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Dolphins coach Brian Flores' FDNY shirt a nod to uncle who impacted his life

Brian Flores and the Dolphins have won three straight games following a seven-game losing streak. AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

MIAMI -- Dolphins coach Brian Flores has a trademark look on game days: a dark grey vest over a long-sleeved white shirt, khaki pants and black shoes accompany an expression that is generally all business. It's what he wore Sunday during the team's win against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Flores isn't in the habit of changing clothes before he speaks with the media, but that wasn't the case after the Jets game. He stepped to the podium wearing a navy 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 fitting to wear it during his latest return to New York.

"Brian will tell you he looks at me as a role model and I'm flattered that he says that," Patterson said.

Flores' father, Raul, was a Merchant Marine who was often away from their home in Brooklyn for months at a time. When Raul was away, Patterson -- married to Raul's sister -- made an impact however he could for Flores and his brothers Raul Jr., Luis, Danny and Christopher.

"I'm just happy that we could 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 joy in the little things," Patterson said. Collecting cans for quarters and taking their profits to the arcade, bowling, camping -- an assortment of activities that built the foundation for 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's done plenty for me."

Patterson introduced his nephew to football nearly 30 years ago, and Flores appreciates the support Patterson always showed him -- from his childhood to this week when Miami (4-7) plays host to the 5-6 Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

"The big thing for me with Darrell is that before football, before anything, he was always somebody who was in my corner," Flores said. "We're not blood related, this was just somebody who poured into me because it was in his heart to do so."

Finding football

On the afternoon he introduced Flores to football, Patterson said he came to visit Flores' mother, Maria, on a beautiful fall day and saw Flores and his brothers watching television. They told him Maria was afraid to let them venture out into their Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn.

"A bunch of our friends from middle school were in gangs," Danny told ESPN in 2018. "Our parents didn't want us involved in that culture and lifestyle."

But Patterson wasn't going to 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 practicing.

"They were just so excited, their faces lit up," Patterson said. "They saw the boys in their uniforms and their equipment and they knew this is what they wanted to do."

The coach asked a then-12-year-old Flores to run a 40-yard dash and was so impressed he told him to grab some equipment from his van.

"He thought he died and went to heaven," Patterson said of Flores.

Said Flores: "It didn't take long ... I fell in love with the game very quickly."

Raul and Maria, immigrants from Honduras, knew nothing about football. However, 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, taped every game and watched them with his nephew all the way from little league until high school, when Flores played for Poly Prep Country Day School.

Flores went on to play linebacker at Boston College, which is where he was when Patterson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000.

"He didn't really want to tell anybody. I don't even think I ever got the real word," Flores said. "It was just, 'Ah, I've got cancer, it's not a big deal. Don't worry yourself over it.'"

Patterson had his prostate removed, a procedure and recovery that left him unable to work. He retired from Ladder 118 in Brooklyn Heights four days before it lost six men in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I knew that had a big effect on him. It still does," Flores said.

Sept. 11, 2001

Patterson hears 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 working out at a YMCA in Queens when he saw the reports on television. He ran to the nearest pay phone and called his station -- former station, technically, but it didn't 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 gear and two other firefighters, and drove to the site of the attack. The bridges throughout the city were closed, but once police officers saw their gear in the back of the station wagon they let them through. But eight hours had passed since the attacks and there wasn't much for Patterson to do.

"We thought we were going to be part of a rescue effort, but there was no one to rescue," 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 into a box; he doesn't think he will remove them ever again.

"If you do look at [the pictures], then the memories come back," he said. "And you want to get as far away from those as you can."

A lot of things about that day are difficult for him to remember, but not the names of the men who died. Speaking on the phone, he begins to list them before cutting himself off.

A firefighter for 26 years, Patterson would not have retired were it not for his diagnosis.

"He would've certainly been in the towers," Flores said. "I'm thankful that he wasn't and I just try to enjoy the time I have with him now."

Flores and his brothers call Patterson every year on Sept. 11 to let him know they're thinking of him -- "you can set your watch to it," Patterson said.

The thought of their annual gesture nearly brings him to tears over the phone.

'Always text him'

Retired from firefighting but not far removed 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 rarely actually calls.

"I always text him, I don't call him because I know he's on the phone with the league, with the owners, with the players -- and he's got a family," Patterson said. "I don't want to take away from them."

Flores shoots down this behavior whenever he can.

"'Uncle Darrell, you can call me any time.' That's what he tells me," Patterson said. "I don't think he knows how important he is. I don't think anyone bothered to tell him he's the coach of an NFL team."

Flores, who has led Miami to three straight wins since a humbling seven-game losing streak, is aware. In another scenario he said he might have been a firefighter, coaching football on the side.

Patterson is touched by the revelation, but insists he can’t wait to watch his nephew lift a Lombardi trophy with the Dolphins -- Patterson's new favorite team after renouncing his Jets fandom.

Maybe then the stoic Flores will crack a rare smile?

"It might take a little more than that," Patterson jokes.