- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Bob Kuechenberg, the Miami Dolphins' affluent All-Pro guard, says that if the relenting fates grant Dan Marino an exemption from injury he will "set every quarter-backing record there is to set" in the NFL before he's done. Marino "has it all," continues Kuechenberg. "The height, the gun, the incomparable quick release, the exceptional control, the great attitude. He's also in the right place at the right time, working for the right man." Kuechenberg says all this knowing that the time Marino has done in the NFL consists of one—count 'em, one—full season as a Dolphin.
If the above assessment sounds excessive, appreciate where it's coming from. Appreciate that Kuechenberg drives a Rolls-Royce and lives like a duke on Star Island in Miami Beach, because for 14 years he has been a star island himself in the Miami line, doing business within arm's length of some of the great quarter-backing in football. Though his father had himself shot from cannons for a living, Kuechenberg doesn't shoot his mouth off for his. When Kuechenberg talks, even D.F Shula listens.
So listen up. "We were playing the Jets in Shea," Kuechenberg says, "and I was on the sideline, taking a breather. We were inside their 30 and Marino had the ball, trying to look downfield with this defensive lineman in his face. I was standing next to Don Shula, and I blinked my eyes, and from the ball being in front of him with a guy in his face, it was in the end zone to [tight end] Joe Rose. In the blink of an eye! I thought, 'Did I really see that?' I glanced at Shula. He had the same look."
The football world got more than a blinking eyeful of Marino in 1983. As a rookie he beat David Woodley, fresh from a Super Bowl season with the Dolphins, right off the Miami roster. (Woodley lost the job in the fifth game and was traded to the Steelers in February.) Marino then led the AFC in passing (2,210 yards, 20 touchdowns) and took the Dolphins to the playoffs and himself to the Pro Bowl, all unprecedented achievements for an NFL novitiate. In March he was named the team's Most Valuable Player and—need you ask?—the league's Rookie of the Year.
When Shula drafted Marino in May 1983, he was advised by Pittsburgh sportswriter Pat Livingston that in "Danny," as Marino is called by those admiring men and adoring ladies who get to know him, he would have a quarterback with "the touch of a Sammy Baugh, the release of a Norm Van Brocklin, the arm of a Terry Bradshaw, the..." etc., etc. No reluctant dragon, Pat. Reckless praise doesn't pour so freely from Shula. He got through the 1983 season without conceding much more than how "amazing" it was that "Danny" (ahem) got sacked only 10 times and threw just six interceptions in 306 pass plays, and despite his inexperience was "never indecisive," even in the face of man-eating red-dogs and the best secondary schemes and ploys money could buy.
But when Shula was asked what Marino would have to do to improve in 1984, he practically bristled. "Maintain, you mean," he said. It was the Shula equivalent of a standing ovation.
Wally English, who coached the Dolphin quarterbacks in 1981-82 after coaching Marino for two years at Pitt and is now the head coach at Tulane, says Marino is simply "the best dropback passer" he ever saw. Two of Marino's teammates, defensive back Glenn Blackwood and wide receiver Nat Moore, compare him with Joe Namath and make it sound as if Namath should be flattered. They talk about the invaluable extra time Marino's hair-trigger release gives pass catchers to get open, and about his vast potential for "the big play." Big play is right, says quarterback Don Strock, the Dolphins' bullpen ace. Strock doesn't call Marino Danny. He calls him Touchdown. Foge Fazio, Marino's coach his last year at Pitt, says, "What we had to face after he left was whether there would be football after Danny."
Enough. What we are clearly up to in these first weighty paragraphs is the tying together, elephant fashion, of a train of thought that could carry us to the conclusion that Daniel Constantine Marino, 22, is on the verge of being the best quarterback in all of professional football this 1984 season. It's a tempting proposition, but first we must decide if he's the best quarterback in all of Miami.
We're not being funny. We're being dead serious. For Miami, lucky it, also happens to be where Bernie Kosar does his quarterbacking. Kosar plays for the Miami Hurricanes, the champions of college football. If you know anything about the Hurricane passing game under Howard Schnellenberger the last five years, and what Kosar did with it in 1983, you know we're talking about an ascending rocket every bit as spectacular as Marino. In some respects, Kosar is more spectacular. To wit: While Marino was barely out of college when he did his wondrous things in '83, Kosar was barely out of short pants, a redshirt freshman at Miami, not yet 20 years old.
One of the axioms of college football is that passing teams don't win national championships. Pitt almost did, with Marino and a cast of all-stars in 1981. Miami did, with a jangling medley of ragtags and raw talent and the sensational Kosar. Anyone who saw Kosar's husking of unbeaten, top-ranked Nebraska in January's Orange Bowl game—he passed for a bowl-record 300 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-30 upset—would agree that if nothing else, no freshman quarterback ever showed more aplomb under such pressure.