THE RITE OF PASSAGE Dolphins' Marino has top yardage, but still no ring

WASHINGTON — Dan Marino has all the numbers. Now he wants the ring.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback seems well on his way to throwing more passes for more yards than any other player in the history of the National Football League.


Just last Sunday, Marino, 29, became the youngest player to pass for 30,000 yards when he boosted his career total to 30,099 in his 114th game.

Dan Fouts did it at 32 in 131 games, and Johnny Unitas took 141 games to do it at 34.


It seems only a matter of time before Marino tops Fran Tarkenton, the all-time leader (47,003 yards). Tarkenton reached 30,000 in his 162nd game, at 32. Marino is likely to become the game's first 50,000-yard passer.

But Marino shares another distinction with Fouts and Tarkenton that he doesn't want. They never won a Super Bowl ring. Fouts never got there, and Tarkenton made three trips and lost all three.

Marino made it at 23 in 1984, when he was gunned down by Joe Montana in Super Bowl XIX.

He was too young to realize how tough it is even to get there. "The attitude was like, 'Geez, can we do this again tomorrow?' " he said.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow have gone by. Five and one-half seasons of tomorrows and no trips to the Super Bowl. Four seasons of tomorrows and no trips to the playoffs.

Obsession may not be too strong a word to describe Marino's passion to win the big game. Unitas, Montana and Joe Namath were all 25 when they won their first championship. Terry Bradshaw was 26.

Marino is still waiting.

"It's got to be an obsession with everybody," Marino said. "Everybody wants to win a Super Bowl. Winning a championship is what makes it all worthwhile. Really, it's something I'd like to do before I'm done playing."


Marino said that if he doesn't do it, he can live with it because he gave it his best shot.

"If I don't, and I know in my heart I tried, and do the best and worked as hard as I could to try and accomplish that, then I'll be happy with that," he said. "If you try hard enough and you're working at it, you've got to understand that's the way things go."

That doesn't mean it's going to be easy for him to accept.

Surely, there were times when he had to envy Montana and wonder what it would be like to play his career with a great team around him.

"I'm not going to answer that question," Marino said. "It's not worth answering."

But he did talk to the Dolphins about trading him during the off-season. He wanted to play on a winning team again. He was tired of throwing for 300 or 400 yards and losing, 51-45.


Marino said the trade talk was "blown out of proportion," which usually means it's a sensitive issue.

"I think that whole thing has been talked about a lot, so I'm not going to get into it much," he said. "But, sure, I've thought about that, and this past year I talked to coach [Don] Shula and [owner] Tim Robbie about the possibilities, but nothing ever came of it."

This year, the Dolphins finally were able to rebuild the team around him. They drafted Richmond Webb and Keith Sims to bolster the line, picked up blocking back Tony Paige to help the running game and traded for cornerback Tim McKyer, teaming him with Maryland's J.B. Brown to solidify the defense. It helped that Jeff Cross emerged as a top pass rusher.

Suddenly, the Dolphins could play defense and run the ball. Suddenly, they are 9-2.

They're doing it even though Marino has only 13 touchdown passes this year. They're doing it even though he passed for only 245 yards against the Cleveland Browns in a 30-13 rout last week.

He's throwing less and enjoying it more.


"Sure, I miss those 300- and 400-yard games and all those touchdowns passing. Who wouldn't?" Marino said. "But you know what's nicer? It's being able to get ahead and control the clock. It's knowing you can beat anybody."

Today, he will find out if he can beat the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium in a pivotal game for both clubs. The Redskins are struggling at 6-5, but still are favored to win, even though Marino has beaten the Redskins the only two times that he's faced them, in 1984 and 1987.

That's because there are lingering doubts about Miami's schedule -- four of its victories have come against the New England Patriots and the New York Jets -- and doubts about whether good American Football Conference teams can beat National Football Conference teams, especially on the road. Marino wants to erase those doubts.

"This is important," he said. "This is a game on the road, and then we have two home games [against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks]. Hopefully, we can come away with a win and come home."

If the Dolphins do that, Marino will be one step closer to having another shot at getting that ring.