Marino's Magic : Closing in on Tarkenton's NFL Records, This Quarterback Is Headed for Canton


Barring any mishaps, sometime early in today's game at Miami, Dan Marino will drop back and do that little pump fake of his that has frozen defenses for 13 seasons now.

The Indianapolis secondary will shudder ever so slightly, just long enough for Marino to complete the pass to Eric Green or Irving Fryar or Keith Byars or somebody else.

And with that, Marino's first Hall of Fame credential will be firmly in place. His fourth completion of the game against the Colts will be the record 3,687th of his NFL career. That's one more than Fran Tarkenton, who until now has held almost all the passing records.

In the next couple of weeks, Marino will eclipse two more records held by Tarkenton. He needs eight touchdowns to break the mark of 342 and 755 yards to pass 47,003 yards. He is 298 attempts away from Tarkenton's record of 6,467, so that should come later in the season.

Tarkenton watches all this and wonders why a bigger deal isn't being made about it.

"This is Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's record," he said. "This is Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's record. These are significant, humongous records, records that validate a career. And you don't hear about it. All you hear about is the owners suing Jerry Jones for $300 million and salary caps, and franchises moving and too much celebrating in the end zone. It's ridiculous."

Tarkenton has a point. Too often, peripheral issues get in the way of appreciating the accomplishments of the athletes, which is what this business of sports was supposed to be all about in the first place.

Marino is on the threshold of some major accomplishments, and Tarkenton appreciates him.

"When you look at a quarterback, they say he's athletic or he's got a great arm," he said. "Well, if he's drafted for the position, you know he's got the ability to throw the football. But if you're looking for greatness, you ask, 'Can he run like Steve Young?' 'Is he as strong as a bull like John Elway?' and 'Can he release the ball like Dan Marino?'

"A major intangible is the fire that burns within him, the ability to get the ball where he has to, into the end zone, using what he has at his disposal. That's what makes a great quarterback. Marino has played the position as well as any one in history. Nobody has played it better."

That would include the moderns like Joe Namath, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw, and the pioneers like Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman and Otto Graham. With the exception of Bradshaw, because of his broadcasting involvement, and Namath's occasional pitchman duties, those names have been allowed to slip out of football's consciousness. It is something Tarkenton deplores.

"The records I broke were held by Johnny Unitas, a fairly decent quarterback," he said. "You never hear about him, either. These records aren't held by stiffs."

The Dolphins will stop Sunday's game briefly when Marino breaks the completion record, long enough for scoreboard and public address acknowledgment and handing him the ball. Tarkenton thinks they ought to do more than that.

"When Jerry Rice broke Jim Brown's touchdown record, the only reason you heard about it was that it happened on a Monday night game," Tarkenton said. "The NFL doesn't promote these things very well."

Certainly, no big deal was made of it when Tarkenton hung up all those fancy numbers. He even had to wait until his third year of eligibility to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It was a snub, born of three Super Bowl failures, and one that still sticks in his craw.

So, when he was asked about Marino, Tarkenton decided to have a little fun.

"He's got a fatal flaw," he said. "He hasn't won a Super Bowl so he must not be as good as Doug Williams or Mark Rypien."

Williams and Rypien were Super Bowl MVPs. Marino lost his only Super Bowl opportunity against San Francisco and a quarterback named Joe Montana.

"Montana was great," Tarkenton continued. "But was he better than Marino?"

He did win four Super Bowls, three of them as MVP.

"How many did he win with Kansas City?" Tarkenton responded. "Teams win Super Bowls, not quarterbacks. Marino is good enough to win the Super Bowl. What you have to ask is whether his team is."

Well, is it?

"That," Tarkenton said, "we'll find out."

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