatest immigrant story? For my money, it’s the little Armenian guy in my locker room. If you love America, you gotta love Garo Yepremian.”
—- Don Shula, Head Coach, Miami Dolphins
He looked good. His bald bean glowed, his little hands were folded neatly over his chest, a snappy tie was attached to his neck. Making snappy ties was among the many Yepremian family businesses, and leave it to Garo to give the tie business one last plug. Garo was at peace with the angels, but right away I could see something was missing. Why wasn’t he wearing his Super Bowl VII and VIII rings? Could he have sold them? Garo was always looking for ways to make a buck.
Garo was my best pal among the Dolphin family. We met at the first Dolphin training camp under the new head coach, Don Shula. As a rookie prospect, I’d already been in camp for two weeks of practices when the Players’ Association strike against the NFL collapsed and the veterans reported. Garo came in with the veterans. I knew nothing of Garo Yepremian and it seemed nobody else did either. We thought maybe Garo was a neighbor of one of the coaching staff and had been invited to join in the first day activities for a lark. When the veterans reported, the rookies, as was expected, were all moved to the bottom tier of the depth chart while the coaches started working with the veterans. Garo, as a place kicker, had little to do so he too hung around on the periphery of the practice sessions. That hanging around gave us a chance to become acquainted.
Garo was entertaining. He spoke a hybrid language of accented English, Armenian, Greek and French. He did a credible imitation of Ray Charles. After his brief stint with the Detroit Lions in’66 and’67, Garo enlisted in the National Guard to improve his chances for citizenship. During his training with the Guard, Garo picked up an interesting speech mannerism from his drill instructor. Before bellowing any orders to his recruits, the D.I. would announce, “I want to thank you!” then order fifty pushups; or, “I want to thank you – what’s the population of Michigan? Wrong! Give me fifty more pushups!” Subsequently, Garo made use of the expression before and after many of his comments. For example, he might say- “I want to thank you! – Miami is a very hot place to hold a training camp;” or when a linebacker from Ole Miss named Jimmy ‘Cadillac’ Keyes asked in a southern drawl,” Say, Gayro, you’re Armenian, right? “Garo answered, “No, I’m from Transylvania – I want to thank you!”