Was there ever any doubt? "Until I did it, yeah, there was always a question," Marino says. "You try to visualize what it will be like—to move, to get hit. And am I going to be able to move to avoid hits? You try. But you don't know." Even Marino wasn't sure what he had lost because of his Achilles injury. But his success has never depended on rolling out like Joe Montana or scrambling like John Elway. Marino is a classic drop-back passer. And he still has a gunslinger's mentality, the confidence to think that he can rifle a ball into double coverage and it will thread its way to his receiver's arms.
Most remarkable is Marino's lightning ability to decide where to throw the ball. He's so good at predicting touchdowns before breaking the huddle that even grizzled veterans like Byars and Sims feel a ripple of awe, as if Marino really is Ruthian in his ability to call his shot.
Marino says he emerged from his Achilles rupture with a powerful feeling of having been robbed of precious time. Before the injury, says Marino of his career, "I thought it would go on and on...." And Marino thought he alone would decide when it would end.
While he is reluctant to characterize a Super Bowl win as some grand obsession, he concedes, "It starts to hit you: Next year you might not be playing. Obviously, I think I'm going to be. But one day you're a little kid, seven years old, and then all of a sudden the thing you love to do is over."
Marino has long played games in a near comical, unshakably bad mood—eyebrows knit, blue eyes ablaze and mouth drawn in a taut, angry line. And teammates say that his blast-furnace intensity has increased even more in the last few years. He says he would like to play at least three or four more years, but Marino shares his teammates' conviction that their time to get a Super Bowl title is now. Lately he has begun saying that no matter how hard he tries, a Super Bowl victory "just might not happen for me." But the concession is unconvincing to anyone who has watched him play, or watched him persevere through those nine leg operations, or listened to how that playoff game against the Chargers still bothers him when he's in his car, by himself, late at night.
Marino says that he watched 33-year-old Clyde Drexler's recent run to his first NBA title with the Houston Rockets. Marino says that he also watched as the New Jersey Devils dissolved into sobs at mid-ice after winning the Stanley Cup last month. "To see how much it meant to them all to win it together, man, that was good stuff," he says. He smiles fondly. And he sighs.
When asked if he ever allows himself to imagine what he would do if he were to finally win a Super Bowl, Marino smiles again and jokes, "I'll probably cry. Laugh. Jump around and dance. Get a tattoo—all of it."
He swears he doesn't need a championship ring to make his storied career complete. Shula would probably say the same thing about his third title.
You can buy that if you like.