My career began around the same time that Dan Marino was drafted into the NFL, 30th overall, at the end of the first round by the Miami Dolphins in 1983. I was there when Dan and the dolphins beat the highly favored and eventual world champion 1987 Chicago Bears and kept them from becoming only the second undefeated team in NFL history along with the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I was also there when Danny broke the All-Time touchdown pass, All-Time passing attempts, All-Time pass completions and All-Time passing yardage records during the 1994 NFL Season. I was also fortunate to cover the other five quarterbacks selected before Marino in that NFL draft, players like Jim Kelly #14 overall pick, Kenny O’Brien #24, Todd Blackledge #7, Tony Eason #15, and John Elway #1 overall pick. I covered John through 2 Super Bowl victories and spent a year on the road with him as the photographic author of his authorized pictorial biography ‘Elway,’ which was published after his first Super Bowl win in 1997.
I single out Dan Marino‘s incredible accomplishments because none of that was expected at the time of the draft. He was drafted second to last in the first round, 28th overall and the last quarterback of the first round of the 1983 NFL draft. In my mind, he was the greatest pure passer I have ever photographed and I’ve seen all the best. Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady…Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon. Yes, I have photographed them all and Dan Marino was still the best of all time in my book.
He retired after 17 seasons with the same team that drafted him, holder of 25 NFL passing records. He set the NFL touchdown record of 48 in his second year in the league and at the time he didn’t just break the old record, he shattered it by 12 touchdowns. The previous record of 36 by Y.A. Tittle was set 20 years earlier in 1963. After Dan, the record was set at 49 in 2004 by Peyton Manning and then 50 in 2007 by Tom Brady. Today, the TD record stands at 55 after Peyton Manning took it back from Tom Brady in 2013.
Most experts believe if it wasn’t for rumors and a bogus report hinting that Marino had some underlying secret causing him to drop in the draft, he undoubtedly would’ve gone in the top five or top three that year. But Marino would’ve never fallen to the Miami Dolphins with the second to last pick in the draft and he would not have been coached by legendary HOF Coach Don Shula for most of his career.
Kelly and Elway went on to play in 10 Super Bowls between them, with John Elway winning his two Super Bowl’s in the final two seasons of his career and Kelly competing in four straight Super Bowl losses. The other three not-so-famous quarterbacks from that now infamous 1987 NFL draft, either had a cuppa coffee or a couple of good years in the NFL but nothing that even came close to the other three eventual Hall of Famers.
The one thing I can tell you about all six quarterbacks from that draft was that they all remain connected to this day, not only by the fact that no other NFL draft in history has had six QBs selected in the first round, but they all stayed connected as friends and respected colleagues. For that reason, it was no surprise that on one cool evening in August of 2000 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami during a celebration for Dan Marino’s remarkable career…the stadium was filled with a sell-out crowd of over 50,000 fans, along with his legendary coach Don Shula and Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw…the stage was set with all six of the quarterbacks from that now famous draft. The evening was a spectacular night with Marino telling the crowd, “I hope you guys are having a great time, because I am, I’ll never forget this night.” The evening ended with all six quarterbacks hanging out at the bar at a private party in the back room of Dan Marino‘s favorite restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. It was a classic Italian place called Anthony’s Runway 84, aptly known for its location next to the runway at Fort Lauderdale airport. The group of six, along with family and close friends, toasted the Game, smoked cigars and shared war stories during an evening I will never forget.
I’m not an expert at much but after covering hundreds of games in the NFL, and many Super Bowls and playoff games, one thing I do know is quarterbacks. In fact, doing books with iconic HOF quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Elway, Marino, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner…one might say I know a few things about great quarterback play. So you can compare rings or Super Bowl appearances, you can add up all the statistics games won and lost, but at the end of the day the man with the quick release and the big arm and the last quarterback selected in the 1983 NFL draft was, in one photojournalist’s humble opinion, the most prolific pure pocket passer of all time.