NFL Network has done splendid work crafting documentaries on the game’s greats, and Friday’s 9 p.m. debut of Dan Marino: A Football Life – the 87th installment in the series - will hold special interest to Dolphins fans.
The 46-minute film, which is airing on the day of Marino’s 56th birthday, takes you to the neighborhood in Pittsburgh where Marino grew up; retraces his fall to 27th in the 1983 Draft; his record-setting 1984 season and only Super Bowl appearance; his assault on the NFL record book; his acting gigs; son Michael’s autism diagnosis; the Achilles’ tendon injury that sidelined a legend who once started 145 consecutive games; his 2005 Hall of Fame induction and more.
There were interviews with 25 people, all worthy subjects: from Marino’s mother and wife and sister and son Michael to Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, plus receivers Mark Clayton, Mark Duper, Nat Moore, O.J. McDuffie and Oronde Gasden, who revealed that Marino ordered him to disregard Johnson’s call and go deep on a play that resulted in a completion and a last-minute win in Indianapolis in Marino’s final season. “I think I better listen to Dan,” Gadsden told himself.
Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote also weighs in during the documentary.
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Along the way, we see Marino read letters of advice that his deceased father wrote to him. And we learn some interesting nuggets: That Marino’s admitted fantasy to teammates was throwing a pass on every play in a game; that Alex Rodriguez grew up with two Marino jerseys; and that Bernie Kosar suggested the fake spike play that was used in the memorable win against the Jets in the Meadowlands.
“So I give Bernie credit for it … although I did throw it,” Marino said.
NFL Films coordinator producer Chris Barlow said by phone that “the thing I take away from the show the most was to see the greatest guys that ever played the position – Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Peyton Manning – [express] the reverence they had for Marino and how what he did with the football was really special. The admiration they had for him really stood out for me. From a football fan's point of view, to watch Dan Marino throw a football brings a pure joy.”
Greg Smith, who produced the Marino episode, said the one person he wanted to interview but didn’t was Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots coach didn’t refuse, but “we just never got around to getting that booked.”
If there was more time, Smith might have included more footage from the historic ‘84 season – there wasn’t quite enough for my liking in a production that overall meets the series’ high standards.
“We had a lot of throws, a lot of games, a lot of moments we cut out,” Smith said. “The ‘84 season could be its own block, and it ended up being cut down and cut down to it's now-a-laundry-list-of-records. You only have so much time.”
Smith also wishes he had time to include the 17-16 playoff victory over Kansas City in 1991, a game in which Miami trailed 16-3 in the fourth quarter. And it would have been interesting if producers had asked Marino how strongly he considered finishing his career elsewhere.
The film is narrated by actor Josh Charles, a regular on the former CBS series, The Good Wife.
Ten notable sound bites from the film about Marino, who retired after the 1999 season and is now a very-involved special adviser to the Dolphins:
• Manning: “Loved watching him throw the ball. It came out so fast. Never seen anything like it as far as the release and not sure we ever will.”
• Favre: “The most prolific and pure passing quarterback that this generation has ever seen. He made passing the ball look easy and it’s not. If you were starting a team and Marino [was in his prime], you would be a fool not to take Marino to start” your team.
• Marino, asked by producer Smith if it was cool to be possibly the greatest player ever without a Super Bowl title: “It’s not cool, no, no. Because in your heart, you’re a competitor. When you say it that way, I can’t accept it. … I did a lot of things but that’s the one thing that’s not cool….
“That’s the only feeling as a football player that I’ve never experienced, what it is to feel like to walk off the field as a Super Bowl champion. Would I like to know what that felt like? Hell, yeah… It just didn’t happen.”
• Former NFL offensive lineman Jimbo Covert, Marino’s roommate at Pittsburgh, said an NFL team asked him if he “used drugs too.” Said Covert: “I said I don’t know where you’re getting that from. Not true” about any suggestions of Marino using drugs.
• John Elway: “If there’s anyone who ever deserved a Super Bowl [win], it was him. He’ll go down as one of the greatest of all time.”
• Shula: “The thing Dan could do is he could fit that ball into tight places.”
• Johnson, who reportedly at times had an uneasy relationship with Marino: “Dan and I thought we had a great relationship.”
• Marino, on his relationship with Johnson: “Sometimes we didn’t agree on certain things as far as how to run an offense. As far as us getting along and doing what it takes to win, that was never a question.”
• But McDuffie said Johnson would allow Marino to audible only to one of two plays, while Shula permitted him to audible to most anything. “That handcuffed Danny a lot,” McDuffie said.
• Aikman: “Who’s your favorite quarterback? It’s Dan Marino and it’s always been Dan Marino. I loved his fiery nature on the field and everything about him.”
And the last word to Marino: “I want to be known as a guy that loved it, to do what he did, played hard, was a winner, was a good teammate and I was able to do what I loved doing from the time I was a kid. And to be pretty damn good at it.”
• FYI No. 1: The Marino film will be re-aired at midnight Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Monday.
• FYI No. 2: NFL Network is using NBC’s Thursday night team (Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth) on Thursday night games for Weeks 2 and 3, including Texans-Bengals this week. CBS’ Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will work several Thursday games beginning in Week 4.
Here’s my Thursday post with a six-pack of on-field Dolphins notes, including Jay Cutler, Julius Thomas, Kenny Stills and more... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz