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Danny boy, the pipes of retirement are calling

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000

Dan Marino, in his '00 daydreams, has to be imagining how productive and dependable it might be to throw footballs to Cris Carter.

Aging NFL eyes surely bulge at Danny's new temptation to associate with the exotic end zone propensities of Randy Moss.

Never, with the Dolphins, did No. 13 have the balancing luxury of handing off to a runner as dynamic as Robert Smith.

Then, there is reality.

Marino's mind must ache with debate. Considering the circumstances, does he retire, having accomplished everything but a Super Bowl championship?

Dan has a pulsating option.

Will an extraordinarily competitive Marino heart refuse to accept deceleration, no matter the challenges and risks for a down-sloping athlete who turns 39 in the opening month of a fresh season?

Oh, the emotions.

Danny is done in Miami after 17 seasons, 420 touchdown passes and 61,361 yards. You know he loathes having a final QB memory that torments, a 62-7 playoff massacre against Jacksonville where the Dolphins were being smothered 38-0 before Marino completed a pass.

About redemption ...

Minnesota coach Denny Green has spoken with Marino, offering the 2000 job as Vikings starter. Allowing further developmental hours for Daunte Culpepper, a 245-pound mountain of quarterbacking promise from Central Florida.

Breathe deeply, No. 13. Assess factors that heroically tease as well as the possibilities of downsides that could deeply pain.

My memories of Marino, even now, are a nothing-but-upbeat highlight film. Danny whistling his signature touchdown spirals. Displaying linebacker toughness. Having unsurpassed desire. That is my dominant No. 13 flashback, not some dreadful January afternoon in Jacksonville.

* * *

Surely, as he digests the Vikings' bid, Marino is learning of Minnesota's reconstruction of its offensive line. Protection is vital to a graying QB.

Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy, repetitive Pro Bowlers at guard and center, have left Green for Tampa Bay, seeing Super Bowl chances as improved with Tony Dungy and the Bucs.

Purple blockers turning green.

Marino never was blessed with mobility, although a younger No. 13 was brilliant at sidestepping enemy rushers. His hair-trigger release allowed passes to stunningly fly, keeping sacks at a minimum.

But, in the late '90s, the Marino reactions slowed. Last season, he had become a far easier target for blitzers. For the first time, Danny had more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (12).

If you're a Bucs zealot, a Marino hookup with the Vikings could be good NFC Central news. Putting off the bombastic if raw abilities of Culpepper. What might a sensational Tampa Bay defense do against an ever-slowing Danny, working behind new Vikings regulars at center and left guard?

Please, be more open minded.

It is terribly difficult for those of us who aren't a John Elway, a Joe Montana, a Roger Staubach, a Steve Young or a Dan Marino to amply fathom the personal traumas of an aging QB who faces a quit-or-play-on decision.

Money has no bearing. These fellows all have financial holdings that would make Midas blush. But their need to continue competing, to keep proving themselves to themselves, can be a monstrously powerful narcotic.

Wayne Gretzky is going through withdrawal agony as a new hockey retiree. Michael Jordan still hungers for athletic competition. Staubach would try to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys at age 55 if owner Jerry Jones asked.

It's so easy and uncomplicated for us mortals to say, "Hang it up, now!" But, after trying my hardest to embrace all Marino factors, of age and fading abilities and unrelenting competitive gusto, I do wish No. 13 would make that rotten game in Jacksonville his last.

I don't see Marino going to Minnesota and being physically reborn. Odds are against him snagging that ever-elusive Super Bowl ring. Not with Vikings who, as a franchise, never have known such glory, despite a flurry of solid chances.

Let's try to look ahead. Saying that Marino retires rather than going purple. Five years from now, we'll cheer his first-ballot election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

We should remember his colossal NFL accomplishments, with Jacksonville and any other negatives buried well beneath so much acclaim.

Sure, we will recall that Danny never won a Super Bowl. But that should be no eternal slam of the colossal QB. It says more about the Dolphins and not-quite-good-enough casts that repeatedly surrounded the amazing Danny.

Okay, let's practice.

A little word association.

"Dan Marino."

"Best passer ever."

Final answer? I hope so.

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