Chasing Danny

Is Dan Marino a stoic swaddled in hype or a frigid sports celebrity with the personality of an egg timer?

"After sixteen years in the NFL, Marino expects people to know who he is and respect him, but they don't," adds the photographer. "Unfortunately the attitude among fans and the media is, What have you done for me lately? Consequently he's been very, very private when it comes to the real story of who he is."

Discussing why Serota's book on Marino remains the only one ever published, Harvey Greene notes, "If you look at other quarterbacks that have had books written about them, they're one of two things. Either they recently played in Super Bowls or they're brazen and outspoken and bombastic and all the things that Danny is not."

Says Marino's marketing agent Ralph Stringer: "Danny's about as normal as you could get. He's like you or I, other than there's one important difference -- he can sling it, we can't."

Kevin McCarthy, owner of Armadillo Cafe in Davie, agrees. "They don't play the star game," McCarthy says, referring to Marino and his wife. "She doesn't call up and say, 'This is Mrs. Marino and I'd like a table for 40.' She'll call me up and say, 'Can I come in for dinner?' and 'four people,' and 'this night.' Then I'll say, 'What's the name,' and she'll say, 'Marino.' They're not trying to push their way in or anything. They come in and dine early. Sometimes they bring the kids. That's it."

After shadowing Marino for weeks, GQ correspondent Peter Richmond found a Zenlike emptiness at the end of the road. "The key to his brilliance as a quarterback has always been the absence of reflection," Richmond writes. "And this is probably also as good a way of describing him off the field as any."

I didn't believe it. I was sure the Marino conundrum would burn away as I made more and more passes through the locker room. It was about all I could do, since Marino, through a third party, had nixed my requests to interview his famously chatty dad, his gregarious bodyguard, and various other people close to him.

The locker room: A sign above the door reads "Aggressive." Another sign, somewhat unbelievable, announces Friday-night Bible-study meetings. Five days before the Dolphins meet the Rams at home, we are waiting for Marino in front of his locker at the training camp near Nova Southeastern University.

Inside Marino's locker I see containers of Carmex and Mentadent, pictures of his kids, jeans and shower shoes and car keys and golf visors, a crucifix with blue rosary beads, an oversize shot glass, and a gold money clip stuffed with hundreds.

Marino emerges. There's a rush to his locker, and he launches right into a rehash of the Jacksonville game: "... balanced team ... I'm very critical of myself. I feel like I should make every play possible ... to be efficient doesn't necessarily mean you have to throw a lot. ..."

"Did you feel like you were in The Zone, Danny, during that game? Or were you just kind of keeping it going?" someone asks. Talking about The Zone has become fashionable in recent years, just as talking about "smash-mouth football" has been all the rage the past few seasons.

"I don't know what you mean by 'The Zone,' bro," Marino replies.
Greene pops up in the pack like a jack-in-the-box and says, "Thanks, guys! That's all! It's time to bring him inside for the trainer!" Time, too, for the assembled reporters to retire to the press room, where a dozen hot, fresh pizzas are waiting, care of the Dolphins. Let's face it, which would you rather do, eat pizza or try to interview a grumpy legend? Greene figured this one out years ago.

On the way out I pass a female sports reporter, still a rare sight. She has flown in from St. Louis and, through sheer bad luck, has just missed her only stab at Marino.

A companion, probably her cameraman, consoles her. Sort of. He says, "Don't feel bad. I got tape. But I guarantee you there's nothing worthwhile on that tape."

The sportswriter sighs. "The guys who have been in it the longest -- I mean Elway's kind of the same way, although I think he's a little more open. We tried to get him on a conference call last year, and we couldn't get him. It's the guys who've been in it the longest. After a while they're stars; they get sick of it. You can almost understand it, but at the same time it's frustrating."

"Kind of arrogant, isn't it?" I suggest.
"Yeah, well," she says, chewing on the question. "I guess they have a right to be."

The Rams-Dolphins game turns out to be a dull shoving match. The Dolphins win, as they were expected to. The fans start filing out of Pro Player Stadium early in the fourth quarter.

When the game is finally over, I notice that Marino looks just as glum after winning as he does after losing. He's standing in front of his locker in nothing but a white towel, subtly scratching his privates and holding a toothbrush with toothpaste on it.

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