By: Jason Sarney
Greatness in sports is earned, not given. In the NFL this rings more true because of the thousands and thousands who have played this game, a mere 300 or so have been immortalized in Canton, Ohio in Football’s Hall of Fame.
The vast majority of those enshrinees hold many distinctions. Record-holders, innovators, trailblazers, champions, legends and icons. There may be a handful of those players who embody each and every one of those labels.
However, there are also a few who were not able to grasp a trophy, the ultimate team award in the ultimate team game. For some, the Lombardi Trophy was never hoisted in the air, and a ring was never fitted. Just the jacket and the bust, and the legions of fans they earned over their careers.
Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, Dan Fouts, Earl Campbell, Jim Kelly and the great Dan Marino are just some Canton-ites who never got the opportunity to call themselves NFL Champions. Does this fact tarnish their achievements?
If this was tennis of golf, and these players won all the regular-season tournaments, but no Majors, then we can talk about individual failure to “win the big one.” In Dan Marino’s case, he did everything in his power and sometimes more to put the Miami Dolphins, the only professional team he had ever known, in position to win.
Marino did not play defense, he did not kick field goal attempts, and he certainly did not tuck it and run whenever there was trouble in the pocket. All he did, was sling that ball better than anyone who ever tried prior to him. And at the same time, much like Michael Jordan motivated young future stars to lace up the high-tops and hit the courts, #13 motivated the young Peyton Mannings, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes of the world to go outside and throw. Even if it was to a hanging tire from a tree branch in the yard.
Be like Mike? Sure, for many. But for a lot of football players focusing on the Quarterback position, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was also, be like, “Dan the Man.” When watching past players like John Elway, Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning discuss the greatest passes of all-time, sometimes the just use one name…
What Dan Marino did, in an era of smash-mouth football on both sides of the line, was elevate the position. He was a Trailblazer. An innovator. An Icon.
A no-look pass? Yea – Marino did it against the Eagles and it was even for a score.
Another Marino moment was when he returned from a 1993 season, and possible career-ending Achilles injury and beat the Patriots in a memorable opener, 39-35. Marino, on essentially one leg, a decade into his career, officially started Phase 2 of his career, and saw a 4th and 5 in the 4th while trailing as just another memory to make. 4th and 5. From midfield. While trailing. He did this…
Even before the 1990’s, Marino made his mark immediately. As a rookie, he threw for 20 touchdowns, but his sophomore season was unlike any other the league had ever seen. His season marks of 5,084 yards and 48 scores were records at the time. To put it into perspective – Marino’s 5,000 plus passing yards obliterated the average seasonal number.
The only other people remotely close were Lynn Dickey in 1983 with 4,458 passing yards and Dan Fouts who hit 4,000 plus multiple times. Fouts and Dickey were the only two quarterbacks prior to Marino to hit 4,000+ passing yards.
In terms of touchdowns, Marino’s 48 passing scores put him in another stratosphere historically, as the only person to scratch the upper 30’s in passing touchdowns prior to 1984 was Y.A. Title’s 36. Marino broke the number 40, and after that magical season, it took 15 more seasons for an NFL passer to eclipse 40 again. Kurt Warner threw for 41 scores in 1999. In fact, just eight individual quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for 40+ TDs in a single season.
It is argued that Dan Marino invented to long-ball in football. He invented the “wow” throw. He did things that should not have been done by a slow-footed, “pocket-passer.” Did Marino scramble? Not a lot at all. Did he navigate the pocket like Magellan during a storm and come away clean and dry as he got his pass off?
He sure did.
What Marino has earned in his career are things that can never be taken from him but may not come in physical form. He does not have a ring on a mantle or on his finger.
What he does have is a legacy. A legacy that has taken a life of its own.
The number 13, to me, is more than a number. It is the definition of what a great quarterback can do for a team, a city, a fan-base and a league. We all have our favorite moments, players, numbers and plays.
For me, the mere fact Dan Marino gave 18 seasons of every inch and fiber of his being, to put his team in position to win each week is the personification of greatness. A knee, an Achilles, a back, an elbow, it didn’t matter. The toughness Marino showed, the mental and physical gifts he brought to this game, to me, will not be matched. And frankly, it is not fair to him, nor to the young quarterback being handed the torch to compare to.
When it comes to the number, Dan Marino has earned the right to never see it on another player in Aqua and Orange. He has earned the right to be larger than life in Miami. He has earned the right, to be called the Franchises best player.
What has a rookie earned?
With all due respect and with all due hope Tua Tagovailoa is the next greatest thing to happen to Miami, there must be a bar set that is not too overwhelming to achieve. Tua must come in, forge his own legacy with whatever number that may be and create his own path to greatness.
To start a career in the shadow of #13 is what many past Dolphins quarterbacks could not handle. Without the pressure of being the 2nd coming, it just did not work for nearly two dozen attempts. Will it work now with Tua? We all hope, but my hope is this.
Since 1999, when Marino retired, many have tried, and all have failed to step into the number of the Great 13. Maybe it is time a new warrior enters the battlefield and this time, ready to create his own number of significance.
A number that will resonate with the fans lucky enough to watch him in his career, as well as the fans whose parents and elders had the joy of telling them about in the future.
There is only one #13. Hopefully we can all say in a decade or two…there is, and there will always be...only 1 Tua.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @Orangeaquaman
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