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Chris Berman

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Dan Marino announces his retirement from the Miami Dolphins.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Marveling at Marino's mastery
By Chris Berman
Special to ESPN Classic

The absence didn't really stick out until that first Sunday of the 2000 NFL season. For as long as I've been at ESPN, it seems as if it wouldn't be autumn unless I was referring to Dan Marino.

Fall meant football, which meant highlights of Marino tearing apart some opposing defense -- whether it was during his days at the University of Pittsburgh or as he was getting his PhD in greatness with the Miami Dolphins.

Marino might have been the last quarterback selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft. But armed with a quick release and a warrior's mentality, No. 13 quickly moved to the top of the class.

Ironically, another league had hoped Marino would be its centerpiece, as he was the first overall pick of the 1983 USFL draft on Jan. 4, 1983, by the Los Angeles Express. Three months later, he fell to the 27th pick of the NFL draft. Ignoring the upstart league, he chose Don Shula and the Dolphins.

The decision to head to Miami would prove to have an impact on both leagues.

Dan Marino
Dan Marino led Miami to Super Bowl XIX after throwing for a record 5,084 yards and 48 TDs in 1984.
Nine starts into his rookie season, Marino made it clear that several teams had made a mistake in bypassing the young quarterback. By year two, there wasn't a question. Marino destroyed the record book as he lit up the Miami sky for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdown passes in 1984, the greatest season ever for an NFL quarterback.

John Elway, the first selection in the '83 Draft, said Marino set impossibly high standards. "He set that bar real high for the rest of us and really put a lot of pressure (on). Because now all of a sudden, everybody else was expecting us to live up to what Dan Marino did."

A year later during the memorable 1985 season, the undefeated Chicago Bears came into the Orange Bowl to meet Marino's Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 13. Marino's job was to protect the legacy of the '72 Dolphins, the only team to endure an NFL season without a blemish.

Mike Ditka's Bears, coming off two shutout victories, never had a chance as Marino riddled the Bears for 270 yards and three scores in a 38-24 victory. Miami, thanks to Marino, would remain the perfect team in NFL history.

For 17 spectacular seasons and 242 games, Marino kept firing.

In the end, his legacy is 30 NFL passing records and a career of highlights. The most memorable moment came in 1995, when he passed Fran Tarkenton as the game's most prolific passer. He finished his career with 61,361 yards (which adds up to nearly 35 miles through the air) and 420 TD passes.

But it's easy for me to heap praise. Listen when those who have done it pay tribute.

"Fifty years from now when they talk about the National Football League, one of the first names you're going to hear is Dan Marino," said Jim Kelly, a fellow draftee from the Class of '83 and a pretty fair quarterback in his own right.

Miami has been in the NFL for 35 seasons and Dolphins players have thrown a total of 777 touchdown passes. Marino has thrown for 420 of them -- seemingly every one of them with that lightning-quick release with laser-like precision.

The more one thinks about what Marino accomplished, the more it becomes mind-boggling. But Marino made it look so easy that it doesn't really boggle the mind; rather it soothes it. Years from now, whoever puts up dazzling passing numbers will always be compared to Dan Marino. My guess is those future stars will pale by comparison.

Chris Berman has worked for ESPN since the network's debut in 1979.

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