I recently had the opportunity to give Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino a tour of Yankee Stadium. The day was especially meaningful for me not only because I was in the presence of a guy who set NFL records for touchdown passes, passing yards and completions during his 17-year career with the Miami Dolphins, but also because Marino was my favorite athlete as a child.
When I was 7 years old, my father and my grandfather took me to the Orange Bowl stadium in Miami to see Marino and the Dolphins take on the Atlanta Falcons. That experience left an indelible mark on me, and it is the foundation for my interest in sports.
While it’s difficult for me to imagine my present-day life in professional sports without the strong rooting interest I had for Marino as a child, it would have been even harder to envision bringing this NFL great together with the most iconic brand in sports.
But that’s exactly what happened.
While Marino was in New York City to film CBS’s The NFL Today show, which the former quarterback has been an analyst on since 2002, he spent an afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Appropriately, the field was still set up for football, as the 2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl had been played a week earlier.
While posing for some of the photos in this feature, Marino, 50, threw a few passes.
“I’ll always be a quarterback,” Marino said. “If you put a football in my hands, I’m going to throw it to someone.”
Following the time on the field, we visited Monument Park and the New York Yankees Museum, where Marino held some of the most unique pieces of memorabilia, including the bat that Babe Ruth used to swat the first home run ever hit at the old Yankee Stadium and jerseys worn by Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
After our tour of the museum, I spoke to Marino — who was the Kansas City Royals’ fourth-round draft pick in 1979 — about his affinity for baseball, his football career and the Dan Marino Foundation, which has raised more than $32 million for autism research, treatment programs and the building of the Miami Children’s Hospital Dan Marino Outpatient Center.
ALFRED SANTASIERE III: Would you describe what it was like to grow up in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh?
DAN MARINO: It was a competitive and close-knit neighborhood. The houses were close together, and people were always outside. Everyone got together all the time. Our church, my school and a playground were across the street from our house. There were always people around to play sports with, and it was a great place to grow up.
AS: What type of impact did your parents have on you as a kid?
DM: My dad always used to say that you only deserve what you work for. He worked on weekends, and he did a lot of extra jobs. He did everything he could for me and for my two sisters. My mother worked as a school crossing guard, which helped pay for us to go to Catholic school. When you see your parents working that hard, it rubs off on you in a positive way.
AS: Who was your favorite baseball team when you were growing up?
DM: I rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates. My grandmother lived on Frazier Street in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, and Willie Stargell and Donn Clendenon rented the house next door to her. When I was the quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh, I got to meet Willie, and he remembered me from my childhood. We became good friends after that.
AS: Did you enjoy playing baseball as much as football?
DM: I loved playing baseball when I was younger, and I was proud that the Kansas City Royals drafted me. I started playing baseball when I was 7 years old. I was a shortstop, and I also pitched. I won 25 games my senior year, and I didn’t lose a single game. I could have played in the Royals system, but in order to play baseball professionally, I would have been required to forfeit my football scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh and to foot the bill for tuition. The Royals offered me a $30,000 signing bonus, but that wouldn’t have covered my scholarship, so I didn’t try to play both sports. I think I made the right decision in concentrating on football.
AS: What was it like to be 22 years old and the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins?
DM: It was a great time. I was very fortunate to have gone to Miami at the same time as Mark Duper and Mark Clayton because we had a great run. When I was in college, I not only had to worry about playing football, but I also had to concentrate on school. I find it interesting that when I got to the NFL and was only focusing on football, the game actually got easier even though the competition was greater.
AS: What was the atmosphere like in the Orange Bowl stadium when the Dolphins played there?
DM: It was an incredible place to be when we were playing at a high level. The stadium was all bleachers, and the crowd was very close to the sidelines. Believe it or not, when the fans were cheering, the building would actually shake.
AS: When you think back on the 1984 season — during which you broke the NFL’s single-season records for completions, passing yards and touchdown passes — what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
DM: We were just trying to win football games, but we broke a lot of records along the way. Going into the last game of the year, Mark Clayton needed three touchdowns to break the single-season touchdown record, and I needed a certain amount of yards to break Dan Fouts’ record for passing yards in a single season. We also needed to win the game, so I wasn’t even thinking about the records. All of a sudden, I realized that I was the first person to throw for more than 5,000 yards. That record lasted for 27 years, and it’s great to think we did something that no one had ever done.
AS: What was it like to play for Don Shula?
DM: My relationship with Coach Shula was great. I met with him for the first time in his office at St. Thomas University, and he told me that he wanted me to prepare as if I was going to start the first game of the season. He was very supportive of me, and he was consistent in how he dealt with players and with winning and losing.
AS: What was the most memorable game of your career?
DM: The Monday night win against the undefeated Chicago Bears in 1985. Also, beating the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl in 1984 was very special because I grew up rooting for the Steelers. Today, I get asked more questions about the Spike Game than any other game, so I would certainly add that one to the list also.
AS: I was fortunate enough to be at the Spike Game, which, of course, is when you brought the Dolphins back from a 24-6 deficit to beat the New York Jets at Giants Stadium in 1994. What was the thought process behind faking the spike in the final seconds of the game and throwing the pass that resulted in the game-winning touchdown?
DM: It was the perfect situation for that fake spike. It was second down, and we still had a timeout. The Jets really thought we were going to stop the clock. [Former Miami Dolphins reserve quarterback] Bernie Kosar brought that play up in a meeting earlier in the season. We did it, and it worked.
AS: How did you come to create the Dan Marino Foundation?
DM: We started the foundation in 1992 to help children with autism. My son Michael was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old. We began by helping to raise awareness of autism, and we have also raised money to help people who might not have the same opportunities that Michael had. When Michael was young, we had to travel to a lot of different locations for his speech and occupational therapy, and everyone had different opinions as to what the best approach was. The Dan Marino Center, which we created in 1998, is something that we felt was important because it brought everything under one roof, where a child could get a diagnosis, treatment and the most sound advice. More than 6,000 children are treated there each month, so it has been very successful.
AS: What is the most enjoyable part of your life today?
DM: I’ve had a lot of great experiences in my life through sports, but seeing my kids develop into good people who are working hard at what they love to do brings me more enjoyment than anything else.
AS: During the time we were setting up this visit, I realized that you’re a busy guy these days. Besides your family and the Dan Marino Foundation, what occupies your time?
DM: In addition to broadcasting, I’m focusing on a few new business ventures, and there is one that I’m very excited about in the area of health and wellness. I’ve been working with a group in Miami, and we started Vitacore Health Products, which we expect to be the purest and best nutritional supplements in the country.
AS: Now I’m going to throw a few Yankees-related questions at you. Don Mattingly was the Yankees’ brightest star while you were playing for the Dolphins. Did you ever meet him?
DM: I got to know Don because we endorsed some of the same companies. We had dinner together a few times. I followed him when he was with the Yankees because I thought so highly of him as a person.
AS: Alex Rodriguez wears No. 13 because when he was growing up in Miami, you were his favorite athlete. What did it mean to you when he signed with the Yankees and took No. 13 because of his respect for you?
DM: It makes me very proud. When I was playing for the Dolphins, I hosted a television show at my restaurant every week. Alex came to the show for the first time when he was 16 years old, and he introduced himself to me that night. I followed him in high school, and after he was drafted, he came to a few of our practices. Today, we’re members of the same golf club, and he’s a good friend. Alex’ stats speak for themselves. He’s been an incredible player for a long time. Several players have one or two great years, but to be able to put up numbers the way Alex has year in and year out makes him a special player.
AS: We have some iconic players in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who are approaching and have eclipsed 40 years of age, respectively, and who, like yourself, have only played for one team. What is the best advice you would give to them as to how long to stay in the game?
DM: I probably could have played for another year or two, but my biggest issue with continuing to play was my health. I had played for the Dolphins for 17 years, and I didn’t want to start over with a new team at that time. The relationship I had with the South Florida community was important to me, and ultimately, I didn’t want to play anywhere else. The best advice I can offer is that they do what their hearts tell them to do and that they become as educated about the whole process as they can. But in reality, those guys don’t need my advice.
AS: Did you ever watch a game at the old Yankee Stadium?
DM: Yes. Sports Illustrated had named me Rookie of the Year following the 1983 season, and they flew me to New York for a photo shoot. One of the guys from Sports Illustrated invited my wife and I to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Red Sox. We sat on the third-base line, had a few beers and enjoyed the night. I will never forget the view from those seats because you could see the subway pass by the Stadium.
AS: Now that you’ve seen this Stadium, what are your thoughts?
DM: It’s a beautiful place, and it’s very spacious. What I like the most is that the tradition of the Yankees is everywhere. All of the history from the old [Stadium] has been carried over to this stadium, and that is great for the fans. The museum really illustrates why people love the Yankees so much.
AS: Speaking of the museum, what item were you most impressed with?
DM: Babe Ruth’s bat because he actually hit a home run with it, and as everyone knows, he was known for hitting home runs. I was thrilled to get a chance to see that bat up close and to hold it.
This feature was originally published in Yankees Magazine, the New York Yankees official team publication.