Dan "The Man" Marino...A real "Man's Man."
[Marino is a rep for AARP and recently appeared at the national convention]
If this story reads a lot like it is my own; well, that is by design.
I know people, men especially, like to idolize athletes, actors and celebrities; but I don't. I want to be one. I understand men like to picture themselves in an athletes shoes or an actor's role and they identify with their favorite players; often living vicariously through them. Personally, I have too much personal pride for that.
When I got to the University of Miami, I played intramural football with a handsome, curly blonde QB, with a quick release from Philadelphia named Dana Corbo. Dana was a "man's man." He also managed the school bar, which was the Mecca at Miami. He later graduated law school, ran a prominent sports business and later still, became a family man. Too me, he just had to be my friend. Heck, he even lent me his Datsun 280Z!
Dana, too me, he looked and played like the intramural Dan Marino. In fact, Dana idolized Dan Marino. I got that. They looked the same and virtually had the same name.
Yet, I wasn't a big Dan Marino fan. In fact, I didn't think Dan Marino would make a very good pro and around that time in my life people started to believe in me; and I must have told all my buddies that I thought "Marino" was overrated.
Personally, one of my goals playing intramural football was to get ready to play for "The U" which I thankfully, but briefly did; for then graduate assistant and now Chicago Bears head Coach Marc Trestman.
Like many young men, I of an Italian father and Polish mother dreamt of playing pro football; but soon realized, unequivocally, that which I realize so much more accurately years later; there is no harder profession in the world to make than being a pro football player; bar none.
It wasn't long after my playing career ended with a couple of NCAA seasons that I would have to become an NFL fan; a fan, just like everybody else. My failure is a fact I still struggle with daily I still can't believe I couldn't make it. I love football so much; so very, very much.
I mean, I love football movies like "All the Right Moves" with Tom Cruise which took place in gritty Pittsburgh. I had to love my idols; like then, my childhood team the Baltimore Colts and their cool Quarterback, #7, Bert Jones. In fact, the best part of the local pro team Miami Dolphins was the fact they would host their division rivals the Colts once a year. By the grace and gumption of using my father's press pass, after the game, outside the old Orange Bowl, I had the good fortune to be seated on the hood of a car next to Bert Jones while he waited to load the team bus. Truth-be-told, decades before James Bond would later endorse it; I can still see Bert Jones with a big white towel packed with ice on his throwing elbow. And in the coolest move I could ever see; he unraveled it to reveal three dewy green bottles of Heineken and casually offering me one!
Okay, I really loved the Colts and in fact, did so, initially because of their iconic horseshoe logo; but I had to admit, I really respected and liked the Dolphins logo and colors; and always loved seeing them square-off on my electric football games vibrating metallic green field; in addition, to seeing the real-life NFL teams compete at the "OB."
Now, flash-forward 30-years and I have just crossed the 50-year line. Again, thanks to my Italian father and his work-ethic and my deceased mom's and his love of football; I find myself credentialed to interview none-other than Dan Marino, for most of those 30-years; the NFL's all-time leading passer.
Mr. Marino, but Dan, I feel I can him, because he is a year younger than me; is a representative for AARP; which I thought, was only for "old-people." Heck, I never-ever felt old, ever, never, ever; yet, but for a brief moment, as a credentialed media member who could actually qualify for enrollment; I did feel old. Dan Marino, he can be old. He's a former NFL player; he's a broadcaster, he does commercials; he's married with kids; he's old. I have or am not any of those; I am not.
Well, regardless, wouldn't you know it; but the "kid-in-me" couldn't be more excited to know I would soon meet someone I always called, "Dan the Man" at tennis legend's Andre Agassi's prep school.
I mean, Dan Marino, he is an NFL legend. While often spoken of as the greatest quarterback to never win an NFL title; a fact, I know now as one who studies football stats, analytics, and history profusely; subtracts not from his merits since a football team consists of basically 50 men; and the QB is just one member of what obviously was just 15+ years of a team not good enough to win a Super Bowl. Put it this way; Don Shula coached Marino and I consider him one of the greatest coaches ever. Or, is Eli Manning or Doug Williams; or maybe even last year's Super Bowl QB Joe Flacco better than Dan Marino? No disrespect to those fine QB's; but is any of them a better pure passer than Dan Marino? I will concede however, if there is another Quarterback to put up the stats Marino did and he wins a Super Bowl; okay, he is better than Dan Marino; but not winning championships does not make a quarterback a winner or a man a champion.
Think about it: There are millions-and-millions of kids who dream of playing in the NFL; and millions-and-millions of kids who never throw or gain a single yard, just 1-yard. This man, Dan Marino, has thrown for over 61,000! Can you imagine or do you know the odds of that?! This man is gifted and I had no idea what to expect while waiting for him to arrive at the Academy.
Well, as I spoke with a fellow photographer; standing there, expecting my presence is CBS broadcaster and Miami Dolphin Quarterback, Dan Marino.
He engages me immediately with his handshake. Many in the general public may be shocked by his size: 6'4" and 220+ pounds. He is a big guy. I knew to expect it having played; but fans and the public don't realize the Quarterback is perceived to be one of the smaller players on the field. But in the NFL, the QB's are just as gargantuan as these giants of antiquity and yesteryear who were gladiators; undoubtedly, the football players of today.
The second thing I immediately notice are his aquatic blue eyes. They appear to almost be the unique blue of the only team he ever played for, the Dolphins. It's as if he is the Miami Dolphin. He is a handsome man, who looks more youthful than his years; and just seems young. What strikes me even more, which I shouldn't be surprised by since I know the leadership it takes to quarterback a team or work in the broadcasting profession; but he has presence and for a man who has aired so many passes; he seems...grounded.
He appears the kind of guy you just want to know or you want to like you; one whom you trust to call your plays or lead you. I can easily imagine him bringing the ball to a sandlot field in a Pittsburgh neighborhood and both the opponents and your team just waiting for "Danny Boy" to show up for the game to begin when all the guys know the leader and clearly best player is ready to go.
I try to be polite and honorable and even humble when I meet him; yet, he immediately pulls me in. "How are you? How 'ya doin?" Oh my, he's just like a QB calling the play twice in the huddle!
Believe me, I am not easily enamored by charisma having enough of my own; but this guy is genuine. He wears "regular guy" like a jersey. I find myself youthful and exuberant. He says, "Come on, let's go over here," walking us to an outer hallway.
Honestly, it's like he is your QB and you the receiver and calls a special play for you that he knows will work and you know and trust he will get the ball to you. And if you've ever heard him speak during a pre-game show, he has the kind-of throaty voice that boys try to make when you want to command attention or sound mature; not the raspy kind you do when emulating a mobster; but the operatic and hearty kind you imitate to commandeer.
In the hallway, he mentions my Bears hat saying, "Bears, huh?" I told him Coach Trestman was my friend.
"Oh, I know Trestman." I then tell him something of my football story.
Like he's surveying the field, or "checking down," there are a couple of emergency guys seated nearby and some snack food on a table and drinks in a Styrofoam cooler. He looks to the paramedics and says, "Hey guys. What's up? Any good (referring to the food)? He then looks to me, again, "Okay, let's talk. So how are you?"
I tell him, I "tell" him. I couldn't help it. He's already made me like I'm his bud. I have to call him Dan since he is younger than me; if he were older, out-of-respect, I would call him, "Mr. Marino." He intimates with readable facial expressions: "Okay, call your own pattern; if you're open, I'll hit you."
My first question to him, I rehearsed, noting that my parents were both Italian and Polish; having reviewed the commonality that his parents were identically the same; I ask him of the most profound thought in his life regarding his ethnicity and hope it doesn't mind such an expected and "goofy" question? I told him I used to get all the good jokes; "...cause they picked on the Guineas or the Pollocks." He laughed loosely and freely and without flinching at my question; like an audible in the face of a blitz, he calmly and passionately recalled and relayed his childhood memories of growing-up and the sheer loyalty and bond he had with "family." "Oh, it was great: family, food, football. We would go to one side of town for one of the families and the other side of town for the other." He went on to speak at length; and again, at the end of every recollection and remembrance it always ended with the word, "...family." In retrospect, I guess this makes sense since he played with one and only one NFL team; a real rarity in sports.
When he finishes answering that question; I suddenly, like osmosis, feel like he is family. I am not certain if he reminds me of my dad; my younger brother who played QB, my buddy Dana, or my friend and "brother," the aforementioned Bears head coach Marc Trestman who also played quarterback; but the next thing you know I am not interviewing him, I am just having a conversation with him.
In fact, in Italian culture teasing is a bonding communication which many speak with affection; and the next you thing you know, he effortlessly is speaking with me and engaging me as we are old friends. I tease him. He laughs. He answers a question. I interrupt him. He tries to focus me. I apologize. He says, "...no problem." He shares his life; I listen, laugh and ask. He answers laughs and smiles. I tease him; he laughs. He jokes, I grin. In about 5-minutes Dan Marino reminds me of so many of my friends.
I ask him how he knows Coach (Trestman) and thinks Coach (Trestman) will do and he says, "He'll be fine...He's experienced....I know him from Miami...He's been a head coach before, he'll do great."
I correct him, slightly, disregarding Coach Trestman coached Montreal and Dan corrects me and says "Trestman...are we talking about the same Trestman? He coached Oregon."
I correct myself and then Dan since Coach (Trestman) did coach Montreal in the CFL, but not Oregon. In fact, we both try to go through Coach Trestman's career and realize it's extensive; but eventually commingle enough to know we are talking about the same mutual person. The profound moment for me as I can nary recall or replay the tape; is that it seemed to turn into a heated debate between like kids or fans arguing which team was better between Dan and me. We were both challenging, competitive and convincing. This tone was so unexpected, but I blame Dan because "he started it!" It's his fault for not acting like a celebrity NFL living legend.
For me, to calm that squall; when Dan asked me a couple of questions, I mentioned that I was a Christian and try to interview about God; as soon as I said that; I was pleased to see Dan's countenance change. It wasn't as if he was uncomfortable, at least I literally hoped to God I was not making him such; it's as if he knew who God was and respected God. I don't usually suppress God when I speak with someone; but this was a football discussion with Dan Marino and I was over-my-head and into it. I blame Dan for being gracious and generous; for being gregarious and genuine! I should have thought, in retrospect; this could well be Daniel in the lions den; and rather than looking at the lions or battling bears or rams in a coliseum; this warrior winner is looking above and beyond.
My next-to-last question and our series of conversations revolved around analytics with Dan commenting, "...if it helps a team to get an edge they should or probably have to try it. I mean games are so close and teams do so much, there is so much that goes into it; I can see a team giving it a try. In the end, it also comes down to gut instinct. Some coaches can use such info and if it helps use it; if it doesn't than they know they can always rely on gut instinct."
My final question was prefaced with a comment whereby I totally disliked the new Dolphins logo and wondered how Dan, being the greatest player in the history of the franchise felt about it. When I told him it looked like the logo for Southwest Airlines or like a bad airline; he really laughed. He said he liked it, saying it showed change and a new era. As I was learning, in his own style, he was a team player who represented the franchise in iconic fashion.
After sharing his thoughts, I shared some of my thoughts and vision and while referring him to my website of which he said he would look and took my business card; he agreeably accepted a printed piece of paper I had on the topic. Again, I was so hoping that the interview was okay for Dan; or that he thought I was okay. I liked him. I didn't want him not to like me. I don't mean to sound like a sissy; I mean I just don't want him to be angry with me. This is Dan Marino, he's made me feel like a youthful competitive kid, even when conversing.
By the time our time was over, I was only going to post a picture; but after Chris a photographer helping me and wondering if I would blog my interview; I had to take that as a sign perhaps I should. If I could do the interview all over, I would. I would change 90% of it. The highlight for me, the one thing I felt I just need to do was share the thought with Dan I first felt when I started hearing his name. I said, "Dan, I owe you an apology."
"I never thought you would make it. I never thought you would be a good pro."
He chuckled and laughed. "Oh, you might not have been the only one."
The paramedics, still there, commented, "He should have heard you back then, it may have helped motivate him."
I jested, aloud, "Are you kidding? This is Dan Marino. He's thrown for 61,000 yards and apart from Peyton Manning, perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game."
Dan openly joked, to all of us huddled in the hallway, laughing to himself, "Hey, let me tell you; don't kid yourself boys, trust me, Peyton is chasing after me." His smile shined.
Today, I am mature enough to realize the measure of a man is not the yards he has thrown for or just the football career he may or may not have had. It is not his job as a famous NFL broadcaster, having probably never taken broadcasting in college at Pittsburgh. It is not his acting or doing commercials; when I am certain this same dude didn't take acting at school. It's not that he is a married father. It's not that there was a recent ESPN "30-for-30" special about how this quarterback was overlooked in the draft; and it's not that he represents men over the age of 50. The measure of man is who he is as a man.
Hey, I dreamed of playing in the pros. I tried playing football in college. I majored in broadcasting. I took acting in college. I wanted to get married. I want a "30-for-30" done about me. Hell, I know God and it appears Dan Marino may also know Him.
I had never met Dan Marino till today and let me tell you first hand...Dan Marino is a real "man's man." Dan Marino: football player, broadcaster, "pitchman," and family man is "The man."
Thank you, Dan.