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Long Layoff No Achilles' Heel for Marino : Pro football: Dolphin quarterback takes 15 touchdown passes into game against Raiders.

October 16, 1994|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dan Marino was in pain. More pain than he ever felt getting crushed by an onrushing, 295-pound linebacker. More pain than he ever felt getting his helmet twisted and turned by a ferocious defensive tackle. More pain even than he had felt in suffering a torn Achilles' tendon early last season.

That was physical pain and it would fade in time. This was emotional pain, the pain of loss, reality setting in as one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in pro football history came to grips with the jarring thought that his talented right arm would not always be throwing a football.

"I went for 10 years and never really missed a game," Marino said. "I think you kind of take it for granted that it's going to always be there. . . . It made me realize that, someday, this is going to be over. Ever since I was a little kid, I've been playing football every fall. . . .

"When you're injured and there are questions whether you can come back or not from it, you really learn to appreciate the game itself and going out there on Sundays and playing and the preparation during the week and all that kind of fun stuff that you do, and when you win games what that feeling was like. That's what I missed and that's why I was looking so forward to coming back."

There were those who had serious doubts whether the 33-year-old Miami Dolphin quarterback would ever again perform as he had over the previous 11 years, when he used his whip-like delivery, overpowering arm and masterful field sense to become the third-rated passer in NFL history, with an 88.1 mark, and the second-leading producer of touchdown passes, 298 before this season.

But the longing Marino felt during those long days on the sideline instilled in him a resolve to fight back to where he had been on Oct. 10, 1993, when his Achilles' betrayed him in Cleveland.

"He's always been a guy who just loved to play," Miami Coach Don Shula said. "But that's the first time he's missed any ball of any consequence. I think it has given him an additional purpose. You watch him in practices and on game day. He's always been a very intense player, but he's even more so now."

Indeed, through six games, Marino's numbers are as impressive as ever. He has completed 60% of his passes for 1,786 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions heading into today's game against the Raiders at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"He's still not back to where he was before the injury," Shula said. "But he's been so focused, so dedicated and working hard. He's really a driven football player."

Good thing for Shula. He could ill afford to have an ineffective quarterback, considering his problems at running back. A knee injury put leading rusher Terry Kirby on injured reserve last month. Running back Irving Spikes has also been hampered by knee problems.

That has left most of the work to third-year man Bernie Parmalee, who has gained 223 yards, scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and veteran Mark Higgs. Parmalee assumes a featured role with little experience. He had carried the ball only 10 times in his two previous seasons, but he came up with the best game of his career in last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills, gaining 91 yards and running his total to 164 in the last two games.

Also on hand is former Ram Cleveland Gary, signed last week. Shula indicated that Gary might play today.

All this uncertainty in the backfield might leave opponents thinking Miami is a pushover on offense. Think again. The Dolphins remain the league leader in points scored with 160 and are second in yardage per game to the New England Patriots. Amazing what Marino can accomplish even with holes popping up all around him.

Miami, however, has slowed considerably since opening the season with three victories, having lost two of its last three, including last week's AFC East showdown against the Bills.

The Raiders are coming off a big victory last week over the Patriots, but they can take little solace in that when they take the field today. At 2-3, in a division where the 5-0 San Diego Chargers are threatening to run away from the pack by Halloween, the Raiders must keep pace.

The key to their success is the same as that of the Dolphins--the ability to run the ball. That's an old story for the Raiders, but it appears to have a new twist with the emergence of Harvey Williams from a mediocre group. Williams ran for 65 yards last week, and, according to Coach Art Shell, will be getting an increased workload.

The Raiders have always done well against Miami, even back in the Oakland days, even since the advent of the Marino era. The Raiders are 14-4-1 against the Dolphins (16-5-1 counting postseason play), have won four of the six they have played against Marino and four of the last five in Miami.

But that doesn't figure to have any bearing on today. Nothing lasts forever.

Just ask Dan Marino.

Raider Notes:

Defensive tackle Chester McGlockton has a sore shoulder, cornerback Albert Lewis a sore neck and receiver James Jett a tender hamstring, but all are expected to play.

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