Dan Marino: The Most Underrated Quarterback of All Time

Unfortunately, when someone mentions Dan Marino’s name here in 2019, it’s for one of two reasons. You’re either watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and between noting how poorly the plot twist has aged and lamenting how much you miss crazy Jim Carrey, you’re like “oh wow, I forgot Dan Marino was in this” or you’re listing the best players to never win a Super Bowl.

Dan Marino: The Most Underrated Quarterback of All Time

First thing’s first, Dan Marino put up unreal numbers in an era that was still very much dominated by rushers. Football has changed pretty dramatically over the years in favor of the passing game, and as a result, the value of passing statistics have taken a pretty big hit (read all about it here). In his career, Marino led the league in passing yards five times and touchdown passes on three occasions.

Dan Marino set records for passing yards (5,084) and touchdowns (48) in 1984 that would remain untouched until 2011 and 2004 respectively, both after the rules were changed to benefit the passing game. Patrick Mahomes put up similar numbers in 2019 and was still the NFL’s league MVP.

The second half of his career was limited by injuries, but Marino still played well enough to rewrite the NFL’s record books, all-the-while keeping the Miami Dolphins relevant. Marino only finished two seasons with more losses than wins and took Miami to the playoffs ten times in his career.

The Resume

Here’s a quick rundown of Dan Marino’s career achievements.

  • Nine Time Pro Bowler
  • 1983 Rookie of the Year
  • Three Time First-Team All-Pro
  • Four Time Second-Team All-Pro
  • 1984 League MVP
  • 1984 Offensive Player of the Year
  • Retired as the NFL’s All-Time Leader in Passing Touchdowns and Yards
  • Five Time Passing Yards Leader
  • Three Time Passing Touchdowns Leader
  • 1994 Comeback Player of the Year
  • Was the only quarterback to beat the infamous 1985 Chicago Bears
  • Miami Dolphins’ All-Time Leading Passer
  • Pro Football Hall of Famer (Class of 2005)

Marino to Manning

While Marino never delivered a Super Bowl to the Dolphins, that doesn’t mean he didn’t succeed in the post-season. While his post-season shortcomings are often a topic of discussion, he only went one-and-done on three occasions. For reference, Peyton Manning went to the playoffs 15 times and he ended the post-season winless on nine different occasions.

And make no mistake, the Peyton Manning-Dan Marino comparison is not an uncommon one. Both men experienced post-season struggles despite sensational statistical achievements, but being honest, even though Manning’s beginnings coincided with the twilight of Marino’s career, the duo played in very different leagues. Fortunately, there are three guys who had a very similar NFL experience to Marino.

The Best Class Ever

The 1983 draft class is considered by many to be the best quarterback class in NFL history. Marino, John Elway, and Jim Kelly have busts in Canton and Ken O’Brien was a suitable starter for many years at quarterback. Comparing Marino’s seasons to someone from today’s era would be unfair, but the other three best quarterbacks from their draft class? That’s a different story.

Ken O’Brien- 129 games, 2110/3602, 25,094 yards, 128 touchdowns, 98 interceptions.
John Elway- 234 games, 4123/7250, 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns, 226 interceptions.
Jim Kelly- 160 games, 2874/4779, 35,467 yards, 237 touchdowns, 175 interceptions.
Dan Marino- 242 games, 4967/8358, 61,361 yards, 420 touchdowns, 252 interceptions.

In an era where passing wasn’t as easy as it is today, Marino’s numbers dwarfed everyone else’s by a pretty significant margin. The other great quarterback from the 1980’s, Joe Montana, didn’t put up numbers in the same ballpark as Marino. He threw 20,810 fewer yards, 147 fewer touchdowns, and 21 more interceptions, all despite playing with this guy you might’ve heard of, Jerry Rice.

Dolphins in Doubt

It’s bizarre that Marino was this good but he never won a Super Bowl. Just based on his insane numbers, the Dolphins should’ve won at least one championship during his time as the team’s starting quarterback. But sadly, he didn’t. In fact, he only got close once.

Not-So-Super Bowl

During that iconic 1984 season when he rewrote the record book, his Dolphins shredded the AFC and made it all the way to Super Bowl XIX. Regrettably, they ran into a buzz-saw known as the San Francisco 49er dynasty. Marino was sacked four times, intercepted twice, and the boys from the Bay won 38-16.

The team’s leading rusher was Tony Nathan with only 18 yards, which was 40 less than 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana. Montana breezed through the game, shredding Miami’s defense to the tune of 331 yards and three touchdowns. Roger Craig had 135 combined yards for three touchdowns and the game was never really close.

Sign of the Times

Sadly, this would be symptomatic of Marino’s entire run with the Dolphins. Despite Marino’s best efforts, the rest of the team simply wouldn’t carry their weight. In 17 seasons as Miami’s starting quarterback, his defenses averaged 18th in the league, only cracking the top ten three times, including his first and final seasons. Those same Dolphin teams consistently ranked towards the bottom of the league in rushing (22nd over his career) and Marino only had a 1,000 yard rusher once.

His rival, Elway, had very different circumstances. Despite how often people claim the Stanford product didn’t have help, he had six top ten defenses and his Bronco teams ranked inside the top ten in rushing on seven different occasions. While Marino only had one 1,000 yard rusher, Elway had eight, including well over 4,000 yards from Terrell Davis over the final three years of his career.

So despite never really having a great supporting cast, Marino consistently put up the best numbers of any passer during his era and kept the Dolphins relevant. As long as Dan Marino was under center, the Dolphins had a chance. Want to know a weird stat? Dan Marino won 30 of 60 career games with 40+ attempts. He’s only one of two quarterbacks in NFL history that doesn’t have a losing record with at least 40 attempts (min 100 starts), and the other guy has six Super Bowl rings.

I’m not saying the Dan Marino is the best, or even the second best quarterback in NFL history. That’s another article for another time. I’m just saying that when thinking back on Marino’s legacy, maybe instead of referring to him as the guy who couldn’t win a Championship, we should think of him as the guy that consistently got the best out of bad situations for nearly 20 years. Dan Marino is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, almost despite the circumstances that define his career today, and that’s how we should remember him.

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