Marino to make $250,000 per game

August 21, 1991|By Greg Cote | Greg Cote,Knight-Ridder

MIAMI -- His parents flew down from Pittsburgh for the occasion. His sister was there, too, and so was his wife, a rare public appearance for her. No kids, though. The three young boys were at home.

Dan Marino could afford the baby sitter.

Marino became the highest-paid player in NFL history yesterday when the Miami Dolphins quarterback ended weeks of anticipation by signing a five-year contract extension that wrests the richest-salary title from San Francisco counterpart Joe Montana.

Marino signed the deal at precisely 3:09 p.m. as TV cameras rolled at a news conference at Joe Robbie Stadium. Neither the player nor the club would discuss details, but Miami Herald sources put the deal's total value at a guaranteed $23 million, just below the $25 million listed in some reports.

The deal's $4.6 million-per-year average leaps beyond the record $3.25 million average that Montana commanded two years ago. Seven other NFL quarterbacks besides Montana had beaten Marino to the $2 million plateau, but he made up for the tardiness yesterday.

His total package includes an estimated $3 million signing bonus payable this year, to coincide with a 1991 base salary of $1.6 million from the final year of his old contract. That last year will stand, with the new terms beginning next season, meaning Marino, who'll turn 30 on Sept. 15, will be a Dolphin at least through 1996.

Marino will average $250,000 in base salary per game over the five years of his new deal. As a yardstick from the past, the most Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas, who has filed for bankruptcy in Baltimore, ever made was $250,000 for a season.

The signing completed a gradual turnaround from the time when Marino requested a trade after both the 1988 and '89 seasons. There also had been hints that Marino might let the current contract expire and test the free-agent market after this season. But last year's 12-4 comeback season and return to the playoffs persuaded Marino to complete his pro career in Miami.

Seconds after signing the richest deal in football history, Marino stood at a podium in a handsome brown double-breasted suit and underlined his affinity for understatement:

"Obviously I'm very excited," he said, breaking into a broad grin. "The biggest thing I'm happy about is that the future of the team is bright. And I'm excited about being with the Dolphins the rest of my career."

And the money?

"As a dad, you always want security for your kids," said Marino, the father of boys ages 5, 3 and 2. "But I was like any other kid growing up. You dream about pro football. But you never dream about this kind of money."

Marino's wife and mother both brushed away tears as they heard him praised at the news conference and later as he signed the deal. His father, Dan Sr., pondered the money, smiled and whispered, "It's crazy, isn't it? But who knows. Maybe five years down the road, this may not look like much. You may have a $10 million-a-year quarterback. Crazy."

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