I went to my first Dolphin game in 1987, the first year Joe Robbie Stadium was open. It was a September, and it was the Dolphins vs. the Packers. We went because it was my dad's birthday. My Grampa Fran, who I believe had never been to a football game, came with us. We sat in the end zone. It was incredibly hot, and I got sunburned. I was seven years old. I don't remember anything about the game, but I assume the Dolphins won, because the Dolphins were good and the Packers were terrible then. I didn't really care much about football at the time; I didn't really understand it and I didn't grasp the fact that I was watching a man who I would come to believe was the greatest quarterback ever. I knew Marino was good- even at the age of seven you couldn't live in South Florida and not know it- but I didn't understand how rare an athlete he was.
My second Dolphin game came in 1993. I was thirteen years old, and I didn't think that I cared much about football. It was January- playoff time. The Dolphins had gone 12-4 in the regular season, winning the AFC East and secured home field in the playoffs. They obliterated San Diego the week before, 31-0, and swept the season series against their opponent, the Bills. They were the favorites that year in the AFC Championship game. My dad and I went down there with a big group on a bus. Buffalo was in the middle of a run where they went to four straight Super Bowls, but looked like they had taken a step back that year. They had barely escaped Houston the week before, with the greatest second half comeback in NFL playoff history- they were down 35-3 at halftime and won the game 41-38 in overtime, if I remember correctly. So I was excited, but I still wasn't a huge football fan.
That game changed me. We sat way up in the end zone, near the corner. It was loud, the language was vulgar as can be (seeing a T-shirt with a picture of a satisfied-looking Dolphin humping a rather unhappy-looking Buffalo under a headline that read, "Fuck Buffalo," is and always will be one of the highlights of my life), and there was incredible passion in the air. It all clicked into place, and suddenly this shy, quiet, awkward thirteen year old was standing up, screaming after every big play, high-fiving with my dad and everybody else in the crowd, as into a game as you could be. The Dolphins lost, 29-10, because the Bills had the two things that Don Shula ultimately failed to get for Marino- a great defense and a great running back. It encapsulated in one game the frustration that Marino must still feel to this day. But I was hooked. The Dolphins were suddenly my team, the way they never had been before. And my team lost, but I was still walking on air afterwards.
The next year, my dad bought three season tickets to the Dolphins, and we started going to games. Sometimes my mom would come with us, sometimes my sister, sometimes my brother. But I always felt like those games were mine and my dad's. So, watching those NFL Yearbook shows, I got to remember all those games, all those moments. People today talk about Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, and how great they are. I love the way Brett Favre plays- I can't think of one player who seems to have more fun and I've never seen a player who with as much grit, but at the end of the day, not even Favre is fit to occupy the same locker room as Dan Marino. I guess I'd forgotten what it was like, watching him play. He was superhuman. I don't remember a game that I watched where I said, "Shit, Marino lost that one for them." I have said, "Favre gave that one away." His release was so fast, his arm so strong, his aim so perfect- it's amazing that something as mundane as throwing a football well can enthrall and inspire a person the way it does. I found myself repeatedly getting chills, just watching those little recap shows.
I remembered the games I'd been to, the way that I felt, who I was there with. I remembered the tailgating and the times we would leave church and change clothes in the car so we could make a 1pm kickoff. I remember how hard I had to lobby to go to a Monday night game against San Francisco in 1995. I remembered going to a Dolphins-Broncos game in 1998, the day before my 19th birthday, with four of my friends. I remembered the way Marino lit up the Broncos for four touchdowns, and we had a little hope that maybe that was the year. Later that year, the Broncos beat them 38-3 in the playoffs. I remember sitting in a crappy little bar off I-75 in Ocala, watching that game with John, Heshan, Jeff and Matt Holt. We were on our way to go camping.
Then, yesterday, I watched the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. I watched Steve Young and his dad's speeches. Good God. Trust the Mormons to bore the everloving fuck out of you. It was awful. It was painful. I was embarrassed for them. But I also felt a little bit good about it. Because Steve Young was a great quarterback- I always hated him because in the '90s San Francisco was always bashing head-to-head with Green Bay, but I respected him as a good player that did things the right way. But Steve Young being inducted on the first ballot, on the same day as Dan Marino, seemed to unfairly elevate him. To watch him side-by-side with Dan Marino, on a day that was clearly, undoubtedly Dan's, it seemed right. He was clearly the second-best quarterback on the stage, and I was glad that that was as evident as it was.
Dan's son came up and introduced him, and between his speech and his son's, I found myself getting all choked up, and I felt a little stupid. How could Dan Marino, a person whom I have never met and never expect to meet, bring me to the verge of tears? What I realized later is that it wasn't Dan Marino that was affecting me- it was the weight of all those memories and all those feelings and all the ways that football and watching Dan Marino brought me and my dad together. And I was proud that all of the things I heard the Marinos say about their lives together and their family, I feel like I can say about my family- that my parents are my inspiration, my examples of who to be, and I guess that's what's really the magic of a great sports star. It's someone who inspires you to be better, and helps you remember the best parts of your own life. So here's to Dan Marino and the Dolphins and the NFL and the game of football- thanks for making life a little bit more fun.
hey little fella, how are you doing today?: enthralled
soundtrack: Everclear - The Good Witch Of The North