CANTON, Ohio - Dan Marino had challenged Miami Dolphins fans everywhere to "overrun Canton" for his Hall of Fame induction, and they had responded all weekend in astonishing numbers.
So minutes before the speeches yesterday, Marino lowered a shoulder into fellow inductee Steve Young backstage.
"I need somebody to call a corner blitz and blindside me," Marino said.
The two quarterbacks were nervously getting ready for one more big appearance in front of a football crowd. Typically, neither let anybody down.
Young, accustomed to playing second fiddle to Joe Montana, preceded Marino and gave a heartfelt tribute to the sport.
Marino then brought down the place by firing one last pass from the lectern to Mark Clayton, one of the Dolphins' former "Marks Brothers" receivers along with Mark Duper. Ordering Clayton to go long, Marino unleashed a perfect spiral from the familiar quick release, and Clayton caught it head-high 30 yards down the center aisle.
"God blessed me with a special talent to throw a football," Marino said.
It was completion No. 4,968, touchdown No. 421 in the minds of Miami fans. It could have won a Super Bowl.
"We didn't win a Super Bowl, something I'll always regret," said Marino, addressing former Miami coach Don Shula sitting among Hall of Fame enshrinees behind him. "But we won more games together than any quarterback-coach combination in the history of the NFL, and that's something I'll always be proud of."
Also going into the Hall were two posthumous inductees from the 1920s - Benny Friedman, the first real pro passer, and Chicago's Fritz Pollard, the first African-American coach.
Young and Marino had made boyhood treks to the Hall of Fame with their families, and both praised family support for their success at least as much as coaching. Marino was introduced by 19-year-old son Daniel, an aspiring actor. Young was introduced by father LeGrande.
Young and Marino expressed sympathy for 2002 Hall inductee Jim Kelly and wife, Jill, mourning Friday's death of 8-year-old son Hunter of Krabbe's disease.
Young thanked San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and predecessor and alleged nemesis Montana for pushing him. He said playing behind Montana for four years was "brutally hard" but called Montana "the greatest quarterback I'd ever seen" and decided to stick it out because following Montana meant "being a regular quarterback was no longer an option."
The first left-handed quarterback in the Hall of Fame, Young also thanked the late Sid Gillman for persuading him never to listen to skeptics who thought scramblers could not be great quarterbacks.
"Never made much sense to me, anyway," Young said.
Marino said he always claimed it didn't bother him that he was the sixth quarterback selected in the first round of the great 1983 NFL draft.
"Well, I lied," Marino said. "Today, I thank the 26 teams for passing me."
Dolphins fans erupted in one final tribute, and Shula smiled.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.