Final chapter is Marino’s to write
Sheets of legal paper lay scattered on the conference table around Dan Marino, each one covered in his handwriting and marked by words crossed out, sentences with black lines through them and arrows moving full paragraphs up, down and sometimes back up again.
A black leather satchel sat on the chair beside him with more papers and more writings, including a folder of notes his father sent him through the years and his retirement speech from 2000.
Three different printed-out versions of his Hall of Fame speech-in-progress sat in front of him. He held a page from the latest version, reading it silently, mulling something.
"What sounds better here, `these Dolphins teammates' or `those Dolphins teammates?'" Marino asked his business manager, Ralph Stringer, who was reading along.
This was Tuesday, and he sat in this office at the Dan Marino Foundation in Weston for five hours prepping for today's induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Coffee cups from the morning were on the table. So were white Styrofoam boxes from a delivered lunch.
He took a pen and crossed out `these' and wrote `those.' He silently re-read the sentence. He went back and crossed out `those' and wrote `these.'
"This is the toughest thing I've ever done," he said.
That's what they all say as the day nears, of course, every Hall of Famer whose final game involves putting their sweat into words. How can you do it? How do you thank everyone, reflect on everything, visit every place that meant something to you and somehow make it sound as natural as breathing?
"I want to get the words down, get them how I say them, and then practice and practice until it's just like I'm talking," he said the other day.
So it was summer training camp again. That's how he makes it sound. Work hard. Work harder. Work harder still. That always was Marino's mantra. But there's this difference: Marino loved practice in football. Loved it.
That's what Don Shula noticed, even after 13 years together, Marino still on the practice field late. Even the summer two-a-days didn't bother him, not the way they did other players. All he wanted to do was be out there throwing a football, working with teammates, getting everything perfect.
That's how he looks at today's speech. He wants it to be just right. For weeks, it's worn on him, as he said Saturday in Canton, laughing in a news conference as he called it "more pressure than you want."
"You look like you've been in a wreck," Stringer said in this office Tuesday, smiling.
Then Marino's Blackberry rang, a soft bell chime. It was his 15-year-old son, Joey. "Hey, buddy," he said, then listened for a few seconds. "Mom or I will pick you up," he said.
From rookie phenom to NFL superstar to father of six, part of the romance of Marino is he became part of South Florida. You don't see that much in sports anymore. Maybe it's free agency. Maybe it's the big money. No one is shortsighted enough, for instance, to think Shaquille O'Neal belongs just to South Florida.
Marino does. He arrived when our area was lifting off with the Miami Vice image and provided the perfect sports flair to accompany that. After his first start, against Buffalo in 1983, Shula could look ahead despite the loss to tell reporters: "The thrill is back."
Twenty-two years later, Marino sat in an office with a pen, saying, "It's hard to put what football meant to me into words."
He has looked at videos of other Hall speeches. His wife, Claire, has read his speech. Stringer has gone over it. His father dropped off a note for him, just to see if it might help, something about growing up in Pittsburgh. He has worked on the speech at his home, at his foundation office, in New York between meetings with the CBS football crew.
"It's all I've thought about for a while," he says.
It's easier just to remember the thrill Shula felt that first game -- what every fan saw for years. The arm. The swagger. The full glare of passion on his face, right to the final season in 1999, when Jimmy Johnson took away Marino's right to call audibles and Marino dared do it anyhow in the fourth quarter while trailing at Indianapolis.
Marino told Oronde Gadsden in the huddle to ignore the called play and go deep. Gadsden had two voices in his head now. Jimmy. And Danny. He ran deep for a long completion that set up one of two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the comeback win.
There's a picture of him from that day on the wall behind him at his foundation. It's in a wall-sized collage of photos and headlines from his career that a fan made. There's the rookie Marino. There's the comeback from the Achilles injury. There's a picture of everything but him holding a Super Bowl trophy.
He had another dream he never got to besides the ring, though.
"To throw the ball every play in a game," he said, smiling, leaning back in a chair, understanding the fantasy of it all.
He takes up the pen. Time to work again. He has talked with John Elway, who entered the Hall of Fame last year and said he kept tinkering with his speech right up to the moment he gave it.
"That's how I'll be, I know," Marino says.
He's written and rewritten NFL records. But they felt more natural to him than writing this final Sunday's script.