Chasing Danny

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

The combination of the new incrementalist running game and the lack of good receivers adds up to another failure to connect, one that reaches beyond Marino's image-managers and his own special autism.

Paradoxically, Jimmy Johnson's strategy is working -- sort of. And Marino, publicly at least, says he's all for it. Going into their third road game, against the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins were 5-2 and leading the AFC.

On the Wednesday before that game, I returned to the Dolphins' training camp one last time. Greene was already up in Buffalo, doing whatever public relations men do before a big game. Marino poked his head into the locker room but then vanished. Greene's second-in-command, Neal Gulkis, explained that Marino wasn't going to talk. "No. Not today," Gulkis said. "Dan's not coming out."

I stopped in front of the bulletin board as I was leaving. Someone had posted two copies of an article from the September 18 Toronto Sun. "Describing certain Buffalo reporters as 'scumbags,' guard Rubin Brown yesterday broke a month-long vow of silence by Buffalo's defensive line to rip the western New York press for what he perceives as cheap shots directed at both his unit and team," the article said.

Troy Drayton was relaxing in front of his locker, and I asked him about this animosity between high-priced football players and the allegedly free press. "Anytime you get a camera shoved in your face, it gets under your skin," Drayton said. "And you get a lot of stupid questions. Look at the question. Look at the circumstances it's asked under. There's your answer."

I drove over to a friend's house to watch the Dolphins-Bills game. In my mind it was a foregone conclusion. The preposterous Bills, quarterbacked by an underpaid, long-haired gnome named Doug Flutie, would stomp the crap out of the vanilla-flavored Dolphins, led by an inscrutable, aging dignitary with a bad-luck number on his back.

And that's just what happened.
The Dolphins aren't a great team this season; they don't deserve to win any Super Bowls, and none of this is the fault of Dan Marino, a bona fide sports deity trapped in a labyrinth built by moneymen, fickle fans, and media mopes.

What will become of South Florida when Marino moves off-stage into a Percocet haze of knee transplants, cameo spots on Yuletide razor commercials, and charity golf? It will feel like a death of sorts, and Marino will have died for our sins.

But a new hero will be bought or manufactured. Finally no one will even notice Marino's absence, and the slow eclipse of a superstar will be complete.

The new prince could come from anywhere. Going into the Bills game, it was announced that Dolphins backup quarterback Craig Erickson's elbow was damaged enough to take him out for the rest of the season. Suddenly Damon Huard, the team's third-string quarterback, was in a position to replace Marino if the old man failed to get up from his next sack. This omnipresent possibility was enhanced by the recent injury and removal of All-Pro tackle Richmond Webb, who guarded Marino's blind side.

Huard was basking in the sudden attention. He described his recent personal background: how he played an exile year in the World League in Europe and how he spent another year off from football working as a PR man for Phil Allen, owner of the Seattle Seahawks. That job, which paid $30,000 a year, involved a lot of speaking dates before chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs to drum up support for a grotesque piece of corporate welfare -- Allen's bid to build a new stadium with public money. "I had to be very persuasive," Huard said. "Basically I was a lobbyist. It was awesome."

Junior lobbyist or no, Huard still possessed disarming candor in comparison with Marino. He said he was thinking of naming his new cat Gypsy, after the Fleetwood Mac song.

"How do you think Marino would adjust to being backup -- number two -- if that should ever happen?" I asked Huard, knowing it to be mainly a hypothetical question.

"I really wouldn't like to comment on that," Huard said, laughing. "I don't know what to say to that question."

"How hard is it to tell the truth, in the position you're in?" I asked.
"It can be hard sometimes, real hard," Huard said, taking the question seriously. "It can be tough, there's no doubt about it."

Before the game against the Indianapolis Colts, I put in a final call to Harvey Greene. I asked him if I could arrange to be tackled a few times by linebacker Zach Thomas. This would give me a feel for Marino's work life.

Greene said this was impossible. Thomas might get hurt, he explained.
"Well," I said, "I appreciate you spending time with me, Harvey. You've been very helpful."

"No, I haven't," Greene said.
I reminded him that if Marino ever wanted to chat, I'm listed in the phone book. He said he'd pass along the message.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets