Aging Marino shifts to hurry-up mode Miami QB eyes another shot at Super Bowl

January 16, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- With the benefit of hindsight, Dan Marino can appreciate now what he could not in 1984.

When it comes to the NFL playoffs, take nothing for granted.

That's what Marino learned in the aftermath of the Miami Dolphins' Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers eight years ago.

Opportunity knocked in 1984, and the Dolphins' second-year quarterback caught the door swinging the wrong way.

"Back then, it seemed easy," Marino, a 10-year veteran, said yesterday in a news conference at a hotel near the Fort Lauderdale airport.

"We went right through the playoffs, got to the Super Bowl. We lost the game, but in the locker room afterwards, I thought we'd be back. It's been seven, eight years, and we haven't been back yet."

Opportunity will come calling in tomorrow's AFC championship game between the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills at Joe Robbie Stadium. A victory would send Marino to Pasadena, Calif., for Super Bowl XVII.

It is not hard to discern a note of urgency in Marino's voice when he talks about the one that got away. In his illustrious NFL career, he has passed for 290 touchdowns and more than 39,000 yards. But time is growing short, and Marino, 31, the best quarterback in the famed Class of 1983, wants to be world champion at least once.

That ultimately is how history will reflect on Marino's brilliant career, his coach says.

"That's the bottom line," Don Shula said. "That's how you're judged.

"The thing I've learned through the years is that in the excitement of being in the Super Bowl, both teams are treated equally [going into the game], both teams are talked about.

"But after the ballgame is over, only one team is talked about. That's what you want to be. The one team they talk about."

It is not only a point of pride, but the prod that motivates both men. Shula, who has coached in six Super Bowls, winning twice, wants a third title. Marino wants his first.

Shula sees that sense of urgency in the veteran players on this year's Dolphins team, but particularly in Marino.

"Dan, especially, has worked so hard to get back into it," Shula said.

Marino passed for a staggering 48 touchdowns and a mind-bending 5,084 yards in the 1984 season. But the closest he came to a Super Bowl since was the 1985 season, when the Dolphins were upset by the wild-card New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

The Dolphins have been in just two other playoff games since then -- the most recent a 1990 loss to the Bills in a Buffalo blizzard.

Tomorrow's acid test has another emotional implication to it. It might be the last time Marino teams up with wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper at Joe Robbie.

Marino and Clayton are the most productive pass-and-catch combination in NFL history with 79 touchdowns. But Clayton's 10-year career is winding down, and his season has been punctuated by two ugly locker room outbursts. One came at halftime of a 27-3 loss to San Francisco, when Clayton threw his helmet and complained about not getting the ball thrown to him.

The other episode was a postgame harangue directed at the media.

Clayton's contract is up this season, and with the advent of free agency, no one in Miami would be surprised to see him playing elsewhere next season.

Asked about the wide receiver earlier in the week, Shula said Clayton's outbursts are no longer surprising.

"We don't worry about keeping people happy," Shula said. "Our bottom line is production, and victories. The players on the whole understand that we're trying to do the right thing. Dan is trying to do the right thing.

"We've only had one that grumbled about anything and that's not news when Clayton grumbles about anything."

So as Marino ponders the end of a long Super Bowl drought, he also considers the end of an era.

"This might be our last game in JRS together as a group," he said. "It might be that, but I hope not. I hope Duper and Clayton and myself play many more years.

"You never know what's in store. So when you're in this position, you want to try to take advantage of it and win the Super Bowl."

rTC

Marino's stats

Att. ... Comp. ... Yards ... Avg. ... TD ... Int

554 .... 330 ..... 4,116 ... 7.43 ... 24 .... 16

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