The Miami Dolphins sent quarterback Dan Marino off into pro football's retirement sunset yesterday with what amounted to a golden parachute.
Moments after Marino made it official that he's ending his 17-year career as the most prolific passer in NFL history, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga announced how the team will salute him.
Huizenga said the Dolphins will retire his No. 13, induct him into the Dolphin Hall of Honor at halftime of the first regular-season game this fall, erect a statue of him outside Pro Player Stadium and name a street in his honor outside the stadium.
The lavish send-off was an obvious attempt to smooth the strained relationship between the Dolphins and the player who symbolized their franchise for the better part of two decades.
New coach Dave Wannstedt, who had referred to Marino's situation as the "whole Dan thing," made it clear he wanted to rebuild in a new system without Marino.
Wannstedt said yesterday: "Danny could have come back. The Dolphins were one of his options."
Wannstedt, though, never offered him the starting job and told Marino he would have to compete for the job with the likes of Damon Huard, Jay Fiedler, Scott Zolak and Jim Druckenmiller if he returned.
It was significant that Marino thanked everyone from his parents, wife and children down to the team trainers and public relations staff in his eight-minute opening statement, but didn't mention Wannstedt or former coach Jimmy Johnson.
"After playing the game of football for most of my life, this was an extremely difficult decision. And I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss everything about it," Marino said.
Reluctant to accept an offer from the Minnesota Vikings and end his career in a different uniform, Marino decided it was time to retire.
The Dolphins were in a difficult position because Marino is so popular in Miami that it would have caused an uproar had he returned and been benched.
His agent, Marvin Demoff, who also represented John Elway, said: "The Dolphins could have done things better, but I don't think it would have changed his decision. There are some hurts, but with Dan, I don't think they'll be hard to heal. He's a forgiving person."
Tim Robbie, son of the team founder, the late Joe Robbie, said, "This is an odd day because it saddens everyone when it should have been the celebration of a career."
The mood was quite different when Elway retired last year after winning two Super Bowls in Denver and broke down crying. Marino didn't cry, though he choked up at times while his wife, Claire, dabbed his eyes throughout the news conference.
Marino said his health and family were the main reasons for retiring, but the fact the Dolphins wanted to rebuild without him probably contributed to the decision.
The Pittsburgh native also told friends he didn't want to bow out the way Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris did in 1984 when he spent part of his final year in a Seattle Seahawks uniform.
At times last season, Marino appeared to be a shadow of the quarterback who set 25 NFL records while completing 4,967 passes for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns. In his second season, he set two single-season marks of 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns.
By contrast, he threw for 20 touchdowns only once in his last four years after doing it 12 times in his first 13 years, missed several games last year with a neck injury and bowed out with a humiliating 62-7 playoff loss in Jacksonville.
Marino also retired without winning a Super Bowl. The Dolphins were routed by Joe Montana's San Francisco 49ers in his second season in Super Bowl XIX and never made it back.
Marino said a shot at a Super Bowl was his only reason to want to continue to play.
"That has been a dream of mine my whole career. I'm not going to have that chance, but it doesn't take away what I've done personally. I think I wanted to know what it's like as a player to win a Super Bowl," he said.
Marino was the victim of a lot of poor personnel decisions by Don Shula, the league's winningest coach who had Marino in his first 13 years in Miami. Shula never gave Marino the right supporting cast.
Although Marino saluted Shula for teaching him "how to be a true professional," Shula never found a running back to support him the way Mike Shanahan did Elway in Denver with Terrell Davis. The Dolphins also rarely had the type of defense a Super Bowl team needs.
When Johnson took over four years ago, he tried to build a running game but only alienated Marino when he told him to stop calling audibles and criticized him in public.
Johnson's name never came up until a reporter mentioned him late in the news conference and Marino said: "I would just have to say that our relationship was up and down at times. We had some great days together, some fun times. Sometimes I wasn't very happy here, while he was coaching. And that's just being honest."
The failure to win a Super Bowl, though, will mar Marino's legacy, though he's a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer.