Peyton Manning had a front-row seat to greatness on Oct. 10, 1999. Then in his second year as the Colts quarterback, Manning watched as his childhood idol, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, engineered a classic comeback that concluded with his game-winning touchdown pass with under 30 seconds remaining. Marino enjoyed a vintage performance in what was one of the final memorable moments of an iconic career.
The sixth quarterback selected in the 1983 draft, Marino retired following the '99 season as the NFL's all-time leading passer. His quick release and cannon right arm produced more than 61,000 passing yards and 420 touchdown passes. A five-time league passing champion, Marino is regarded by many as the greatest pure passer in league history. His 1984 campaign is one of the most remarkable seasons in league history. The league's MVP that season, Marino threw for then league records 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns.
In celebration of his 61st birthday, here's a look at Marino's five greatest moments during his 17 years as the Dolphins' quarterback.
5. Marino outduels Bledsoe to kick off Comeback Player of the Year season
Marino erased any doubts that he was still an elite player in Week 1 of the 1994 season. After missing the final 11 games of the '93 season after tearing his Achilles, Marino threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns in leading the Dolphins to a 39-35 win over the Patriots. Marino threw three second-half touchdown passes to Irving Fryar that included the game-winning score. In one of the most thrilling season openers in league history, Marino and Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe combined to throw for 894 yards and nine touchdowns. Marino won Comeback Player of the Year that season while leading the Dolphins to an AFC East division title.
September 4, 1994: After missing most of the 1993 season with an achilles injury, @DanMarino leads the Dolphins to a 39-35 win over the Patriots on an opening day thriller which saw Marino throw for 473 yards and 5 TDs and Patriots QB @DrewBledsoe throw for 421 yards and 4 TDs. pic.twitter.com/nuUvbCwix1— This Day In Sports Clips (@TDISportsClips) September 4, 2021
4. Marino tames the legendary '85 Bears defense
Buddy Ryan's famed "46" defense wreaked havoc on the NFL in 1985. The only quarterback that had success against Ryan's unit that season was Marino, who threw three touchdowns against Chicago's defense in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience on Dec. 2, 1985. Marino's success that night led Miami to a 38-24 win over the Bears and deprived Chicago of the distinction of joining the '72 Dolphins as the NFL's only undefeated teams. Mario's quick release was one of the reasons he had success against Chicago's ferocious pass rush that terrorized the league en route to a franchise-first Super Bowl title.
3. The fake spike
Marino had 47 game-winning drives during his career. But his most famous one took place late in the 1994 season. Trailing the Jets with under 30 seconds remaining, it was assumed by everyone that Marino would spike the ball in order to stop the clock. But instead of spiking the ball, Marino hit Mark Ingram for the game-winning, 8-yard touchdown pass. The score capped off the Dolphins' improbable comeback from a 24-6 deficit. Each of Marino's four touchdown passes that day went to Ingram, including three in the fourth quarter alone. Marino finished the game with 359 yards on 31 of 44 passing.
2. 1984 AFC Championship Game
Making Marino's first AFC Championship Game extra special was the fact that it was played against his childhood team: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh was one of the 26 teams who passed on Marino in the '83 draft despite questions at quarterback. Marino showed the Steelers what they were missing on Jan. 6, 1985. In what remains the highest-scoring game in AFC Championship Game history, Marino threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns while leading the Dolphins to a 45-28 victory. And while they came up short against Joe Montana and the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX, Marino's 318 passing yards was at the time tied for the second-highest total in Super Bowl history.
1. The 1984 regular season
As alluded to above, Marino's 1984 season is one of the greatest single-season performances in league history. His 48 touchdown passes that season shattered the previous mark held by George Blanda, who threw 36 touchdowns in the AFL in 1961. That mark is the fifth-highest total in league history, tied with Aaron Rodgers. The only quarterbacks to throw more touchdowns in a season are Manning, who holds the record with 55 in 2013, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Only seven quarterbacks have since joined Marino on the list of 5,000-yard passers. The closest anyone had come to reaching 5,000 passing yards before Marino was former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts, who threw for 4,802 yards three years earlier.
Marino developed an historic rapport that season with Clayton and Duper, who caught a combined 144 passes for 2,695 yards and 26 touchdowns. The trio would continue to pile up numbers together for the better part of a decade, as Duper and Clayton remain the franchise's career receiving leaders.