In the 1983 draft, the Redskins took tiny but electrifying Texas A&I cornerback Darrell Green with the last of the 28 first-round picks.
Today, Green is a Redskins legend. He played 20 years in D.C. and was once tied for the most seasons with one team in NFL history. Number 28 intercepted a Redskin-record 54 passes and was a cornerstone on two Super Bowl-winning teams. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2008.
But the history books would be different had the Dolphins with the 27th pick not taken Dan Marino, a gifted quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh who is also enshrined today in Canton.
In a recent interview, then-Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard said Marino would have worn burgundy and gold instead of aqua and orange had Miami passed on him.
“It would have been a real tough deal, but we would have taken the quarterback,” said Beathard, one of the greatest general managers ever.
Marino was part of the most celebrated quarterback draft class in NFL history. Fellow 1983 blue-chip prospects John Elway and Jim Kelly are also Hall of Famers. The Baltimore Colts drafted Elway with the No. 1 pick and traded him to Denver due to his reluctance to play in Baltimore. The Bills at No. 14 took Kelly, who played two seasons in the United States Football League before starting in Buffalo.
Marino was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 USFL draft, but three quarterbacks beside Elway and Kelly went before him on NFL draft day: Todd Blackledge at No. 7 (Chiefs), Tony Eason at No. 15 (Patriots) and Ken O’Brien at No. 24 (Jets). Of those three, Eason had the most notable career, quarterbacking New England to an appearance in Super Bowl XX.
Marino watched in frustration as he kept dropping, a sequence chronicled in the blockbuster ESPN 30 for 30 documentary released earlier this year, “Elway to Marino.”
According to Beathard, the defending Super Bowl-champion Redskins were eyeing Marino and Green, with an interest, too, in Kelly and O’Brien. Trading up to draft Elway would have cost too much in draft picks, he said.
“We had Dan Marino rated really high,” Beathard said. “We had a quarterback (Joe Theismann), so that wasn’t our biggest need. But Dan kept slipping and slipping and slipping. And we were worried about Darrell being taken. Miami took Marino, and we got Darrell.”
Marino was a great quarterback at Pittsburgh, throwing for 8,600 yards and 79 touchdowns. But NFL teams shied away from him, including his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, because of rumors that he’d used illegal drugs at Pitt. Beathard said through conversations with Marino’s agent, Marvin Demoff, and other information he had, he considered Marino a great NFL prospect, not a drug user.
“I knew his agent well, and I believed his agent,” Beathard said. “And I met Dan, and I believed Dan. There was nothing to worry about with Dan.”
In Theismann, the Redskins sported one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. In 1982, his ninth season, he posted the NFC’s top passer rating (91.3) and was named NFL Player of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club. In a 4-0 postseason that ended with a win in Super Bowl XVII, he recorded a 110.8 rating and a 68.2 completion percentage.
Beathard refused to theorize on how long Marino would have backed up Theismann. But he was certain Marino was a special quarterback.
“Marino was really unique in that he didn’t have the ability to scramble like some other guys,” Beathard said. “But there was nobody that we had seen where the decision-making and the release were so quick. You really didn’t need a guy that could get out of trouble with his feet like other quarterbacks needed to have because with Dan, there was the snap and he got rid of the ball quicker than anybody. So it neutralized the pass rush. It was amazing.”
In 1983, Theismann crafted his best season statistically and was named league MVP. But his career ended when his right leg was shattered against the Giants on Nov. 18, 1985. His replacement was a former minor league baseball player named Jay Schroeder, who threw for a Redskins-record 4,109 yards in 1986 before his career in D.C. fizzled.
Marino, for his part, was posting prolific stats and retired after 17 seasons with the most single-season (5,084) and career passing yards (61,361), among many other titanic NFL marks. His Miami teams made the playoffs 10 times, but he never won a Super Bowl.
So what if Marino had become a Redskin? One can only imagine.
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages, and follow him on Twitter.