Dolphins Players Are Dying Young

Former 'Fins getting in shape after deaths of teammates from obesity

By Adam Kuperstein
|  Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011  |  Updated 8:00 AM EDT
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The obesity issue in America is on full display in the ranks of NFL alumnae. And it's now hitting home with some of our hometown Miami Dolphins, who are watching their friends and former teammates die too young.

The obesity issue in America is on full display in the ranks of NFL alumnae. And it's now hitting home with some of our hometown Miami Dolphins, who are watching their friends and former teammates die too young.

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Former Miami Dolphins running back Mark Higgs loves getting together with his teammates from the 90's, but he hates the fact that their reunions keep happening at funerals.

"It's just sad, ya know?" he said.

In the last year and a half, four former Dolphins under the age of 50 have died from complications of obesity.

Offensive lineman Harry Galbreath was 45 years old. Defensive lineman Alfred Oglesby was 42. Defensive lineman T.J. Turner was 46, and defensive lineman Norman Hand was just 37.

"Now I have to call my former teammates and start by saying, 'I'm not calling because somebody died,'" said Keith Sims, a Dolphins offensive lineman from 1990-97. "That's how bad it got last year that so many of us, at such a young age were dying."

Like his teammates who passed away, Sims was a big guy -- in a sport where bigger is better. He weighed around 310 pounds as a Dolphin.

"When you see guys you played with dropping dead at 35 and 40, your own mortality comes into play there," said Sims, who ballooned to 386 pounds after retiring in 2001.

Instead of being an athletic 300-pound pro football player, Sims discovered he had high blood pressure, cholesterol...he was killing himself. But finally, after attending too many of his teammates funerals last summer, he decided to do something about it.

"I said, I gotta be here for my kids. I want to be here to see them grow up."

Sims had lap-band surgery and lost 80 pounds by working out and eating right.

My legs feel better, my knees feel better, my heart feels better and mentally I feel so much better," he said.

And Sims wasn't the only one moved to make a change. Jeff Dellenbach, a 300-pound Offensive Lineman as a Dolphin, reached 386 after retiring. That's when he got scared into saving his life too.

"My kids came to me one day and said 'Dad, we want you around, you're kiling yourself,'" recalled Dellenbach, who dropped 110 pounds just by changing his diet and eating six small meals a day.

"I looked up and thought he was his son!" said Higgs, who only weighed about 200 lbs as a Dolphin in the 1990's. But he learned first-hand that obesity can plague any football player when he stops working out. Higgs' close friend Harry Galbreath weighed 265 as a player. But when Higgs buried him, Galbreath was so overweight, he needed two plots.

That's why Higgs is now working out more himself, and watching what he eats.

"We work so hard throughout our whole life to have glory on the football field," said Sims, "and to not be able to enjoy your kids growing up, getting married and having grandkids...it's a crying shame."

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