Pittsburgh Quarterback Danny Marino keeps all of his old game plans inside a red plastic milk crate in his room—to remind himself of the good times. In this same milk crate, which serves as an all-purpose file cabinet, Marino has carefully saved up a substantial wad of notes and letters from his father, Dan Sr.—to remind himself of what's really important. In one of those World-According-to-the-Old-Man Epistles, Dan Sr. wrote to his son. "You are the best. You are the most dominating player in college football. Remember, nobody does it better."
Danny looks over the dozen written communiqués from his father, not all borrowed from Carly Simon, and smiles. "He really keeps my confidence up."
It isn't as if 20-year-old Marino suffers from any noticeable lack of confidence. As Pitt's quarterback for 2½ seasons, Marino has led the Panthers to a 33-3 record, the best in the nation, and became Pitt's alltime leading passer midway through his junior year. Now, as a senior, he's expected to go that final mile and sprout wings. Which for a college quarterback means producing an undefeated regular season, a bowl victory and, ta da, the national championship.
Anything less will be viewed as a calamity, at least around Pitt, so Marino had better stick to destiny's flight plan. In the past, there have been occasions when Danny has nosedived. Most people remember him best for completing that impossible pass to Tight End John Brown with 35 seconds left in last January's Sugar Bowl, the one that beat Georgia 24-20. That was Marino's 37th touchdown pass of the season; his 34 regular-season TD passes led the NCAA by four over second-place Jim McMahon of BYU. But there are those who recall 23 other passes Marino threw in 1981 to players in the wrong-color jerseys—including two in that same Sugar Bowl game—to lead the nation in that category, too. Among the latter is Danny Marino. "A great quarterback," he says, "doesn't throw 23 interceptions."
Perhaps prophetically, his first varsity pass, thrown against Kansas on Sept. 15, 1979, was an interception. His second nearly was. His third went for a touchdown. For Pitt, not Kansas. It was this kind of coolness in the face of adversity that prompted Rick Trocano, who was then Pitt's starting quarterback, to switch to safety two seasons ago (he was drafted in 1980 in the last round by the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Hugh Green to pin the name "Ice" on Marino.
Pittsburgh opens its '82 schedule on national TV against North Carolina (see page 57) on the night of Sept. 9, and Marino could win some early Heisman votes if he has a big game. Let us not kid around: the Heisman competition shapes up as a two-man race between Marino and Georgia's Herschel Walker.
If the Heisman voters are looking for any shortcomings in Marino, as a player or as a person, it could be that he is simply too good to be true. Marino is an All-America hero; he is Big Wheel on Campus; he is Mr. Touchdown (he has thrown for 62 in three years); he is the answer to every NFL scout's dream as well as every maiden's prayer. The former will be proved in next April's draft (he probably would have been the first QB drafted this year had he been eligible); and as for the latter, he is, according to Kathy Daniels, wife of Pitt Offensive Coordinator Joe Daniels, "that big, cute, curly-haired, adorable rascal."
What Marino definitely is not—Heisman voters take note—is a threat to Rod Stewart. Free Safety Tom Flynn says, "Danny loves the Blues Brothers. He loves to sing. But he's so off-key and so loud, it's like someone screaming over 90,000 people. He says that if he doesn't make it as a pro quarterback, he'll try to make it as a singer. He'd better make it as a quarterback."
What does Danny Marino mean to his team? The Heisman-type hyperbole is already flowing. Foge Fazio, Pitt's new head coach, says without a pause, "He is the Pittsburgh football team. All he means to us is everything." When Fazio is asked just how good Marino is, he says, "Well, I think Joe Namath was just as great." And former Pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill weighs in with, "I played with Namath and Kenny Stabler at Alabama and coached Matt Cavanaugh [now a New England Patriot], and Marino is better than any of them at the same stage in their careers."
For his part, Danny says, "The only reason I play is I enjoy it so much."