This time, it's Marino passing Montana by

January 01, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MIAMI -- This is the way it was meant to turn out. Joe Montana's time has passed. Dan Marino's is long overdue.

It was a glorious duel for a half, but for once Montana threw the killer interception, and now they both move on.

Montana, to the twilight of his career.

Marino, to the AFC semifinals.

Miami 27, Kansas City 17.

The Dolphins saw it coming.

"He was a little more pumped than I've seen him -- ever," wide receiver O. J. McDuffie said of Marino.

"Usually, Dan is really mellow the day before the game. He comes in the day of the game and he's really pumped.

"But he was ready to play yesterday. He was excited at the walk-through, real excited."

No one expected this in the preseason, when Marino looked awful coming off Achilles' tendon surgery. But there he was yesterday, playing the perfect game at Joe Robbie Stadium, the game Montana has played a dozen times before.

Montana will be back -- he said as much afterward. But at this point, you almost wish he'd retire. He can still play, that much is obvious. But let us remember him for a game like this, before he takes one too many hits, before he fades away.

That day is coming, whether Montana likes it or not. Of course, everyone thought that day was coming for Marino, but he's five years younger. He recovered from his career-threatening surgery. He's still in his prime.

Yesterday, he completed 22 of 29 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Montana's statistics were comparable, but he also threw a fourth-quarter interception at the goal line with the Chiefs trailing by 10 points.

Montana was mortal.

Marino was not.

"He was great today," Kansas City cornerback Mark Collins said. "He read all our checks. I don't think we could have done anything more defensively than we did except maybe get an interception."

The Chiefs didn't. Marino was patient, intelligent, brilliant. He fought off a blitz on one touchdown pass, fought off a lineman in his face on the other. He never forced the ball deep. His longest completion was for 26 yards.

"We were there. We had pressure on him all day," Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas said. "He throws the ball very quick with a high degree of accuracy. It makes it difficult as a cover person. It makes it difficult as a rush person."

Montana has his four Super Bowl rings. Now let it be Marino's turn. This was their first meeting in nearly a decade, when Montana's 49ers won Super Bowl XIX, 38-16. Marino thought he'd be in Super Bowls forever. He has yet to return.

With this year's game at Joe Robbie, you know exactly what Marino is thinking. The Dolphins need to win at San Diego and then in the AFC title game. If they play as balanced as they did yesterday, it's possible.

For once, Marino had help. Bernie Parmalee and Irving Spikes combined for 106 yards rushing. The defense shut out Kansas City in the second half. No desperate fourth-quarter comeback was necessary.

Montana benefited from all those great teams in San Francisco. Marino always carried the burden himself. Carried it and welcomed it. And even after yesterday, no one would be surprised if he finds himself in the same position again.

Miami is playing without its top two running backs (Terry Kirby and Keith Byars), and yesterday it played without one of its top receivers (Mark Ingram). It was a day Marino needed to be at his best. Especially the way Montana started.

Joe Cool was 6-for-6 on the opening drive, 12-for-15 in the first half, 26-for-37 overall. By now, Marino is accustomed to the challenge, the shootout mentality. "You feel like you have to score every time you have the ball," he said.

It was 17-17 at halftime, and neither team had stopped the other. Miami took its first lead on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Marino to Irving Fryar on the opening drive of the second half. The defense got two stops, then two turnovers, and it was over.

Together, Marino and Montana have thrown for more than 85,000 yards -- 48.7 miles, to be exact. Marino is within 2,000 yards of Fran Tarkenton's all-time yardage record. Still, Montana is perceived as the greatest quarterback of all time.

Marino has the records, Montana has the rings. A Super Bowl victory would serve as Marino's crowning achievement. Montana was asked this week if Marino could have won with his teams in San Francisco. "Probably," he said.

The Dolphins aren't nearly that good, but for one more week, Marino's remarkable comeback season continues. His 62.5 percent completion rate was the second highest of his career -- and especially impressive considering he missed nearly all of 1993 after his surgery.

"All week in practice, you could see he was really pumped up -- he kept saying his arm was feeling real good," Miami tight end Keith Jackson said, chuckling. "But Dan always has that pumped-up feeling. He always wants to push you to excellence."

It's his time now.

Long awaited.

Long overdue.

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