Hall recall: Dan Marino


By Gil Brandt, NFL.com Senior Analyst
Special to Profootballhof.com

My first exposure to Dan Marino came Nov. 3, 1979, when he was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh and I watched the Panthers play Syracuse at Pitt Stadium. If my memory serves me correct, it was Marino's first college start and everybody in the crowded press box that day was talking about Dan and his future at Pitt.

<a data-popupid=Dan Marino" hspace="3" src="/cms/images/spacer.gif" width="150" align="left" vspace="3" border="1" /> Marino grew up in Oakland, Pa., which can best be described as a long Marino pass away from the Pitt campus. Before he became a star for the Panthers, Marino played at Central Catholic High School and was one of the most highly sought after players in the country, not only for football, but also for his baseball ability as a pitcher and shortstop. Marino was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round in 1979 but never signed a baseball contract.

For the next three years after my first glimpse of Marino, I spent a lot of time at Pitt watching games because of all the great prospects they had there, including future NFL stars Hugh Green, Mark May, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson. In fact, in the 1983 draft, Marino was the third player from Pitt to be drafted, following teammates Jimbo Covert (No. 6 to the Bears) and defensive back Tim Lewis (No. 11 to the Packers).

In May of 1982, before Marino's senior season, the Playboy Preseason All-America weekend took place in Dallas and I spent three days with the players. There was a group of really good players at the event, including Herschel Walker (Georgia), Colvert, Bruce Matthews (USC), Don Mosebar (USC) and Billy Ray Smith (Arkansas). But Dan was the leader of the entire group the three days in Dallas.

At one point during the weekend, we were at Texas Stadium and we put a four-line write-up on the scoreboard for every player. Marino's read:

Through drenching rain,
or wind-a-blowing,
that guy named Marino,
keeps right on the throwing.

Before the 1982 season, most people, including myself, thought Marino would be the first or second player taken in the 1983 draft. He was coming off an unbelievable junior season in 1981, throwing for 37 touchdowns and 2,876 yards and defeating Georgia 24-20 in the Sugar Bowl to finish second in the final college coaches poll with an 11-1 record.

But the 1982 season turned out to be a disappointing one for Marino. It started the first week of the season in a nationally televised night game against North Carolina and finally finished with a 7-3 loss to SMU in the Cotton Bowl. For the season, Marino had 17 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions -- quite a drop-off from his junior year.

Classified information
Notes from an actual scouting report Gil Brandt wrote on Marino for Dallas on Oct. 15, 1982:

Marino is 6-foot-3 5/8, 213 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.89 ... Not having a good year, played poorly in the opening game in North Carolina ... Seemed to play better this past weekend against West Virginia, although they only scored 16 points ... Marino has an amazing ability to anticipate pass rushers and is able to move side to side to avoid being sacked ... He also has one of the quickest releases that I have ever seen and has very good accuracy ... I can not understand why he's had a season that has not been up to what was expected of him ... Everyone at Pitt, from the secretary to the trainer to the equipment manager, all brag about Dan Marino and what a good person he is.

Prior to the 1983 draft, which took place in late April, I had an opportunity to spend time with Marino at a four-team combine in Seattle. (This was before the National Scouting Combine now held annually in Indianapolis.) The four teams that took part were Seattle, Buffalo, Dallas and Oakland. I remember one night going out on a boat to an island for a salmon fry with the players and I took the opportunity to talk to Marino about his season. A lot of people would put blame on their teammates and coaches for their sub-par season, but Marino's only comment to me was, "It was my fault. I didn't play well."

As for his workouts at the combine, back then, teams relied on an athletic-testing program developed by Bob Ferguson, who later became an NFL general manager, most recently with the Seahawks. Only one player in the draft, running back Curt Warner, received a higher grade on the test that year than Marino did.

Marino also proved to be a gunner on the basketball court. In the pit underneath the stadium, Ferguson played hoops against Marino and Tim Lewis, Marino's college teammate who went on to play for the Packers. Word has it that Lewis got mad at Marino because all he did was shoot.

In the draft, Marino lasted until the 27th pick and was the sixth quarterback taken as part of the famed Class of 1983. Several weeks after the draft, then-Cowboys president Tex Schramm told me about a call he received from Don Shula, Marino's new coach in Miami. Tex said Don could barely contain himself talking about Marino and his future. Marino went on to win nine games that year, throwing 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, remarkable numbers for a rookie. By the end of his career, Marino held 17 NFL regular-season records and was tied for six more. Coach Shula, as usual, knew what he was talking about.

I ran into Marino again near the end of his career when I was having dinner at the Palm restaurant in Miami. Dan was there with Don Strock, Marino's backup for several years, and Dan asked me to join their table to celebrate his wife's birthday. A lot of the talk was about the Jets, who the Dolphins were getting ready to play in a few days.

Since his retirement in 2000, Marino has been very active in the South Florida community, especially with The Dan Marino Foundation, which provides services for children with special needs. For the past three years, Marino has also been a studio analyst for CBS on The NFL Today.

Even after all the numbers and all the records, I think what sums up Marino best is that I don't know of anyone I've been around that has had a bad thing to say about him. He's not only a great player, but also one of the truly great people to ever play in the NFL.

Marino Did You Know
Marino had 37 fourth-quarter comeback drives in his career, 21 of them at home and 16 on the road.
In 17 NFL seasons, Marino won 147 games as a starter, the second most in history. He finished with a 147-93 record (61.3 percent).
Marino was the youngest quarterback selected to play in the Pro Bowl when he was voted in following his rookie year in 1983. He was 22 years, four months and 14 days old at the time but was injured and unable to play.
Marino passed for 61,361 yards in his career in Miami, which is equal to more than 34 miles.
Marino has appeared on the cover of every national sports publication at least once.

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