CLEVELAND -- Out of perhaps the most formidable calamity to strike the Miami Dolphins, a hero was born yesterday.
Quarterback Dan Marino, one of the most prolific NFL quarterbacks of all time and the man on whom the franchise's fortunes have hung the past 11 seasons, suffered what is feared to be a torn Achilles' tendon in the second quarter of the Dolphins' 24-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
If magnetic resonance imaging results today confirm a tear rather than a strain, Marino would be finished for the 1993 season.
This came on the same day linebacker John Offerdahl, Miami's )) defensive leader, was forced to the bench in the third quarter suffering from a dislocated right shoulder.
But in the midst of the misfortune, the Dolphins turned to seldom-used reserve quarterback Scott Mitchell, finding victory and hope for the rest of the season.
"To lose Marino and Offerdahl and fight and scrap the way we did makes me very proud of this football team," coach Don Shula said.
"We asked ourselves, 'Are we going to sit back and say we can't win because Dan is out?' " linebacker Bryan Cox said. "The answer was, 'Sorry, we don't think so.' "
Mitchell completed 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards with two third-quarter touchdowns that erased a 14-10 halftime lead. It was an improbable performance because Mitchell had spent part of Saturday evening at the Cleveland Clinic nursing viral conjunctivitis -- a highly contagious infection in his left eye.
"I didn't think I'd be able to play at all today," Mitchell said, his left eyelid puffy. "I called my wife last night and told her I probably wouldn't play, but she told me I had to play. She said that I was somehow going to get my first chance today and that I had to be ready when the chance came."
The chance came when Marino fell in a frightening heap after completing a 10-yard pass to Terry Kirby with 1:01 left in the second quarter. No one hit Marino. He simply violently turned his ankle as he stepped up to pass on the recently sodded turf of the dirt baseball infield.
"I thought I'd gotten kicked by the rusher," Marino said. "I was told I wasn't. There was a sharp pain in the back of my ankle just as I threw the ball. It felt like I'd been shot."
Said Mitchell: "My first thought was to make an impact, and help the team. I didn't want to make the big mistake."
But he did make the big mistake. His first pass, which was also his first since Dec. 6 of last season, flew into the arms of Cleveland cornerback Najee Mustafaa, who carried the interception 97 yards for a touchdown.
It was the longest interception return in Browns history and the second-longest interception return against the Dolphins.
The defense did play a prominent role in the victory: Miami sacked Cleveland quarterbacks Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde six times and shut out the Cleveland offense in the