He's not the passer he was. He can hardly move around. Coach Jimmy Johnson might bench him. He's expendable. Those are some of the things being said about Dan Marino in Miami this season. He's 36, and it's true that every one of those notions will eventually become undeniable and his career will end. But on Sunday night Marino silenced all the talk. He trotted off the field after yet another classic game-winning drive, pumping his fist while the air in Pro Player Stadium—his stadium—vibrated with howls of fan worship and the booming strains of Macho Man.
"I'm having fun now," Marino said after the 33-30 win over the Detroit Lions, and it was easy to see why. Not only did Miami (9-5) put itself in position to decide its own playoff fate—wins over Indianapolis and New England would guarantee the AFC East title and a split would all but ensure a postseason spot—but also the once-shaky Dolphins offense is beginning to hum. Faced early this season with a constantly shifting cast of wideouts, Marino has suddenly found a rhythm with his receiving corps: On Sunday he completed passes to eight players, connected on 24 of 39 attempts for 310 yards and two touchdowns and, best of all, again proved himself the most dangerous of quarterbacks with time draining away.
Strange. When Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell, Marino's former backup, tied the game at 30-30 after piloting the Lions 96 yards to a touchdown and a two-point conversion with 1:14 left, the momentum gave every sign of having swung. But Marino wouldn't have it. He told his offensive line, "We've done this before, and we can do it again."
Beginning the drive at his own 22 with 1:08 to go, Marino ran the one-minute offense to perfection: 19-yard pass to O.J. McDuffie, timeout, nine-yard pass to Brett Perriman, 17-yard pass to Bernie Parmalee, timeout, two short runs by Jerris McPhail sandwiched around one more short pass to Parmalee. Olindo Mare kicked the decisive 42-yard field goal with four seconds left.
"We've been trying to find that chemistry," said tight end Troy Drayton after catching both of Marino's touchdown passes. "A lot of guys have only been with Dan a year or less. We're still learning what he likes and what he expects from us. But we are really starting to get on the same page."
Marino's second touchdown toss to Drayton, a 23-yard strike on a rare bootleg, was the night's most gorgeous set piece. But the game's best moment had come on the previous play, when, facing third-and-15, Marino was flushed out of the pocket. He whirled away from one defender, ducked another, ran forward and then flipped the ball to McPhail for a 19-yard gain and the first down. "I got lucky and stayed on my feet and picked up Jerris right away, because I didn't think I was able to go much farther," Marino said. "It worked out. Sometimes you get lucky like that."
Lucky? As Perriman says, "Dan thinks he can make any play, anytime."
He just doesn't say it. After Mare's field goal Marino marched to the locker room, eyes locked straight ahead. His teammates were cheering, hugging one another, screaming. He kept moving. He didn't talk to anyone. In the press conference Johnson called Marino "fantastic." But by the time he had gotten out of the shower, Marino had shrunk: He limped to his locker, hair matted, bathrobe drooping. Someone asked if it had been a rough year. He grinned and said, "I'm doing all right."