On Thursday, February 10, Dan Marino walked into Miami Dolphin's headquarters and signed a piece of paper, voiding the remaining two years of his contract. On March 13, he made it official, his record-breaking 17-year career as quarterback of the Dolphins is over.
Marino made the announcement at a morning press conference, that he was calling it quits, even though the Minnesota Vikings had offered him a contract. He cited health and family as factors in his decision.
While most quarterbacks take a few years to get acclimated to life in the NFL, Marino was a star from the beginning. He threw 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions as a rookie, becoming the first rookie to start in the Pro Bowl.
In his second season, Marino set single-season records for touchdown passes with 48 and yards passing with 5,084. No other NFL quarterback has surpassed the 5,000-yard mark. He also led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers.
Many observers figured it would be the first of many trips to the Super Bowl for the Dolphins with Marino at quarterback. But Marino never made it back to the big game-the only blemish on his resume. Although Marino's 147 regular season victories is second only to John Elway's 148, Elway was able to walk away with two Super Bowl rings.
Perhaps that is the reason Elway's rookie card is valued at significantly more than Marino's. Elway's 1983 Topps rookie books for $1,950 in gem Mint 10 in the March 2000 issue of the Sportscard Market Report. Marino's 1983 Topps rookie in the same condition is listed at $1,450. It follows the pattern of another pair of quarterbacks who played in the 1970s and '80s. Terry Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles. His 1971 Topps rookie is listed at $835 in Mint 9. Dan Fouts had superior numbers while quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, but no Super Bowl appearances. Fouts' 1975 Topps card is priced at $275 in Mint 9. Quite a difference, even when taking into account that Bradshaw's rookie card is four years older.
It remains to be seen if Marino will be best remembered for his impressive numbers and longevity or the fact that he never won a Super Bowl. Regardless, his place in NFL lore seems secure.
Memories of Marino
Dan Marino was my hero as a boy growing up in South Florida. I identified the Dolphins -- for that matter, the entire NFL. It was all in what I saw Marino accomplish on the field each Sunday. My family and I attended games at the Orange Bowl during the David Woodley/Don Strock era, before Marino arrived. Although the Dolphins were a successful team then, they didn't become exciting until number 13 took over the offense.
Week after week Marino wowed the crowd, making jaw-dropping plays with Nat Moore, Tony Nathan, and "the Marks brothers," Duper and Clayton. Sundays changed from being appointments at the stadium, to anticipated events. Marino was larger than life.
I'll never forget the 1985 AFC Championship game between the Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers. That game stands as the most thrilling live sporting experience of my life. Marino put on one of the great all-time performances, passing for a record 421 yards and 4 touchdown passes. I remember walking to my seat that day, knowing that without a doubt the Dolphins were going to win -- and they did. The Fins went on to lose the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers -- Marino's only appearance in the big game -- but the memories of the AFC Championship game will be with me forever.
Marino currently owns nearly every passing record in the books, including total yards (61,361) and touchdown passes (420) -- marks that are not likely to be replicated. Although he feels like he can still compete (and he probably can), now is the time for Marino to retire.
Michael Jordan, John Elway, and Wayne Gretzky all retired while they were still on top. Marino is not so lucky, having suffered nerve root damage which sidelined him during that last five games of the 1999 season. Marino is no longer competing at a high level and, at this point in his career, his skills can only continue to diminish. Additionally, it seems wrong that Marino should ever wear any uniform other than the Dolphin teal and white. Joe Montana's last few years in Kansas City felt like an unnecessary epilogue to his great career. The same would be true should Marino suit up elsewhere. As a comparison, I can't believe I'm going to see future Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith in a Washington Redskin uniform. The sight of Marino in a Vikings jersey would be even more jarring.
I will carry my memories of Dan Marino's accomplishments the way my father boasts of the playing days of Johnny Unitas. Dan Marino was my hero and the best football player I ever saw play the game. I'll miss him, but the time is right for "#13" to walk away.