MIAMI – Watching Miami Dolphins fans take over Hard Rock Stadium in his jersey never gets old for Dan Marino. 21 years after retiring, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback is still the man in Miami.
“I’ve been able to play here for so long and see that the fans are still interested after all this time. It’s special and I love it,” Marino told ESPN. “I care. I’m glad you still do.”
But Marino also knows that the pressure to replace him has increased as the Dolphins have failed time and again over the past two decades to find their franchise quarterback. Miami has had 22 starting QBs since Marino retired in 2000, and the current one – Tua Tagovailoa – has the potential to finally be the answer.
Tagovailoa has the star power – as a rookie among the top 5 players in jersey sales. He is already a folk hero in Hawaii and Alabama, where he was born and played college football. But after a rookie season with ups and downs (14 touchdowns to 5 interceptions with a 6-3 record, but an average of 181.4 yards per game and hesitation in throwing the deep ball) the questions remain whether he is the right guy for it will lead the dolphins to an elite level.
The Dolphins are expecting a big leap into Year 2. If Tagovailoa shows he can lead this team to the title fight, fans could be as all-in in the Tagovailoa-led future as they have in the Marino-led past.
“I hope he does,” said Marino. “It would be great for everyone, wouldn’t it? The most important thing is to be yourself, to be who you are and to work your butt off. It’ll work out.”
The focus around Tagovailoa this off-season was on his confidence. He recently admitted that last season he was “uncomfortable with naming games, reviewing games, alerting games” and “didn’t really, really know the playbook”.
Both comments sparked widespread criticism from multiple media outlets, but Dolphins trainer Brian Flores said it was an exaggeration: “Honestly, I think he’s just comparing the past year to where he is now, and I get that understand that a first year coach and came out that year, went into spring, went into the next season and said, ‘I could have been better last year. I should have been better. I’m better now. ‘”
Tagovailoa’s early reviews are positive as the Dolphins go to the mandatory minicamp this week. Wide receiver DeVante Parker said Tagovailoa’s “mechanics and footwork are different” and the “ball comes out faster”. Tagovailoa, listed as a 6 feet, 217 pounds as a rookie, also looks stronger and taller. He says he’s more comfortable with this game book and plan under Co-Offensive Coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville. Tagovailoa also says his hip feels “10 times better” than it did last year after his career-threatening dislocation and wall fracture in Alabama in November 2019.
During an extensive chat with ESPN, Marino discussed what he’s seen of Tagovailoa, how his perspective as an NFL quarterback has changed since his playing time (1983-1999), and his roller coaster health journey, which recently included two knee surgeries and a return to a diet plan that will help him lose weight.
Tagovailoa “has all the talents in the world”
Marino, who has worked as a special advisor to the Dolphins since 2014, knows a lot about second year jumps as his second season – 1984 – is considered to be one of the best QB seasons ever. He also gets a close look at Tagovailoa and the crime by attending exercises and meetings throughout the year.
“He was great. He was great. He has all the talents in the world. Now it’s just about developing the relationship with the other players,” said Marino of Tagovailoa. “It was tough because he didn’t have OTAs last year, not much from summer camp or the chance to go to exhibition games. All of these things delay you a bit. I’m telling you, he’s working his butt off. I’m really looking forward to him, his future and our future as a team. “
The quarterback made it clear that he is not “Coach Marino”, but only “someone who can sometimes help with my view of certain things”.
– Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) June 2, 2021
Last year, Tagovailoa said he appreciated Marino’s occasional glimpse that he added during quarterback meetings. Count Marino among those who believe Tagovailoa will be much bettered.
“With time you will get a better grip [of things]. You know your people. That’s what OTAs are about getting the timing down, “said Marino.” He played a lot last year and when he played we won games. We almost got to the playoffs. All of this is positive. You try to build from the positive.
“He really wants to be good. And in time he’ll make it because he’s such a kid.”
“I would guarantee you 6,000” [yards]’
Marino smiles when you mention 1984.
He doesn’t say it outright, but it’s easy to guess it was his favorite season as a professional – winning MVP, hitting Super Bowl XIX, breaking the pass touchdown record (48), and becoming the first NFL QB who dwarfed 5,000 passes (he finished the 1984 season with 5,084 yards). Peyton Manning eventually broke both records and remains with the Denver Broncos record holder after his historic 2013 season (55 touchdowns, 5,477 yards).
“I look back sometimes and have the feeling that back then as a group, as a team, as an offensive, as individuals we did something very special that no one has done for 30 years.” [afterward]”Marino said.” Now the guys are throwing 5,000 yards all the time, so it’s going to happen on a more consistent basis. But for me it’s still a special offer from 37 years ago. “
Records will be broken with the NFL being postponed to 17 games. There have been 12 5,000-yard seasons, 10 of which came within the last decade, and Marino believes a 6,000-yard season will happen. Then he pauses and his competitive QB mind emerges.
“If I were younger with [Mark] Duper and [Mark] Clayton, I would guarantee you 6,000, ”Marino said. “But I don’t have to do it now. I don’t have to prove it. “
Marino says the game has moved on quite a bit since playing. He lists the expanded access to doctors, health information, exercise techniques, and nutritional options, all of which have created the widespread perception of bigger, stronger, faster players. But when it comes to the quarterback game, he only sees one significant difference.
“How to deal with protective measures on the line of scrimmage – the defense has changed in part with several lightning bolts and different staff – we did some of it, but it’s a lot more complicated now than it was in the early 80s,” said Marino. “As far as throwing and reading the coverage, that hasn’t changed. It’s still 11 guys out of 11 guys.”
Marino then turns it back to those current dolphins. After a 10-6 season in which they narrowly missed the playoffs, there is another reason for Marino’s Dolphins optimism: Flores. Marino played in Don Shula for arguably the greatest coach of all time, so his perspective on Flores is valuable.
“Coach Flores was amazing,” said Marino.
“As for discipline and the guys who play hard for him, that’s all. I don’t think that’s going to change. He’s been a great addition to us. Guys, they want to follow him.”
Chris Canty explains how Tua Tagovailoa can improve in his sophomore year as the Dolphins’ QB.
“I try to influence the game in every possible way”
Marino is walking much better these days with two new knees. He had spent more than a decade fighting back but eventually gave in and underwent knee replacement surgery in November last year and again in March when the pain worsened.
“It was from playing football since I was a child. All the operations, plus playing on the real grass, which was like concrete. I did all the scopes, there was no more cartilage. It got pretty bad,” said Marino.
“But I feel better now. Maybe I’ll play again. I’m 59 years old. I can still throw a fade route.”
Today Marino says he’s in a better place. His Achilles, which he ripped off against the Cleveland Browns in October 1993, has not been properly repaired and still bothers him. But he had his knees done so that he could move around easily with his grandchildren. He’s 20 to 25 pounds heavier than his play weight, and the Nutrisystem spokesperson set a goal for the summer to eat better to shed a few pounds.
Moving from football can be challenging, Marino admits. He was able to find a smooth path to a broadcasting career for CBS and HBO and then got the advisor role with the Dolphins, but he believes the hardest part for players is keeping their physical and mental health outside of a team structure.
“It’s about enjoying your life every day,” said Marino. “We all have family situations. I’m going through things with my one sister now that it’s not easy and it doesn’t turn out well. You just have to do your best, be as open as possible, all the talking” about life is so important.”
Marino admits that all former gamers are talking about those scary three letters – CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He says it certainly “hits your mind” but he’s blessed that “it hasn’t affected me at all, but it does affect the players. It’s part of our lives – we choose to play football.”
In the almost 45-minute chat, Marino’s competitive nature stands out a few times. When his 1983 QB Draft class, which included Broncos star John Elway and Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly, emerges, Marino notices that they are no longer competing their age (Kelly is 61 and Elway is 60 ). Then he pauses, tries to resist the zinger, but decides to let it go.
“When we’re together, we always have a good time,” says Marino. “John’s still a pretty good golfer. I’m not sure I can beat him in golf. But I know I can beat Jim Kelly for sure.”
As for football, he enjoys seeing Tagovailoa and these dolphins. His advisory role doesn’t weigh him down too much, but it also makes him part of a rising Dolphins team that appears to be ready for a playoff appearance in the near future.
“To sit here or there in a meeting, to be around the coach, to be in training, to try to influence the game in every possible way. I love football. I’m blessed at my age to still be a part of the whole. ” said Marino. “Try to get our Dolphins to get better, make the playoffs and one day win the Super Bowl. If I can be a small part of it, it would mean the world to me.”