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Chester County Press

NFL legend's widow accepts honor on his behalf

12/28/2015 01:21PM ● By J. Chambless

Wearing her husband's signature jersey, Avondale resident Maritza Yepremian accepts her husband's selection as one of the all-time Miami Dolphins during halftime ceremonies held at Miami's Sun Life Stadium on Dec. 14.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

For longtime Avondale resident Maritza Yepremian, the idea of appearing before a crowd of nearly 65,408 people was never on her proverbial bucket list.

For the 15 years her husband Garo played in the National Football League, including nine seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Maritza was content to pass off that responsibility to her husband. But on Dec. 14, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, she had no other choice.

In celebration of their 50th year in the National Football League, and as a result of a poll completed by their fans, the Miami Dolphins recognized the top 50 players in their franchise's history during halftime ceremonies in a game between the Dolphins and the New York Giants. The legends were all there: Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Dan Marino, Don Shula -- more than four dozen of the best players to ever suit up in the teal and orange. They were all there, it seemed, except for Garo.

Following a year-long bought with multiple brain tumors caused by high-grade neuroendocrine cancer, Yepremian died on May 15, 2015.

Maritza cried three times on the field in the moments before her husband's name was called. When the stadium's public address announcer finally called out 'Garo Yepremian,' she walked out onto the field to an eruption of appreciation.

"I would say walking out in front of that huge crowd seemed kind of surreal, because I'm not used to doing things like that for him, but it was also a great honor, to do it in his memory," said Maritza, who was accompanied by her sons Azad and Garo, Jr. "I don't know if I'd have gone through the emotions of the presentation, were my sons not along with me.

"I wanted one of hem to wear his jersey but they insisted that I do it. They said, 'Mom, you lived through that time. You wear it.'"

What a time it was. Born in 1944, Yepremian, a native of Larnaca, Cyprus, emigrated to the United States to join his brother, who had signed to play soccer at Indiana University. A former professional soccer player in England, the 5-foot-8 Yepremian attempted to hook on with an NFL team as a placekicker, and eventually he did, playing two seasons with the Detroit Lions.

In 1970, he signed with the Miami Dolphins, where his legacy was cemented, earning him two All-Pro selections and the title of "Kicker of the Decade," as named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee.

In 1972, he was a member of the undefeated, Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, who remain the only single-season undefeated team in NFL history. During Garo's playing career in Miami, the Yepremians welcomed Azad and Garo, Jr., who spent their entire childhoods there.

"We, as a family, spent 20 years there," Maritza said. "By the time we moved to Chester County, one of the boys was in high school and the other was in middle school."

Following the celebration at the stadium, the team had arranged a hospitality room at the nearby Diplomat Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, which gave Azad and Garo, Jr., the opportunity to hear stories about their father, shared with them by some of the greatest legends in Dolphins history.

"At first, one of my sons was a little apprehensive to go to Miami, because they funeral was just seven months ago, and he was afraid being at the celebration would drudge up those feelings again," Maritza said. "I told him, 'No, this is an honor for your dad and we have to do it.' The night before, he came up to me and said, 'You know? Dad would have said that we should go and have some fun.'”

Although the decade-and-a-half Yepremian spent in the NFL gave him name recognition, he did his best work as a father, husband and humanitarian after his playing days ended more than 30 years ago. In 2001, he founded the foundation that still bears his name, which has raised more than $1 million to combat brain tumors and brain cancers. He spoke frequently at schools all over Pennsylvania, launched his own line of neckties, and emerged as a talented watercolor artist in the area, with several gallery shows to his credit. Yet, as Maritza recalled, Yepremian reserved his best role for last -- as a grandfather who was eager to see his four grandchildren, who made their visits an almost daily ritual, given that Garo, Jr., lives in West Grove and Azad lives in West Chester.

The recent family trip to Miami, though a revelation of new and familiar faces, served as a reaffirmation for the Yepremian family.

"We realize more and more new things about my husband when we speak to people who played with him, specifically, how tough he was, mentally and physically," Maritza said.

The Garo Yepremian Foundation's sixth anual casino night will be held on Feb. 19, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at The Desmond Hotel in Malvern. To obtain tickets to the event, or learn more about the Garo Yepremian Foundation for Brain Tumor and Brain Cancer Research, visit www.yepremian.org.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com .


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