The day is January 20th, 1985 and the location is Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. It was Super Bowl XIX and the Maimi Dolphins took on the San Fransisco 49ers. It was a battle between two Hall Of Fame quarterbacks, Dan Marino and Joe Montana. It was a very one sided game with the 49ers coming out victorious. The final score was 38-16 as seen on the scoreboard while Dan Marino jogged back to the locker room. Marino had an incredible second season and even though the Dolphins lost the big one it appeared he would be back again. As history would have it Marino and the Dolphins never made it back to the Super Bowl.
Dan Marino retired in 1999 after 17 seasons. Holding almost all of the records at his position, Marino was considered one of the best to ever play the game. There are many who consider Marino not to be one of the best because he never won a Super Bowl ring. Over the years the perception has been that Marino was talented enough to win a championship but never did because he never had an elite level running back.
I decided to crunch the stats and draft history to prove or disprove this theory. Here are the results I found while I plunged deep into the various statistical categories that would help me solve this mystery.
There is evidence that the Dolphins never made a play for a high level free agent running back. The Dolphins also never made a trade for a play maker at that position either. They were and are still to this day a team that is not willing to make trades of future draft picks to acquire top talent. The draft is a place where organizations can gain players that can affect their future. The Dolphins drafted Marino in 1983 when he retired in 1999 they missed numerous opportunities to achieve greatness at the running back position.
In 1983 the very draft where they acquired Dan Marino they missed out on on two pro bowl running backs. One of those running back was Roger Craig who turned out to be one of the best running backs of the 1980s. Craig was also on the 49ers team that defeated the Dolphins at Super Bowl XIX. Their draft picks only get worse from there.
The Dolphins only drafted 23 running backs of the 174 picks during the Marino era. A total of 9 of those 23 backs never played a down in the NFL. The dolphins did not draft one running back in 1994, 1995 and 1997. With the exception of the 1997 draft the Dolphins had not so great performances at the back position the previous season, Mark Higgs was the leading rusher in 1993 with just 693 yards and in 1994 Bernie Parmalee was the leader with 878 yards. The biggest blunder they made in one single draft would have to be the 1988 Draft. In that draft the Dolphins could have selected the Hall Of Fame running back Thurman Thomas but instead selected three players that would never play in the NFL. Thomas wound up as a Buffalo Bill and won 4 AFC Championships with the team from 1990-1994. In total the team missed out on 2 Hall Of Fame and 44 Pro Bowl running backs from 1983-1999.
During Marino’s time with the team they had only one season with a 1,000 yard rusher, Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1996. If you look at all of the teams that won the Super Bowl from 1983-1999 only 3 of the 16 teams that won did not have a 1,000 yard rusher.
The Dolphins made the playoffs 10 times during Marino’s Career. They were 8-10 in all of those post season games. Some blame many of the playoff losses to playing the Bills in the winter in freezing Buffalo, NY, which they did lose there many times. The fact of the mater is if the Dolphins had at least a couple of the many running backs they passed up in the Draft history might have gone a little differently.
After looking at the stats, draft and history it leaves only one conclusion. Dan Marino was one of the best, unfortunately the Dolphins front office was not as skilled at what they did. The blame must shift to the general managers and Don Shula especially. Don Shula relied to much on Marino’s skill and talent and did not do enough to protect and enhance that talent. Marino would have had more opportunities to win he was if the opposing defenses did not know he was going to pass most of the time. They also would have been weary of a running attack if the Dolphins had one. If Marino had a top level running back he not only would have made it to more Super Bowl’s he would have won at least one Super Bowl ring.