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His biography, statistics and comparisons to other quarterbacks take up 22½ pages of the Dolphin media guide, revealing one of the most detailed background searches on a public figure this side of a CIA dossier. "I told my intern, 'Take all these numbers and games—I don't even want to see you for a week—and show me what you get,' " says Dolphin director of media relations Harvey Greene. "It's how we found the Marino-Clayton record for touchdown passes and the durability record. The stuff in there is not for trivia. It's there because it's so damn amazing."
Marino and Clayton have hooked up on 69 scoring passes, more than any other quarterback-to-receiver combo in league history, including Unitas to Raymond Berry (63), Joe Montana to Jerry Rice (55) and Jim Zorn to Steve Largent (43). As far as quarterback durability, well, nobody else comes close. When Marino plays against the Indianapolis Colts next week, it will be his 117th consecutive start (excluding the three strike games in 1987)—61 more than second-place Jim Everett of the Los Angeles Rams (among active quarterbacks) and more than any other signal-caller since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970.
The guide has other remarkable Marino stats: He has led Miami to 17 victories after trailing in the fourth quarter; he has attempted more passes in one season (623 in 1986) and completed more passes in one season (378 in '86) than anyone else; he has a better touchdown-to-interception differential (plus 105) than any quarterback in the Hall of Fame; he threw for more yards (31,416) in his first eight seasons than any Hall of Fame quarterback did in his first eight, with the closest to him being Unitas, who is more than 10,000 yards behind. At his current pace, Marino will become the league's leader in career TD passes, with 343, in the eighth game of the '94 season.
There must be a record that means the most to him: "The consecutive game thing, I'm really proud of that," he says. "Lining up and playing every week—your teammates knowing you're going to be there. The rest of the records just come from playing every week."
However, because he is in there every week, Marino feels the frustration of losing more deeply than most. His fire burned out of control briefly in that game earlier this season against the Jets, when safety Erik McMillan intercepted one of his passes and ran past him for a TD. Marino yelled obscenities at McMillan, who responded by giving Marino the finger. Against the Detroit Lions two weeks earlier, Marino hadn't seen wide-open tight end Greg Baty for what could have been the winning score in a 17-13 loss, and afterward he had been unusually disconsolate. "Right after the game, I've never seen him feel so bad," says Miami coach Don Shula.
With the banged-up offensive line, the punchless ground game and a dubious defense, it sounds like old times in Miami. While Jim Kelly is up in Buffalo pushing the buttons on the Bills' no-huddle scoring machine and Warren Moon is over in Houston firing away in the Oilers' run-and-shoot, Marino is ducking and dodging for his life. Still, he doesn't covet another quarterback's role as much as he wants Miami to get the players that will make it a Super Bowl contender again.
"We need a guy like Thurman Thomas, a guy you can throw to on first down and who can run it on third," says Marino. "But any offense will work; it just comes down to having the right people in it. The Chiefs line up with three tight ends and run at you. That's an offense, too. It works for them. I mean, they sure aren't going to do the run-and-shoot with Christian Okoye."
Even though Marino threw fewer times (531) last year than in any other lull season in his career, the Dolphins' return to the upper ranks of the NFL made that irrelevant. "Last year he had his best season so far as leadership, making big plays, moving around in the pocket and toughness are concerned," says Shula.
Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope has watched Marino since he came into the league, and Pope agrees with Shula. "There is no doubt in my mind that Marino is the greatest pure passer ever to play the game," says Pope. "I've seen them all, back to Sammy Baugh. Graham, Waterfield, Van Brocklin, Unitas, Starr, Jurgensen, Namath, Staubach, Bradshaw, Montana. No question. None of them had that God-given skill to just throw, to flick the ball like he does. He's never had to think about it, but in the last couple years he's learned to love the game, to appreciate how much fun it is to go out on Sunday and do what he does. I think he took it for granted before. Now he can sec the end—if only dimly."
Marino can see the chicken wings just fine on the bar at D.T Riots in the Miami suburb of Pembroke Pines, and he digs in. Practice is over, and Marino and receiver Jim Jensen—one of his best friends among the Dolphins—and a few other players are chowing down and drinking beer. "Jake the Snake tonight at the Arena, Dan," says Jensen. "Somebody killed his snake, you know. Now he's got a bigger one. I'm taking my father-in-law. Interested?"