Chasing Danny

Is Dan Marino a stoic swaddled in hype or an autistic sports celebrity with the personality of an egg timer? Both.

After shadowing Marino for weeks, GQ correspondent Peter Richmond found a Zen-like emptiness at the end of the road. "The key to his brilliance as a quarterback has always been the absence of reflection," Richmond writes. "And this is probably also as good a way of describing him off the field as any."

I didn't believe it. I was sure the Marino conundrum would burn away the more passes I made through the locker room. It was about all I could do, since Marino, through a third party, had nixed my requests to interview his famously chatty dad, his gregarious bodyguard, and various other people close to him.

The locker room: A sign above the door reads "Aggressive." Another sign, somewhat unbelievable, announces Friday-night Bible-study meetings. Five days before the Dolphins meet the Rams at home, we are waiting for Marino in front of his locker at the training camp near Nova Southeastern University.

Inside Marino's locker I see containers of Carmex and Mentadent, pictures of his kids, jeans and shower shoes and car keys and golf visors; a crucifix with blue rosary beads, an oversize shot glass, and a gold money clip stuffed with hundreds.

Marino emerges. There's a rush to his locker. My notebook falls on the floor. Marino launches right into a rehash of the Jacksonville game: "... balanced team... I'm very critical of myself, I feel like I should make every play possible... to be efficient doesn't necessarily mean you have to throw a lot...."

"Did you feel like you were in The Zone, Danny, during that game? Or were you just kind of keeping it going?" someone asks. Talking about The Zone has gotten fashionable in recent years, just as talking about "smash-mouth football" has been all the rage the past few seasons.

"I don't know what you mean by 'The Zone,' bro'." Marino says.
Greene pops up in the pack like a jack-in-the-box and says: "Thanks guys! That's all! It's time to bring him inside for the trainer!" Time, too, for the assembled reporters to retire to the press room, where a dozen hot, fresh pizzas are waiting, care of the Dolphins. Let's face it -- which would you rather do, eat pizza or try to interview a grumpy legend? Greene figured this one out years ago.

On the way out, I pass a female sports reporter, still a rare sight. She has flown in from St. Louis and, through sheer bad luck, has just missed her only stab at Marino.

A companion, probably her cameraman, consoles her. Sort of. He says: "Don't feel bad. I got tape. But I guarantee you there's nothing worthwhile on that tape."

The sportswriter sighs. "The guys who have been in it the longest -- I mean Elway's kind of the same way, although I think he's a little more open -- we tried to get him on a conference call last year, and we couldn't get him. It's the guys who've been in it the longest. After a while, they're stars, they get sick of it. You can almost understand it, but, at the same time, it's frustrating."

"Kind of arrogant, isn't it?" I suggest.
"Yeah, well," she says, chewing on the question. "I guess they have a right to be."

Well, maybe.
The Rams-Dolphins game turns out to be a dull, incremental shoving match. The Dolphins win, as they were expected to. The fans start filing out of Pro Player Stadium early in the fourth quarter.

When the game is finally over, I notice that Marino looks just as glum after winning as he does after losing. He's standing in front of his locker in nothing but a white towel, subtly scratching his privates and holding a toothbrush with toothpaste on it.

A member of the media pack is asking: "Is it easier knowing you don't have to be perfect out there, the way the defense is playing, does it help a little bit?"

Marino: "Well, obviously, I'm the type, I try to be perfect all the time, so uh, that's just my attitude."

"A couple of general questions unrelated to the game --" I start to say.
Marino hits me with the blue laser lock and looks exasperated. "Can I talk about the game, though?" he says.

Another reporter jumps in: "Did he have some trouble running routes earlier in the year?"

"Who?" asks Marino.
"I think, ah, for a rookie and a guy who's just starting to get into it, it takes time to understand what you're trying to get out of the offense and what you're trying to get out of the passing game, and he's still working on it. But he has that God-given gift of speed, and that helps."

The pack runs out of questions and Dan heads for the showers, still holding the toothbrush like the fetish of an African chieftain. "One quick question," I say, sidling up.

"Go ahead," says Dan, stopping.
"Kind of a different type of question. It's about celebrity."

"About being a celebrity," I say. "Some people over the years have perceived you as being distant from your fans and irritable with the press. Do you see yourself that way?"

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