American Football: Marino alive to the hits and myths: The quarterback who collects records has no Super Bowl ring. Paul Hayward reports from Miami

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The Independent Online
SOMETIMES the myth out- stretches the man. Dan Marino is part of the language in Miami, part of the very thinking process, but he, too, can sink beneath the tide of this chattering city's expectations about its team, its Dolphins.

Marino, 31, is one of the all- time great quarterbacks and has the blue-collar lineage that working America likes to see before an athlete is admitted to the pantheon. What he does not have, though, is a Super Bowl ring, and the higher this volatile sporting audience elevates any particular Dolphins side, the harder the fall when the failings of Marino's team-mates become apparent in defeat.

Sunday's loss to the unfancied Indianopolis Colts - an embarrassment in Miami - brought just such a re-loading of Marino's burden. 'We've just got to stay together,' he said in the locker-room afterwards, but that was the last sentiment that his demeanour conveyed.

Marino had left the pitch before the end of the game and had stayed in the shower an abnormally long time while the other dejected Dolphins muttered remorse into microphones and on to notebooks.

Somehow, in the multi-million dollar world of NFL football, you expect a locker-room to look like the inside of a tycoons' health club yet, in the messy pit of the Joe Robbie Stadium, Marino's clothes hang in a narrow wooden booth distinguished only by a small plaque confiding the detail: '13 - Marino'. There is a pair of jeans hung willy-nilly, a plaited leather belt, white trainers, stuff just dumped in a cubicle before the game.

Only, the Marino that emerges from the shower concealing his private parts from a group of 20 would-be inquisitors (he cannot see his things, such is the throng), is not the joshing, crowd-cajoling TV presenter of the Dan Marino Show, broadcast three hours before the Colts game.

He answers like a prisoner of war who has been kept up for three days, and he stares straight ahead with a chilled and chilling disdain. 'Yeah, whatever,' he replies to the interrogation of one inquest-hungry reporter. You think of his NFL records, piled to the floodlights of the Joe Robbie Stadium; you think of the number of times people have said, 'If you started a new franchise, there is only one quarterback you would go for. Marino.'

And then you wonder how the stakes could have got so high that the man in the middle of this legend-building could sit there performing the adult version of crying at Lassie, just as his mother said he did during his childhood. Was this Marino's epitaph foretold? The herculean talent weighed down by inferior companions? The flush, the smacked-kid heat in his face, suggested it might be.

Marino was as bad as anybody against the Colts, a team of 'historical crumminess' according to the Miami Herald. Doubtless that had exacerbated Marino's disenchantment with the dropped catches, the missed blocks, and besides having the assembled monkeys of academic expectation on his back, Marino has also to accommodate the pressure - if that is not an utterly perverse way of looking at it - that by earning around dollars 5m ( pounds 3.2m) a year he is comfortably the NFL's highest-paid player.

The thing you cannot forget is his physique. Despite having had four knee operations, Marino is one of the most durable and consistent performers in the game. His offensive line - his bodyguards, if you like - have not always been up to the required standard, so his 6ft 4in, 16st frame, has taken some fearful poundings through his 10 seasons with the Dolphins.

And yet, when you look for the muscular development in the upper body there are only rolls of excessive flesh round the stomach, and soft, ill-defined breasts. Marino is not alone in failing to conform to the Charles Atlas image people have of quarterbacks, and it is this that makes you realise they are a species apart. Their currency is not brawn or bravado or beating away at a single task. It is the mental agility and fearlessness of the racing driver transposed to 'the pocket', the place where linebackers like to hunt.

Marino has not been eaten yet and he says he would like to continue to 1996 at the earliest, flashing out those Sidewinder passes in the time it takes to sniff. His only weakness is lack of mobility (his longest downfield run, believe it or not, is 15 yards), but against that he can claim to be fourth in the NFL's all-time league of passers and third on the touchdown list. By the time his career comes to a close he is odds on to lead both categories.

In his first nine seasons he threw for more yards than any Hall of Famer did in the equivalent period, and even the great Joe Montana, among currently active quarterbacks, trails him in most of the statistical divisions. No wonder people say he deserves a Super Bowl, no wonder he stomps off the field at war with himself when that possibility recedes, as it did against Indianapolis on Sunday.

Few will be convinced by his self-consoling summary of that game. 'I don't care who you're playing,' he said, 'in the NFL you're always going to have a tough game and a tough time winning. We just have to regroup.' The fear must be that Marino will remain a thwarted superman, a voracious collector of numerical records who will never complete the set on the annual day of days.

Apart from its psychological significance it would not matter, but that is a truth not easily faced around stall 13 in the Miami Dolphins locker-room.

(Photograph omitted)