Dan Marino: Did The Lack Of An Elite Running Back Really Cost Him Super Bowl Rings?

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 (Getty Images)

Dan Marino (Getty Images)

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.

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One response to “Dan Marino: Did The Lack Of An Elite Running Back Really Cost Him Super Bowl Rings?

  1. The thing that really hurt Miami’s postseason chances during Marino’s career was the defense. They didn’t need a better RB as much as they desperately needed a defense that at least kept the team in a game. A lot of QBs are blessed with defenses that WIN games. Miami just needed one that didn’t lie down. We still don’t know how good the O-Line was. Marino got rid of the ball so quickly, we never got to see how long they could protect a passer. We KNOW they didn’t run block well. You would think many of the years that Miami has Marino, that opponents were geared up for the pass—-making running the ball easier. But they were never really good at it. I hear about Marino’s mobility hampering the run—–but people old enough to see him play before he ruptured his Achilles in 1993 know that he was more WAAAY more mobile than Bernie Kosar, and Kosar had Byner and Mack both rush for 1,0000 yards the same year. Marino was also more mobile—-pre-Achilles—-than Fouts, who despite throwing the ball all over the place, usually had good, productive RBs. And I don’t think Troy Aikman was much more fleet afoot. He just had a great O-Line and wonderful backs. Miami did not. But still, if that defense could just keep from being completely flattened—–Miami could still have afforded to run the ball more just to keep defenses off of Marino’s chest. I read a stat posted that over 23% of Dan Marino’s post season drives started with Miami down 3 scores. THREE. How do you manage a game with that going on? They weren’t even competitive most of the time, defensively. And that’s what killed the Dolphins and Dan Marino more than anything. In the SB Era, a team has allowed 200 yards rushing in regulation of a playoff game nearly 70 times. In all but 2 of those games, the team allowing the 200 rushing yards has lost. Simply put, if you allow 200 yards in the playoffs—–you lose. Joe Montana’s defense allowed 200 rushing yards twice in a playoff game. They lost both games by an average score of 40-8. Montana was so battered that he was carried off the field unable to finish either game. Marino’s defenses allowed 211 rushing yards per game in his 10 losses. Since the rest of the NFL has produced only 1 playoff game since 1965-66 where the team allowing 200 rushing yards won (out of nearly 70)——it’s safe to call winning most of the games that Marino lost in the playoffs as a statistical improbability. Only Stabler in 1974 and Marino in 1985 overcame 200 yards rushing against them. And the Raiders and Dolphins in those 2 games rushed the ball themselves at least competently so as to help their QB. Marino’s kryptonite in the postseason was that his own defense was, on average, historically bad. 341 rushing yards by the Bills in 1995. That one got Shula fired. 211 rushing yards by the Ninera in 1984. Marino’s only SB. 255 yards rushing by New England in 1985. That was the AFC Title game. 251 yards rushing by the Browns in 1985 (Marino amazingly won that game). 202 yards rushing by San Diego in 1994. Marino still has Miami attempting a 47 yard FG for the win as time expired. Stoyanovich missed it horribly. Denver rushed for 250 yards in 1998 and Jacksonville rushed for over 200 yards in 1999. Miami gave up 200 yards rushing in a playoff game SEVEN times in Marino’s career. No other QB in the SB Era had it happen more than 4x.

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