By the time he retired in 1999, Dan Marino held nearly every major passing record in NFL history. His 61,361 yards were over 14,000 more than previous record holder Fran Tarkenton, and his 420 touchdowns were 78 more than the Minnesota Vikings Hall of Famer.
Apparently most teams were not expecting this level of production from Marino, as the University of Pittsburgh quarterback was selected 27th in the 1983 NFL Draft. In fact, four other quarterbacks were chosen before the Miami Dolphins drafted Marino.
It didn’t take long for the 6’4,” 224-pound rookie to make an impact. Marino became a starter in the sixth game of the season, and went on to throw for 2,210 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 11 games. His 96.0 passer rating ranked third in the NFL, and he became the first rookie quarterback to start a Pro Bowl.
While Marino was impressive in his rookie year, no one could have anticipated what would happen in his sophomore season. In 1984, the strong-armed quarterback had the greatest season ever by an NFL passer. He became the first player to throw for 5,000 yards (5,084), and he broke the single-season touchdown record with 48, eclipsing the previous mark of 36 by 12. He led the NFL in every major passing category, including quarterback rating (108.9).
In addition to his individual accolades, Marino also brought the Dolphins team success. After going 12-4 with an AFC East title in 1983, the second-year quarterback led Miami to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl in 1984. In the AFC Championship Game, Marino threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in the Dolphins’ 45-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Marino had 318 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XIX, but the Dolphins lost 38-16 to the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers, who possessed the NFL’s top-ranked defense at 14.2 points allowed per game.
The reigning NFL MVP had another strong season in 1985, leading the NFL with 4,137 yards and 30 touchdowns. The Dolphins won the AFC East for the third straight year, but were upset by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
The highlight of the Dolphins’ 1985 season was a 38-24 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. It was the only loss of the season for the 15-1 Bears, who had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Marino picked apart the Bears D, throwing for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
In 1986, Marino approached his record-setting 1984 numbers with a league-leading 4,746 yards and 44 touchdowns. He also became the first quarterback in NFL history to be named First Team All-Pro three straight seasons.
Marino was now established as the NFL’s top quarterback. His strong arm and quick release struck fear in even the best defenses. Cornerbacks and safeties were helpless to defend throws that fit into the tightest of windows, and pass rushers were always a step behind his quick release.
While the Dolphins offense could score on anyone, the defense had fallen to the bottom of the league rankings. From 1986-89, Miami ranked in the bottom third in defense, and missed the playoffs all four seasons.
In 1990, Marino and the offense finally got some help from the defense, as the unit ranked fourth in the NFL in fewest points allowed. The result was a 12-4 record and the team’s first playoff appearance in five years.
Marino threw for 221 yards, two touchdowns and had a 107.8 passer rating in the Dolphins’ 17-16 Wild Card win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Miami lost 44-34 to the AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, despite Marino’s 323 yards and three touchdowns.
In 1992, the Dolphins won their first division title, and made their first AFC Championship Game appearance in seven years. Marino was brilliant in a 31-0 win over the San Diego Chargers in the Divisional Round with three touchdowns and a 109.4 passer rating. In the AFC title game, Miami once again lost to the Bills, who were on the way to their third straight Super Bowl.
Marino and the Dolphins remained playoff contenders for the last seven years of his career. After a torn Achilles tendon ended his season after only five games in 1993, Marino had one of his best years in 1994.
The 33-year-old future Hall of Famer threw for 4,453 yards and 30 touchdowns en route to winning Comeback Player of the Year. The Dolphins were once again AFC East champions, setting up a quarterback battle for the ages in the AFC Wild Card Game. Marino completed 22 of 29 passes for 257 yards, two touchdowns and a career playoff-high 125.2 passer rating in a 27-17 win over Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Marino was equally effective in the Divisional Round with 262 yards, three touchdowns and a 109.8 rating, but the Dolphins lost to the Chargers 22-21.
In 1995, Marino broke the NFL’s top two career passing records, as he passed Tarkenton in both yards and touchdowns. The year also marked Marino’s ninth and final Pro Bowl selection, second only to Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas at the time.
The 1995 season also brought an end to an era, as the NFL’s all-time winningest coach, Don Shula, retired after the season. In their 13 years together, Shula and Marino set an NFL record for a coach-quarterback combo with 116 wins.
In 1996, Jimmy Johnson took over as head coach of the Dolphins, ushering in a new era. For the last four years of his career, the Dolphins ranked in the middle of the pack in offense while rising to first in scoring defense in 1998.
Miami made the playoffs from 1997-99, winning two Wild Card games but never advancing past the Divisional Round. After 17 seasons and 242 games, Marino retired following the 1999 season.
In addition to his success on the field, Marino was also one of the most generous players off of it. He was named the 1998 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable contributions, and his Dan Marino Foundation continues to help those with autism and other developmental disabilities.
In 2005, Marino was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.