By: Chip Turner
In 1984, things were different. Kids stayed out by themselves until the street lights came on. Ronald Reagan was President. Ghostbusters was king at the box office, Van Halen ruled Rock N’ Roll, and the NFL was still dominated by run-heavy offenses, lumbering offensive linemen, and massive running backs who ground out 3 to 4 yards per carry on the ground. That’s just the way things were.
And then, from September through December of 1984, Daniel Constantine Marino, Jr. changed all of that.
Some of you remember the actual occurrence, and some of you have read about it. On paper, that record-shattering season seems almost pedestrian among today’s single-season passing records. Marino’s 48 TD passes in 1984 now ranks 5th in the record books. His 5,084 passing yards? A measly 10th. I’ve heard actual humans with supposedly functional cerebral cortexes pontificate about Dan Marino’s 1984 season, and try to explain how overrated it was.
I can virtually guarantee you that none of those of those cerebral cortexes were functional in 1984, and am reminded of the coffee table scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Mr. White shuts down Mr. Pink’s ill-advised rant against tipping waitresses with one single line:
“You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
What Marino did in 1984 was utterly ridiculous. The entire country was captivated by it, nobody more than myself as a young teen. 36 years ago this week, Dan Marino broke the single season record for touchdown passes. Here are some things to put into perspective just how violently that record was shattered:
Marino was simply unstoppable. As a kid, I remember Marino starting his lightning-quick release, and thinking “he’s got someone” before he even let the ball go. More often than not, he did. Sports Illustrated wrote a line about Marino in 1984 that remains with me this day, “Dolphins receivers did not so much catch passes as they were impaled by them.”
He was that good. Marino Mania captivated Miami that year, and culminated with a Super Bowl loss to one of the best teams in history in the San Francisco 49ers.
But how well did that season hold up throughout history?
For that, we have to start with perspective. In 1984, defensive backs were allowed to do almost anything they wanted to stop wide receivers, short of literally hitting them with a folding steel chair. Today they might get called for pass interference if they look at someone too sternly.
You’ve heard all of that, right? Also take into consideration that offensive linemen are allowed a lot more leeway today than they were back in 1984 in regards to what draws a holding flag, and QBs took a LOT more abuse than they do today. Maybe you knew that too, and also know that today’s stats are inflated through quick slants, while Marino’s attack was almost always vertical. Maybe you’ve heard NFL veterans say that Dan Marino would pass for 7.000 yards in today’s NFL. Maybe you’ve researched it to death, and still are a little bit skeptical. Here’s one thing that I remember about that 1984 Dolphins team that you’re not going to see on paper or in a box score.
Don Shula was being nice most of the time. There were a few times that he simply took his foot off the gas when the game was well in hand. This was blatantly evident in Weeks 4 and 5 against the Colts and Cardinals; I have no doubt Miami could have hung 50 points on both of those teams in consecutive weeks. They simply lightened up. Want more proof of this? Watch the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. They didn’t just beat the Steelers, they demolished them. Pittsburgh couldn’t even remotely slow Marino down in that game.
With that perspective in mind, let’s look at how long it took to break that record-setting year, with some fun factoids:
To save you the number-crunching; since 1984, the single-season TD record has jumped less than 15% in 36 years. The single-season passing yardage record has jumped less than 8%.
All of this isn’t to diminish the greatness of the QBs who’ve broken Marino’s records. It’s difficult to dislike Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes is a walking highlight reel, and Tom Brady is probably the best QB to ever do it. But in his prime, Dan Marino has never had an equal I’ve seen as a pure passer. It’s one of the reasons Dolphins fans are still reluctant to embrace other QBs to this day. He ruined us for anyone else, particularly in that one year. Call him Dan The Man, Danny Franchise, call him whatever you want.
But make sure you call his 1984 the best single season a QB has ever had.
Please welcome Chip Turner to PhinManiacs and please check him out on Twitter @ChipTurnerPA