He's not the passer he was. He can hardly move around. Coach
Jimmy Johnson might bench him. He's expendable. Those are some
of the things being said about Dan Marino in Miami this season.
He's 36, and it's true that every one of those notions will
eventually become undeniable and his career will end. But on
Sunday night Marino silenced all the talk. He trotted off the
field after yet another classic game-winning drive, pumping his
fist while the air in Pro Player Stadium--his stadium--vibrated
with howls of fan worship and the booming strains of Macho Man.
"I'm having fun now," Marino said after the 33-30 win over the
Detroit Lions, and it was easy to see why. Not only did Miami
(9-5) put itself in position to decide its own playoff
fate--wins over Indianapolis and New England would guarantee the
AFC East title and a split would all but ensure a postseason
spot--but also the once-shaky Dolphins offense is beginning to
hum. Faced early this season with a constantly shifting cast of
wideouts, Marino has suddenly found a rhythm with his receiving
corps: On Sunday he completed passes to eight players, connected
on 24 of 39 attempts for 310 yards and two touchdowns and, best
of all, again proved himself the most dangerous of quarterbacks
with time draining away.
Strange. When Detroit quarterback Scott Mitchell, Marino's
former backup, tied the game at 30-30 after piloting the Lions
96 yards to a touchdown and a two-point conversion with 1:14
left, the momentum gave every sign of having swung. But Marino
wouldn't have it. He told his offensive line, "We've done this
before, and we can do it again."
Beginning the drive at his own 22 with 1:08 to go, Marino ran
the one-minute offense to perfection: 19-yard pass to O.J.
McDuffie, timeout, nine-yard pass to Brett Perriman, 17-yard
pass to Bernie Parmalee, timeout, two short runs by Jerris
McPhail sandwiched around one more short pass to Parmalee.
Olindo Mare kicked the decisive 42-yard field goal with four
December 15, 1997
"We've been trying to find that chemistry," said tight end Troy
Drayton after catching both of Marino's touchdown passes. "A lot
of guys have only been with Dan a year or less. We're still
learning what he likes and what he expects from us. But we are
really starting to get on the same page."
Marino's second touchdown toss to Drayton, a 23-yard strike on a
rare bootleg, was the night's most gorgeous set piece. But the
game's best moment had come on the previous play, when, facing
third-and-15, Marino was flushed out of the pocket. He whirled
away from one defender, ducked another, ran forward and then
flipped the ball to McPhail for a 19-yard gain and the first
down. "I got lucky and stayed on my feet and picked up Jerris
right away, because I didn't think I was able to go much
farther," Marino said. "It worked out. Sometimes you get lucky
Lucky? As Perriman says, "Dan thinks he can make any play,
He just doesn't say it. After Mare's field goal Marino marched
to the locker room, eyes locked straight ahead. His teammates
were cheering, hugging one another, screaming. He kept moving.
He didn't talk to anyone. In the press conference Johnson called
Marino "fantastic." But by the time he had gotten out of the
shower, Marino had shrunk: He limped to his locker, hair matted,
bathrobe drooping. Someone asked if it had been a rough year. He
grinned and said, "I'm doing all right."