For two years, football experts compared Bernie Kosar and Dan Marino, two talented, young quarterbacks playing in the same town.
The comparisons began again this week as Kosar prepared to return to Miami with the Cleveland Browns. The AFC Central champion Browns (8-8) will play the AFC Eastern champion Dolphins (12-4) in a National Football League playoff game today at the Orange Bowl.
In 1983, Kosar led the University of Miami to the national championship as a redshirt freshman, and Marino took the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs as a rookie.
They appeared together later that year on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a story that suggested Marino might have been the second best quarterback in Miami. Such talk is sacrilege now.
Marino rewrote the NFL passing records in 1984, and rebounded from a slow start this season to complete 336 of 567 passes for 4,137 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Kosar struggled through an up-and-down rookie season with the Browns. Playing about half of the year while alternating with oft-injured starter Gary Danielson, Kosar completed 124 of 248 passes for 1,578 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Just as Marino had done in 1983, however, Kosar took over the team late in his rookie season and led it to the division championship. His performances--only three 200-plus yard games and a high of 18 completions--haven't been spectacular, but Kosar got the team into the playoffs.
"We didn't win the division despite Bernie," Brown Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We won it with him. He was an important part of our success."
The Dolphins are just as worried about Kosar as they are about Cleveland's two standout running backs, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner. Mack ran for 1,104 yards this year, and Byner gained 1,002 to give the Browns only the third pair of 1,000-yard runners on the same team in NFL history. They have been consistent, however, while Kosar remains unpredictable.
"We know he's going to be a great quarterback," Dolphin defensive end Doug Betters said. "He's like a giant looming in the distance. You know he's ready to get hot. We just can't afford to let him get hot against us."
Kosar said he isn't nervous heading into his first NFL playoff start. "I think anxious is a better word for it," he said.
Marino reminisced on his own rookie season this week and offered Kosar some advice: "He should just go out there and do his best and enjoy himself. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun for him. I just hope it's not going to be too much fun."