Greg Cote: Dan Marino deserves forgiveness

On Super Bowl Sunday in 1985, Dan Marino was a curly-haired, 23-year-old kid in his second season in the NFL with the Dolphins, and his job was to beat the legendary Joe Montana on American sports’ biggest stage. That’s all. He couldn’t do it.

On Super Bowl Sunday in 2013, Dan Marino is a 51-year-old retired player who will be on a CBS Sports TV set and his job will be much, much tougher this time.

His job will be to smile and josh collegially with his fellow analysts.

His job will be to act as if nothing is different — as if his world didn’t explode on him this week.

Marino’s public image could hardly have been better. He was the handsome quarterback who set records, breezed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then segued smoothly into TV. He was the family man whose philanthropy raised millions for great causes. In Miami, well, he was as popular as you could get, a true hero and icon.

About the only thing that wasn’t just right about Marino’s life used to be the missing Super Bowl ring, but we forgave him for that.

Now it’s time to forgive him again, South Florida.

Marino has done enough here, in football but maybe more so in this community, to not let his personal-gone-public scandal entirely obliterate the good name he had earned with us.

What had been known to a relative few became tabloid fodder Thursday when The New York Post revealed late Wednesday that Marino had a child out of wedlock in 2005, then paid a reported “millions” to not only support the child but to keep the affair quiet and out of the public eye. The mistress was a CBS production assistant, Donna Savattere, then 35. The child is named Chloe. The mother evidently had told one too many people about who the father was, and the Post made it headline news — perfectly timed, from the Post’s vantage, coming during Super Bowl Week.

CBS Sports spokeswoman Jen Sabatelle confirmed Thursday that, “Dan has said all there is to say … and will be in his usual role in our broadcast Super Bowl Sunday.”

Marino, faced by the factual published report, chose the truth, saying, “This is a personal and private matter. I take full responsibility both personally and financially for my actions.”

My first reaction was to feel badly for Dan’s wife of 28 years, Claire, and their six children, two of them adopted. Dolfans who feel somehow betrayed by Marino should think first of the people involved here who actually were betrayed.

“We continue to be a strong and loving family,” Marino said.

And I hope that is true.

The best marriages and best families are tough enough to survive a lot.

I don’t know that I would have done any differently than Marino did had I found myself in his situation. He made some very bad decisions in his private life at that time — none of us knows why — and certainly can be blamed for that. But supporting the mother and child while also trying to keep the matter private do not strike me as damnable offenses.

Even the fact of his infidelity, to me, does not make him a bad person, just a very fallible and mortal one. If his wife can forgive him this, who are we to not do the same?

None of what we knew and admired about Marino has changed.

He is still the charismatic former quarterback who set records and won a lot and made going to Dolphins games exciting for a long, long time.

He is still the generous, civic-minded man who has done so much good — including a major fundraiser for autism just last week.

He is still all of that but now he is this, too.

Human, and hurting. Embarrassed, and down.

He is a man whose dark secret got out. The secret? That he had his weaknesses. That he was not as perfect as his image said.

Marino is paying for that with his national shame, perhaps with the guilt of what he has put his loved ones through, and in the damage to his good name.

His fans now must decide whether they’ll replace their admiration with condemnation and scorn, or whether they’ll attempt something bigger and harder to reach, something closer to understanding.

Let’s move on from this.

And let’s hope Dan Marino and his family can do the same.

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