On Sunday, in the opening game of his second NFL season, Dan Marino broke the bank at the Elias Sports Bureau, which handles all the league statistics. Send the croupiers home. Stack the chips. There will be no further play for the evening. The house is cleaned out.
The Miami Dolphins' 22-year-old quarterback went off the board in three of the four categories in the NFL rating system for his position when he led the Dolphins to a 35-17 win over the Washington Redskins. Marino threw five touchdown passes (in 28 attempts), had zero interceptions and completed 75% of his passes. Had he gone off the board in the other category (average gain per pass), Elias would have given him a ranking of 158.3. It's the ultimate. Marino got a 150.4, which is as close to perfection as we'll likely see this season—or any other, for that matter.
Oh, he'll come down to earth. They all do. But, lordy, wasn't the kid something, the way he was whipping the ball around RFK Stadium, sending the fans to the parking lot in the beginning of the fourth quarter, sending Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke to the elevator just about the time the Skins started stopping the clock with time-outs.
There was something arrogant, even irreverent, about the way Marino bombed Washington. The Skins had prepared for a nasty kind of game, a slugfest, trench warfare, and indeed, if it had gone in that direction, the afternoon would have been theirs, because fullback John Riggins (15 carries, 98 yards) was just as unstoppable in his way as Marino was in his. The Dolphins had dedicated their preseason to stopping the run, and they'd done a good job of it. No team had rushed for 100 yards against them. Washington ran for 99 in the first half, 156 for the game. But Marino opened up the skies.
Modern football maxim: When you run the ball, four things can happen and three of them are bad—you can get stopped, you can fumble, the clock can run out on you. After two quarters and change, Marino's rainbows had taken the Skins off the ground and into the airways, and the game was over.
It was almost too easy, the way he did it. In the first half the Redskins earned their 10 points on two carefully constructed drives. The first featured Riggins at his thundering best and ended with the big fullback going over from the one. The second, which ended with a 32-yard Mark Moseley field goal, was a blend of Riggins' relief man, Joe Washington, and Joe Theismann's precise sideline passes. The Dolphins scored 14 points, though, on two flicks of Marino's wrist, 26 yards to wideout Mark Duper and then 74 to Duper. The latter was a crusher, because the Skins looked like they had Miami on the ropes.
The Dolphins' defense had been getting pounded. The heat, which hovered in the 80s all afternoon, was taking its toll. Don Shula had already replaced two of his defensive linemen, middle guard Bob Baumhower and right end Kim Bokamper, and the guys who were on the field wished they weren't.
Trailing 10-7 late in the second quarter, the Dolphins got the ball, and on second and two from their own 26, Shula went for the big banana. He sent four receivers downfield, with Duper, last year's long-ball sensation, and the other wideout, Mark Clayton, both on the left side. The Skins' coverage group, which had a terrible time trying to keep up with Shula's game plan, was overmatched.
"I went down the sideline," Duper said. "Clayton was slotted inside me, and he went deep, too. The cornerback [Anthony Washington] gave me a bump and ran with me for a while, but then the middle man [the other cornerback, Darrell Green] was supposed to come over for deep help. He never got there in time. They didn't expect Clayton to go deep, too, so the middle guy was hung up. He couldn't get there in time. It was one man trying to cover two."
The result: the 74-yard touchdown that turned the game around. The Skins had worked like hell and had beaten the Dolphins in every phase of the game except one, and they were 14-10 short-enders. Miami had caught them in one bad coverage.