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Marino leaves legacy of ... well, a fast exit

Published February 8, 2004

There is perhaps nothing more painful in sports than when a recruit reneges.

One minute, you are making beautiful plans together. You are talking about touchdowns, about trophies, about titles. The next, there is rejection, and the sound of footsteps walking away. There is nothing to do but sweep up the broken promises.

Ah, Danny Boy.

This career, we hardly knew ye.

After three glorious - not to mention undefeated - weeks on the job, Dan Marino quit the Dolphins last week. Presumably, he would have been even quicker about it, but he went to the men's room, and he couldn't find his way back to his office to get his car keys.

Are you kidding me? Marino bailed already? The photos from the news conference when he was hired weren't even back yet. A high ankle sprain takes more time.

How fast was this? Frodo carried that stupid ring around longer, okay? The drum solo in In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida lasts longer. A carton of milk lasts longer. By comparison, Britney Spears is the Cal Ripken of marriage and Janet Jackson is the Lou Gehrig of modesty. Speaking of which, what did Justin Timberlake call Janet's flash dance? A wardrobe malfunction? Feel free to call Marino's change of mind a frontal lobe malfunction.

So why did Marino quit?

First question's first: Why did he take the job to start with?

Look, it isn't as if Marino has nothing to do. The guy has a quite successful, quite lucrative career. It's called Being Dan Marino. The way I understand it, it involves a few autographs and a lot of 7-irons. On the other hand, you get weekends off and you are your own boss.

If they loved Dan Marino any more in South Florida, they'd put his picture on money. He reached the Super Bowl in its 19th year, and the Dolphins haven't been back in the 19 years since. In most ways, Marino is the bridge to something that was more than pretty good.

Even now, Marino walks into a room, and the grown men all turn 12 years old again. Their eyes grow all glassy, and their knees grow weak. At least, that's always been the reaction of Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, who also threw a job in front of Marino a few weeks back: Senior Vice President in Charge of Telling Stories About When He Threw Deep to Duper.

In his most regrettable performance since his two interceptions in his Super Bowl, Marino accepted. And the ripples of laughter could be heard across the league.

As a player, everyone took Marino seriously. This time, no one did. Marino didn't have the power to hire or fire the coach. He didn't have control of the draft. He didn't sign free agents. He didn't negotiate contracts. You could call him a figurehead, but to be honest, other heads did the figuring, too.

Marino's job, as near as anyone could figure it, was to be the face of the franchise. You know, the job Flipper used to have. Marino was supposed to represent the team at owners meetings, to tell the sponsors all of his Don Shula stories, to explain to Huizenga what had happened on the previous play. Ah, that's when you know a guy is rich. When he can afford his own color analyst. Soon, everyone will want one.

At the time, Marino called it the job of his dreams.

On the other hand, dreams only last for a few seconds.

Who knows why the job tempted Marino? Why do singers want to be actors? Why do actors want to be directors? Maybe Marino missed being part of a team.

If you want the truth, Marino shouldn't be the punch line here. Huizenga should be. He should have known better. You don't hire Secretariat to give pony rides. You don't hire Picasso to paint your house. And you don't hire Marino to play show-and-tell with the skybox customers.

There is an old line in marketing. If the customers don't like what they see, give them a glimpse of something they love. That was Marino. Huizenga needed to mask his team's shortcomings, so he trucked out Marino, and everyone felt all cozy inside the legacy. Fans were supposed to notice Marino's achievements, not the team's lack of them. It was a job, all right. A con job.

Come on. Even if the job had some muscle, can you imagine Marino giving up his golf and his TV gigs to splice tape on the tight ends who might be available in Round 5?

Of course not. Marino needed another career like he needed Bruce Smith's helmet in his kidneys one more time.

The dog-and-pony job was even worse. Say what you wish about Marino, but the absolute core of the guy is this: He's a competitive cuss. It should have been apparent from the start such a role wasn't going to keep him happy for very long.

It lasted three weeks and, quick as his release, Marino was gone. For the life of me, I can't figure out why he hung on so long.

Here's the settlement, then. For the short term, Marino looks awkward and indecisive. It will pass. The Dolphins look clueless. That image might stick around for a while. It's a good thing Marino left, lest he get some of it on his shoes.

In the meantime, one imagines Bob Griese is waiting by the phone.

After all, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

[Last modified February 8, 2004, 01:45:41]

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