Local man named one of ‘boldest fans’Written by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
Toledoan Griffin Van Nest enjoys playing hockey in his free time, but he is being enshrined among many football legends. Van Nest was one of five fans inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 5 as the boldest fans of the game.
“I’m on Cloud Nine,” he said. “I keep waking up in the middle of the night and can hardly sleep. It’s great. I’m blown away. I’m going into the Hall of Fame before Jason Taylor. That doesn’t seem right, but what are you going to do.”
Van Nest blogs regularly about the Miami Dolphins on the team’s website, ThePhinsiders.com. The Pro Football Hall of Fame contacted the website looking for the boldest fan in the game. Van Nest was nominated in a landslide.
He has been a Dolphins fan since 1971. In his work as a traveling therapist, he often leaves Ohio for Miami, sometimes without a job lined up, to catch games at SunLife Stadium in his pristine seats.
“I got invited to what they call the Deep End in SunLife Stadium,” he said. “It’s kind of the equivalent of the Dawg Pound in Cleveland. I sit in row one behind the goalpost. I got invited into this group because of some of my antics in previous games that they caught wind of.”
The antics that got Van Nest invited are commonplace at NFL games today, but he stood out from the crowd back then.
“What was the exception has now become the norm,” he said. “Ever since 1985 I started going to any Dolphins games around Toledo. I’d go to Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit. I would do face paint and put a costume on. In Cleveland, they don’t treat people from the opposing team too kindly. I rolled through Cleveland fully painted up. I made a costume. I took an old beige sports coat and spray painted it teal. I mohawked my hair and made that teal.”
All it took were a few images of those costumes to earn an invitation to the Deep End.
“The fanatics in Miami put up a post asking how crazy would you be to get free tickets to a football game,” Van Nest said. “I had all kinds of pictures. I forwarded some to them, like me walking around Buffalo dressed up as Gene Simmons from KISS with teal eyes and an orange rock hair wig. They private messaged me back. They said, ‘Normally people are petitioning us to get in the section, but we’re recruiting you. If you’re in Florida, we want you to be part of our group.’”
Van Nest is also part of a group of Dolphins fans in Toledo that meets at Pat & Dandy’s. One of the members ended up in his wedding, where his wife surprised him with a Miami Dolphins ice sculpture.
“She loves going to the games,” Van Nest said. “Prior to meeting me, she wasn’t much of a football fan. She supports me and she enjoys going. We have a great time. She goes into the Deep End and puts on costumes with an orange wig and designs painted on her face. She buys into it.”
Van Nest’s love for dolphins started early, the animal before progressing to the NFL team.
“When I was 5, my grandparents took me to Florida,” he said. “We stopped in the Daytona Beach area and they took me to Marine Land, and we saw a dolphin show. That left a lasting impression on me.”
He went to his first game in 1985 when the Dolphins played in Detroit. His mother rented a motorhome and took a big group to the game.
“That was when Marino was just coming into his own,” Van Nest said. “The Dolphins lost the game, but it left such an impression on me that I knew I loved going to the games.”
In 2010, Van Nest participated in the inaugural Dolphins Cycling Challenge. He rode 170 miles on a bicycle in two days, and far exceeded his quota of $750 by raising $3,200 for the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“The majority of the money came from strangers who read my stories on the blog,” he said. “I was humbled by that.”
For his dedication, Van Nest received a trip to Indianapolis on Super Bowl weekend and was honored with an authentic bronze bust at a ceremony on Super Bowl Sunday at O’Reiley’s Irish Bar. The bust will be on display in Guinness’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’d like to thank Guinness and the Pro Football Hall of Fame for this honor. I can’t thank them enough. I’m a pretty excitable guy, and they’ve taken me to a new level.”