December 14, 2017

Dan, Still the Man

The Miami Dolphins are terrible.  Let’s talk about it.

For the second straight week, south Florida’s flopping fish punted away a fourth quarter lead and lost, dropping their record to 0-7 and causing people to high-five while watching “The Cove.”

For Leatherheads of my generation it’s a bit jarring that Tony Sparano’s team is, at best, the fifth most-skilled football squad in Florida because we 40-somethings grew up watching Dolphins teams that were slick, tanned and very good.  From Don Shula’s first season as head coach in Miami in 1970 through his last season in 1995 Flipper was quite proud as the aquatic mammals reached the playoffs 16 times, played in five Super Bowls, won two Lombardi Trophies, compiled the NFL’s only completely perfect season and provided young men with hundreds of bronzed, comely cheerleaders to dream about during cold Midwestern nights.

Since Shula left, the ocean’s favorite citizens have stunk like tuna left in a dirty toilet and struggled like a bottlenose with a cleat stuck in its blowhole, reaching the postseason just six times (and not since 2008) and never playing in a conference title game.  The departure of Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, certainly has contributed to Miami’s malaise but the reason the Dolphins are on my mind – besides the fact that the Chicago Bears have been in a bye week – is that Miami’s second most-famous Dolphin continues to arise in gridiron debates.

Dan Marino – the greatest quarterback ever not named Johnny Unitas – retired from the Dolphins after the 1999 season and swam off into the sunset holding nearly every possible, meaningful NFL passing record.  When Dan called it quits it seemed as if his records of 61,361 career yards and 420 touchdowns would never be equaled and possibly not even approached.  Then, along came Brett Favre who, as a Green Bay Packer, New York Jet, Minnesota Viking and cheeky monkey just kept going and going and going and eclipsed both of those marks.

One of Marino’s other seemingly unreachable records, 48 TD passes in a season (1984) also fell, first to Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts who chucked 49 TD’s in 2004 and then to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots who racked up 50 in 2007.

Now, about the only notable record Marino still holds, besides best hair even after wearing a helmet, is most yards in a single season – 5,084 in 1984.  But even that record might not last much longer.  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came just 15 yards short of equaling that record three years ago.  This year Brees is once again preparing to knock Dan out of the box as he’s on pace to smash Dan’s mark by throwing for 5,492 yards.  And he’s not alone.  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is projected to throw for 5,408 yards and if Brady keeps it up he’ll throw for 5,392 yards while also growing another dimple.

Will they do it?

Rodgers is the best player in the NFL right now but he has several factors working against him.  One is that he plays in Green Bay which is known for two things: good football and ice.  Mr. Rodgers plays three of his final four games at friendly but frigid Lambeau Field a place that isn’t kind to airborne footballs in December in January.  And if it’s possible to break Marino’s mark while playing games in Arctic conditions (the only one of Green Bay’s final four games not in Wisconsin is in weather-relevant Kansas City) don’t you think Mr. Favre would have done it?  It also works against Aaron that the Packers are so good.  The Pack will almost certainly have sewn up a playoff spot, and possibly top seed in the NFC, with one or two games to go.  So as much as a gamer as Rodgers is it’s hard to imagine Mike McCarthy sending him out there to chuck it at his current rate of more than 30 times a game exposing him to injury if the games are essentially meaningless.

Brady has similar obstacles.  Of his final four games, two will be played in Foxboro, Massachusetts which is as meteorologically sinister as Green Bay.  Brady’s other two games during the season’s final quarter will be in Denver and Washington.  It’s just not easy to throw when Jack Frost and Snowzilla are nipping at your fingers.  Plus, like the Packers, the Patriots will also likely have clinched their fate before the final game though that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick will take his foot off the gas because the Patriots don’t do that, God love ‘em.  Maybe what can really do Brady in is if Wes Welker’s hands fall off.

Drew Brees has the best shot.  He’s more than halfway there already and from now through the end of the season the Saints play exactly one game outside.  As Kurt Warner apologists can attest to but won’t, it’s a little easier to rack up pinball-like pass stats when you’re in the cozy confines of a dome which is a big reason Brees – though certainly skilled and rigorous – has put up Arena-like numbers for so long.

Marino, obviously, played a great many games in Miami which isn’t weather-hell either except for the occasional hurricane.  But by my count, Dan played only 25 dome games during his 17-year career.  What would his numbers be if he had played half of his 242 career games under a roof?  What would Favre’s be?

Perhaps Brees’ best game this season came a couple of Sundays ago when he directed a nearly-perfect offensive assault on the Colts, compiling five TD’s, 325 yards and a 144.9 passer rating as the Saints prevailed by an embarrassing score of 62-7.  New Orleans’ 62 points were the most scored by an NFL team since January 15, 2000 when the Jacksonville Jaguars stampeded to a victory by the exact some score, 62-7, over…Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins.  It would prove to be Dan’s last game as his Dolphins were disemboweled in the divisional playoffs.  The Dolphins trailed 41-7 at halftime and Marino told head coach Jimmy Johnson that he wanted to go out there in the second half to give it one last shot.  He tried, but it would have taken five miracles and a thousand pairs of Isotoner gloves with stickum for Miami to rally.  And so, the greatest quarterback of the cable TV era was finished.

Brees, Brady and Rodgers might all surpass Marino this year and Dan the Man will slide further down in the record books and, one day, might be remembered as merely a gunslinger who put up gaudy numbers but never won a Super Bowl.  That would be a shame.  Football fans should consider what Marino could have done if he’d had Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott on his side as Joe Montana did.  Or how about if late in Dan’s career he’d been handed the gift that John Elway received in Terrell Davis?

Marino was better than Montana and Elway and cooler than Kurt Russell.  He threw hard, talked softly and made funny commercials.  Today’s players are great and we certainly don’t begrudge them for putting up pretty numbers in the current pass-happy protect the quarterback at all costs NFL.  But let’s never forget the dynamic Dolphin who could throw TD’s in his sleep and still gives defensive backs nightmares.

Marino was magnificent.  Time can’t diminish that and numbers can never change that.

 

 

Comments

  1. I rate Dan Marino as one of the four best quarterbacks I’ve seen since I began watching football as a kid in 1977. The other three are Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, and Peyton Manning. All three of them had a better array of weapons than Dan did. WR’s Mark Duper and Mark Clayton were the only true superstars Marino had at WR, RB, or TE.

    As a Redskin fan, I remember all too well Marino missing the entire ’84 preseason and then going to D.C. for the season opener. I was sure the fans at the old RFK would be treated to seeing a rusty Dan in action. Marino proceeded to give the ‘Skins a 35-17 shellacking. He threw 2 TD’s to Duper, 1 to Clayton, and 2 to Jim “Crash” Jensen.

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