Shula: Marino "best pure passer who ever played the game"


Talk of Fame Network

Otto Graham was a marvelous athlete. Nobody was tougher than Johnny Unitas. And Dan Marino …

“I think he was the best pure passer who ever played the game,” said his coach, Don Shula, on last weekend’s Talk of Fame Network radio program. “He wasn’t going to run … (but) he had quick feet where he would move around in the pocket and buy time to throw the football. He was never going to run the football because he had so much faith and confidence his arm.”

Shula was a guest on the Talk of Fame Network’s final installment of its six-part Dynasty series. Shula played on the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s, where Graham was the star quarterback, and later coached Unitas and Marino. All three quarterbacks are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame … as is Shula.

“Otto Graham was a great athlete,” Shula said. “He was a running back at Northwestern, and Paul Brown made him into a T-formation quarterback. When a lot of plays broke down, Otto would take off with the ball and just run.

“Johnny Unitas was probably the toughest guy mentally and physically I ever coached. He would wait in the pocket until the last instant for his receivers to get open, and then he would deliver the ball, take the hit and get up bloodied and battered and do it again.”

The key to the success of the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s was not just Graham. It was his coach, Paul Brown, who went to 10 straight league championship games, winning seven of them. What Shula learned under the Hall-of-Fame coach served him well in his later years with Baltimore and Miami, where Shula won more games than any coach in the history of the NFL.

“He was just a great coach,” Shula said of Brown. “He brought the classroom into pro football. He not only wanted you to be physical. He wanted you to make sure you knew what you were doing and that you had a plan as to how you would get it done. He was ahead of a lot of old-time coaches who would just go out there and beat you up physically and were going to win the game. He taught you how to do it.”


NFL Stories