Note: The following is an excerpt from the new book, Dan Marino: My Life in Football (Triumph Books), which is on sale now at Profootballhof.com's online museum store. In this excerpt, Marino recalls how he became a Miami Dolphin in the 1983 NFL Draft:
The bottom fell out my senior year at Pittsburgh. Nothing went right. It was the first time I struggled, the first time people doubted my game, and the only time other than my final Dolphins season that I threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
But I've tried, at every step in life, to find a lesson. And accepting criticism with the same grace that you do the applause is something every young athlete needs to learn. It's never fun to play poorly or to be questioned. It certainly wasn't for me that senior year at Pitt. But I think it served me well to learn how to handle everything that came with the game's ups and downs. Some people call it growing another layer of skin. I just call it growing up
That senior season led to another one of life's great mysteries, right up there with the Lindbergh baby, the Loch ness Monster, and the Bermuda Triangle -- the 1983 NFL draft. What happened? Why did my stock fall? How come I was the last of six quarterbacks taken (not to mention the third Pitt player)? To this day, I just shrug my shoulders, roll my eyes, and end up saying, "Thank you." Strange how the lowest moments turn into the biggest blessings.
Of course, I wasn't thanking anyone as my name went uncalled for so long that draft day. I was home with some friends and family wondering what was happening. Some scouts had said I'd be gone in the top five picks. Well, those came and went and the only quarterback taken was Elway by the Colts, even though he'd told them not to bother.
Kansas City was picking seventh. I thought this was it. Their coach, John Mackovic, came to Pittsburgh two days before the draft to look at me.
"Listen, I'm picking a quarterback," he told me. "I'm working you out, then going to work out Todd Blackledge. I'm going to take one of you."
He took Blackledge.
Detroit had talked with me a lot, but they took Florida running back James Jones with the 13th pick. Buffalo took Jim Kelly next at number 14. New England took Tony Eason at number 15. And now the big slide through the day was fully under way. Frustrated? Confused? Who wouldn't be?
At one point, as we watched in disappointment, my father turned to me with words I took to heart. "Look," he said, "no matter what happens, you know you can play, and you know you're as good as any of these guys picked ahead of you. You'll have your opportunity to prove it."
Pittsburgh, picking 21st and needing a quarterback, chose defensive tackle Gabe Rivera. That hurt. Of course, whenever Steelers owner Art Rooney would see me in the coming years, he'd make a point to come up and say something about how wrong they were.
The Jets had the 24th pick. They had talked to me the day before the draft and suggested they'd take me if I would be there. Didn't come out and say it. But suggested it. Instead, they took Ken O'Brien. When his name was announced, Dolphins coach Don Shula turned to his scouts and said, completely seriously, "Who's he?"
And then he celebrated.
So that's how I became a Dolphin. They had never called me, never worked me out, never talked to me after the Indianapolis combine. Shula loved me from the combine, I learned later.
"Do we have a chance to get him?" he'd ask his personnel people.
"None at all," he had been told.
And yet there my phone finally was ringing three minutes before the end of the Dolphins pick. And there was Chuck Connor, their personnel director, saying coach Shula wanted to talk to me.
"Hey, you want to come to Miami? Because we need a quarterback," Shula said.
"You bet," I said.
It was as simple as that. Strange as that, too. But my disappointing senior season, the unsettling draft, the critics, the questions, all of it served one purpose. It assured I would be in the best shape possible for my first training camp. I worked my butt off that summer in hope of making a good first impression.
I couldn't have walked into a better situation as a rookie, either. The Dolphins had just gone to the Super Bowl. They had a tough, talented offensive line centered by Dwight Stephenson, a Hall of Famer. They had veteran playmakers like Tony Nathan and Nat Moore, as well as young talent like Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. They had a great defense called the Killer B's, taken from many of their last names: Betters, Baumhower, Bokamper, Brudzinski, Bowser, and the Blackwood brothers, Glenn and Lyle.
Little did I know then it was the best collection of talent I'd ever be around in the pros. I had great teammates throughout my career, guys who helped me every step and became great friends. But this group was strong at every position. All they needed was a quarterback, evidently. And, right from the start, Don Shula was the perfect coach to help develop me into one quickly.
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