Monday January 22 9 PM
It was déjà vu all over again. On a football field. Maybe good things really do come to those who wait. (I first heard that phrase from a teenage girlfriend. She was right.) My first thought after Peyton Manning completed his version of “The Drive” was how it carried much the same emotional response-albeit at a lower level-as Johnny Damon’s grand slam home run off Javier Vazquez in game seven of the American League Championship Series on October 20, 2004.
Not only did Damon’s blast all but ensure a Red Sox victory (he hit another off Vazquez two innings later) but it put several exclamation points on the improbable pennant win. And set the stage for a relatively easy win over St Louis to give Boston its first World Series since 1918. They had done it, doing something no other team in baseball had ever done (come back from a 3-0 defecit) against their arch rivals. As the late Jackie Gleason used to shout, “How sweet it is!”
As a football fan who has always admired quarterbacks who can throw (I can go as far back as “The Mad Bomber” of the Oakland Raiders, Darryle Lamonica & Joe Namath in the mid to late 60’s, having just missed the glory years of Johnny Unitas) Dan Marino and Peyton Manning have been my favorite quarterbacks. I don’t buy the “Can’t-win-the-big-game” descriptions heaped on athletes who don’t win championships. Marino is the prime example. Manning was on his way.
Let’s examine Marino’s lone Super Bowl appearance. January 1985 versus the San Fransisco 49ers. That would be the 49ers of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, Freddie Soloman, Russ Francis, Roger Craig, Randy Cross, Jack Reynolds, Keena Turner, Dwight Hicks and Ronnie Lott. Have I forgotten anybody?
Montana would win his second Super Bowl MVP as the 49ers beat Marino’s Dolphins 38-16. Time of possession in the game: San Fransisco 37:30; Miami 22:30.
Must have been Marino’s fault. In the 1985 playoffs Marino helped the Dolphins beat Seattle and Pittsburgh to get to the Super Bowl. Were they not “big games”?
Or how about January 1986 when the Dolphins trailed 21-3 in the third quarter only to have Marino march them down field to three consecutive touchdowns to win 24-21. (Dolphins lost to New England 31-14 in AFC Championship (Five turnovers) for the right to lose to Da Bears in the Super Bowl). Not a big game?
Next up-January 1991, 1990 AFC Wild Card Game. Down 16-3 in the fourth quarter, Marino throws a pair of touchdown passes to win 17-16. A nothing game? It sent the Dolphins into the next round against the Buffalo Bills, led by the no-huddle offense of Jim Kelly. Marino threw three touchdown passes and helped put up 34 points. But Kelly also threw for three touchdowns and the Bills scored 44.
Damn that Marino.
Two years later Marino throws two touchdown passes as the Dolphins blank San Diego 31-0. They move into the AFC title game against Buffalo. Jim Kelly wins again with help from Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis. Who did Marino have in his backfield? Bobby Humphrey and Aaron Craver.
The point being, there are too many variables, too many teammates, too many opponents and too many coaches for one single football player to be charged with a defeat. The question should not have been-all these years later-why Dan Marino couldn’t get back to the Super Bowl, but rather did Marino take his offense as far as he could? As somebody who followed the Marino years closely the answer is a resounding yes. A better question to ask is why couldn’t Hall of Famer Don Shula provide Marino with a better running attack (remember Don Nottebart?) or build a better defense?
Dumping solely on Peyton Manning for his inability to win deep into the payoffs is intellectually lazy and does a great disservice to one of the best pro sports organizations of all time, the New England Patriots.
Which brings us back to Sunday. Down 21-3 I’m asking myself why Manning always finds himself in the position of having to play catch up. But a strong start in the second half had visions of Johnny Damon dancing in my head. And when Manning did complete the greatest comeback in the history of the AFC title game, it was a replay of that blast of exhilaration from 2004. Not only did Manning finally win “the big one”, but like the Red Sox that October past, he did it in style. Creating a first. Against his arch rivals. How sweet it is!
Oh, the Bears might be a tackling dummy in the way to a Super Bowl win but does anybody outside of Chicago doubt the Colts will go on to do what The Red Sox did two autumns ago?
How fitting is it that Manning can win the Super Bowl in Miami?
On a field that once belonged to Dan Marino.