Unlike retired Elway, Marino's thirst remains

On The NFL

May 09, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

As John Elway's farewell news conference wound down last Sunday, he made a surprising admission: He probably would have kept playing if he hadn't won a Super Bowl.

That helps explain why Dan Marino, the last active member of the Quarterback Class of 1983, will return this fall, even though he turns 38 on Sept. 15.

Marino, whose Dolphins lost to San Francisco in his lone Super Bowl appearance after the 1984 season, is still chasing that elusive ring.

"There's no doubt that [retirement] enters your mind sometimes, but I feel pretty good about what I'm doing," Marino said. "If I was on a team that I didn't think had a chance to win, then maybe I would think about it [retiring] a lot more seriously. But right now I feel good. I'm throwing the ball great. I don't see any reason to think about it."

Elway's retirement announcement -- made 17 years to the day (May 2, 1983) that the Colts traded him to Denver -- gives Marino a better shot since the AFC field appears wide-open.

"Denver's got a real good team; until someone beats them, they're the world champions," Marino said. "I think we're getting better, though. We're going to have a chance, a real chance. I'm looking forward to it. I really am."

What if?

It's easy to forget that Marino came within a bad call of becoming a Baltimore Colt.

Back in the 1982 strike season, Baltimore got the first pick in 1983 after an 0-8-1 record, while Houston, at 1-8, got the second pick. Houston would have had the first pick but for a tainted victory over Seattle in the second game.

Ken Easley intercepted a pass with 1: 19 left to presumably preserve a 21-17 Seattle victory, but the officials ruled he was out of bounds. Replays showed he wasn't, but Houston went on to win, 23-21.

Houston would have taken Elway with the top pick, and he would have had no trouble playing there since Frank Kush wasn't the coach.

Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, Ernie Accorsi, who was then the Colts' general manager, would have taken Marino with the second pick. He was shocked Marino fell to the bottom of the round.

Accorsi says either Elway -- whom Accorsi believes would have eventually played for the Colts if owner Bob Irsay hadn't traded him -- or Marino could have kept the Colts from moving in 1984. Either one could have been a marquee attraction and boosted ticket sales.

Marino, who developed faster than Elway did, could have turned a 7-9 Colts team in 1983 into one with a winning record that captured the fans' fancy.

Unlike Elway, Marino would have had no trouble playing for Kush. He played for him in the Senior Bowl that year and the two western Pennsylvania natives hit it off.

That's all hindsight, though. What did happen is that the Colts moved, and it still bothers Accorsi, now the Giants' general manager, that when he retires, he won't be able to root for the Baltimore Colts.

"Once I leave pro football, the team I grew up won't be there anymore. The Browns fans are fortunate to get the same uniforms, the same name and in time, it'll be like they never left Cleveland. For Baltimore, it'll never be the same," he recently told the Record of Hackensack, N.J.

What if II?

Houston fans, who now don't have a team, can only wonder if Elway would have saved the Oilers.

They wound up trading down from the second slot in 1983 to draft offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and then went on to sign Warren Moon out of Canada, who took them to the playoffs seven straight seasons from 1987 to 1993.

The Oilers were eliminated every year, but with Elway, they might have won a Super Bowl or two and possibly generated the backing for a stadium bill that would have saved the franchise.

Meanwhile, Denver could have lost its team if Elway's success hadn't paved the way for a stadium referendum to be passed.

Ex-Ravens

When Alex Bernstein arrived at the Ravens' training camp as an undrafted free agent from Amherst in 1997, he was just a face in the crowd who was signed by the Jets off the Ravens' practice squad last year.

Now he's the Jets' starting right guard on the depth chart and is filling the reporters' notebooks with colorful quotes. He probably won't keep the job if they re-sign Matt O'Dwyer, but he says he can beat out the Jets' top draft pick, Randy Thomas.

Bernstein, calling himself the "NFL's Biggest Jew" at 325 pounds, said, "When I first showed up at minicamp [in Baltimore], I felt like I was at the prom with no date and no tux, while everybody else was counting their bonus money."

He added, "Two years ago, I would have been scared to death. Now I've got a lot more ability. I have two years in the NFL under my belt. Two years ago, I didn't think I belonged. Now I'll match my skills and ability with anyone coming out of college. I can't wait to get the pads on."

In New Orleans, former Ravens center Wally Williams missed minicamp after pulling a hamstring running a 40-yard dash before camp. Coach Mike Ditka said that Williams, who got a $7 million signing bonus, will start the opener.

"Wally's job is to be ready for the opener. And he will be," Ditka said.

In Cleveland, guard Ben Cavil, taken by the Browns from Baltimore in the expansion draft, was promised a dinner by coach Chris Palmer if he dropped from 356 pounds to 320. He did it by minicamp and Palmer took him to dinner, but insisted Cavil order fish. Palmer wants Cavil to lose another 15 pounds.

Quotable

"We're brother and sister. Genes did that. I didn't."

-- Suspended 49ers president Ed DeBartolo on his stormy relationship with his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, who is running the team while they sue each other.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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