So, it began.
On September 19, 1983, South Florida football fans as well as a national television audience had a glimpse of what was to become.
The Miami Dolphins trailed the Los Angeles Raiders, 27-0, on Monday Night Football. With 5:07 remaining in the contest, coach Don Shula decided to insert the team’s first round pick into the game and give the rookie quarterback a taste of the National Football League.
In strolled Dan Marino , the former University of Pittsburgh star, to replace David Woodley at quarterback. The Dolphins began the drive at their own 34-yard-line. Marino dropped back and fired to Mark Duper along the left sideline for a nine-yard completion. Less than two minutes later, the offense struck with Marino finding tight end Joe Rose in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown play.
Following the recovery of an onside kick, Marino again took control of the Dolphins offense. Two minutes, five seconds, and 54 yards later, he connected with Duper on a 2-yard scoring strike.
Two drives, two scores. Surely, Shula liked what he saw.
Two weeks later, with Woodley struggling, Marino again saw action. Then, in Week 6, he earned his first start as the Dolphins hosted the Buffalo Bills at the Orange Bowl. Despite losing the 38-35 overtime shootout to their division rivals, Marino had quite the starting debut. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 322 yards and threw three touchdowns.
On that day, the Dolphins became Marino’s team and for the next 17 years, he guided Miami to great success. Along the way, he rewrote the passing section of the NFL’s record book.
Marino finished his rookie season as the AFC’s top rated passer. For his efforts, he was rewarded by earning the starter’s role in the Pro Bowl, named All-AFC, second-team All-Pro, Rookie-of-the-Year, and received numerous other honors.
All this came from a player that Miami considered itself lucky to get. After all, the Dolphins were picking from the next to last position in the 1983 draft. Five other quarterbacks – John Elway (No. 1), Todd Blackledge (No. 7), Jim Kelly (No. 14), Tony Eason (No. 15), and Ken O’Brien (No. 24) – had been selected by the time the Dolphins were on the clock.
The football world was treated to quite a showcase of talent in Marino’s second season. Known for his lightning quick delivery, his greatness truly shined in 1984.
“Everyone can see his release and his arm, but to me the greatest part was he has the guts to go along with all the natural stuff,” commented Dolphins receiver Mark Ingram.
Those attributes illustrated by Marino helped the Dolphins become AFC champions in his sophomore season. The team compiled a 14-2 record and a berth in Super Bowl XIX as Marino became the first player in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards. He also shattered the mark for touchdown passes in a season as he surpassed the record total of 36, shared by Y.A. Tittle and George Blanda . Marino had tied the mark in Week 13 and continued his torrid pace by throwing four touchdowns in each of the last three games of the regular season. He finished with a staggering 48 touchdown passes and completed 362 of 564 passes for 5,084 yards.
“Dan brought an excitement to the quarterback position, even during practice, and especially during the last two minutes of games, when be brought us back to win more times than I can count,” shared Shula. “I always had the feeling that with Dan at quarterback, we were never out of the game, no matter what the score,”
Winning was constant during Marino’s years at the helm of the Dolphins offense. In his 17 seasons, the team experienced just one losing season. Meanwhile, he continued to rack up yardage through the air.
Former Dolphins center and Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson stated, “Dan Marino did all of the things that winners need to do. He did it with class and he had a style about him. He was a real classy guy.”
Marino was in a class by himself by the end of the 1995 season. By that time, he had unseated Fran Tarkenton as the career leader in the four main passing statistical categories – attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns.
The nine-time Pro Bowl selection’s statistical résumé includes 63 games in which he passed for 300 yards or more including 13 times that he passed for 400 yards. He passed for 3,000 yards in a season 13 times which included six years in which he reached the 4,000-yard plateau.
“To me, Dan is the greatest competitor among the over 2,000 athletes I have coached,” said Shula. “His will and determination are legendary and I’ve never been around someone who wants to win as much as Dan.”
All said and done, Marino threw the football through the air for 61,361 yards - or nearly 35 miles - during his Hall of Fame career. He completed passes to 80 different players including touchdown throws to 51 of them. Dan won 61 percent of his 240 career starts, and led the Dolphins to comeback wins 37 times.
But now, Marino can put all of his statistics aside as his accomplishments are forever etched in bronze. His bust has earned its rightful place in Canton along with the greatest ever to play this game.
Passing milestones on display
Miami Dolphins quarterback, Dan Marino virtually rewrote the passing section of the NFL’s record book. In 1995, the veteran quarterback eclipsed four of Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton’s career passing marks in attempts, competitions, yards and touchdowns.
(Tarkenton’s old record mark noted in parentheses).
Oct. 8, 1995 – (3,686) – Marino completed a 6-yard pass to fullback Keith Byars in Week Four against the Indianapolis Colts.
Nov. 12, 1995 – (47,003) – Marino connected on a 9-yard completion to wide receiver Irving Fryar in a game against the New England Patriots.
Nov. 26, 1995 – (342) – Marino’s 6-yard touchdown pass to FB Keith Byars with 1:06 remaining in the first half of a game with the Indianapolis Colts.
Dec. 11, 1995 – (6,467) – Marino’s fourth quarter pass attempt to wide receiver Randall Hill against the Kansas City Chiefs