By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
Dan Marino made me feel good about being a South Floridian. There, I’ve said it.
He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1983, only a few years after I arrived in South Florida. I had little interest in football before his right arm rekindled my boyhood fandom. With whiplash delivery and cocksure bravado, he fired precision pigskin missiles and thing-of-beauty bombs down the field, and turned me into a lover of the passing game. For 17 years, no matter what was happening in my life, Dan the Man gave me something to look forward to every Sunday.
“You know what?” he said when I had the chance to tell him that recently. “I wish I could still do it.”
Me too. But it went deeper than football. He became a one-man source of pride in South Florida, a region not known for a unifying sense of community. I was gratified to be from a place synonymous with a man as game-changing as he was — on the field and off. I had become more than a Dolfan. I was a Danfan.
And then it was over. He retired in 2000 and the Dolphins haven’t been the same since. Neither have I. But I still get to feel a bit of that pride now and then — because Marino is still here, still displaying that spokesperson personality and movie-star visage in TV spots and on sports shows. At 56, he’s still a presence in the community — from having been late maître ’d Roy Garret’s favorite customer at Joe’s Stone Crab all the way to his work with his eponymous foundation, now in its 26th year as a champion for those with autism and other developmental disabilities. And along the way, he’s teamed up again with the Dolphins, as a special advisor.
Maybe unbroken bonds were to be expected from a quarterback famous for hanging in the pocket — in his entire career he ran for a total of only 87 yards. (Even then, he knew how to stay home). Eventually he left the field behind, but he never left us. A longtime Weston resident, still today he remains perhaps South Florida’s signature persona.
* * *
The potent gravitational pull that the Marino name still exerts on the community was crystal clear on a cloudy morning earlier this year. About 10,000 South Floridians were drawn to Hard Rock Stadium, not by a football game, but for the Dan Marino Foundation Eighth Annual Walkabout Autism & Expo.
Among the throng was another, if somewhat bizarre endorsement of the man’s celebrity: a doppelgänger wearing a Dolphin uniform and an oversized head — a Marino mascot. Not just anyone has their own, you know.
Benefitting over 180 schools and organizations since 2011, the event has raised nearly $4 million for the organization that Marino and Claire, his wife of 33 years, established after the second of their six children, Michael, was diagnosed with autism.
“He’s a great man,” says former broadcaster Tony Segreto, the event’s emcee and an old family friend. “When you hear the word icon — sometimes we overuse it — but this is the appropriate use of the word. He is iconic to South Florida, in many different ways. As a humanitarian, certainly as an athlete, as a philanthropist — someone who’s totally dedicated his life, with Claire and his family, to making this community and the community at-large on a much bigger scale aware about autism.”
At a pre-event press conference in the Dolphins locker room, there was a hint of the good-natured cockiness of some of Marino’s sports-show appearances. Upon thinking a reporter had asked for his full name, he shot back, “David Hasselhoff.”
He turned a bit more officious later on the parking lot stage as he handed out awards to top fundraising teams. Unlike his well-rehearsed on-air pitches for a stable of enterprises like Nutrisystem and Universal Insurance Co., he was natural and easy-going as he presided over the ceremonies. But despite Marino’s generally casual demeanor, he often wears a look of serious business on his brow. You can see it even when he smiles, even through the chuminess.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. We’d never spoken before but those were the first words of our conversation a couple of weeks before the Walkabout. He was speaking from his innovative new venture, Encore Resort at Reunion, near Disney World, where he’s serving as more than a typical brand ambassador for the luxury vacation rental community that blends the amenities of a resort with the comforts of home. One such abode will be the Marino House, decked out in memorabilia and promising “a Dan Marino experience.” Plans also call for a sports academy, youth football camps and a fantasy camp all bearing the name and teamwork of the Hall of Fame quarterback.
So, it appears another community is going to be influenced by Dan Marino.
Well, I’d like to think so. I know the founder and owner, Art Falcone. We went to school together; we’ve been friends for quite a few years. He asked me to be a part of it, and I was excited about it, honestly. What he’s been doing with it is pretty exciting. It’s a place for people coming from all around the United States or anywhere in the world. They could rent a place, they’re close to Disney, there’s a water park and there’s golf courses, so you got all that good stuff.
What are some of Encore Resort’s Marino features?
We’re working on doing some training camps, some camps for kids and different things we’ll be involved in. And the Marino House is fun because not only can I use it but also other people will be able to use it.
So you mean someone like me could stay at the Marino House?
Well, let me read your article first. [Laughs.] You put it right on the tee for me. I know there’s gonna be an opportunity where you can rent this house. There’s Disney-themed homes and other homes that are gonna be themed, too.
You’ve successfully remade yourself after your football career. Has there been a master plan?
A few things. First of all, putting yourself in position for the opportunities, you know, by playing the way I played. Being part of the Dolphins and having great teammates, I was able to do TV for a while, and then your name’s out there and you’re on national television all the time and other opportunities come up. But mainly, if I look back even to when I was playing, even when I was working with AutoNation and Mike Maroone and Arvida and those different things I did in South Florida, it was really about relationships and being with people you want to be around and enjoy. And also you know that they’re successful and you can help them be successful and they can help you be successful. That’s all part of the process.
What keeps you so connected to the local community? You’re involved in so many arenas, from your foundation to Ford’s brand ambassador to Anthony’s Coal-Fired Eggplant Marino Pizza.
I’ve known Anthony [Bruno] for 30 years. I used to go to Runway 84 [in Fort Lauderdale] years ago and he talked about doing this pizza concept. I was one of the first people he asked to be involved and now there’s 63 stores and we had a lot of fun doing it. And again, it’s really about the relationships and the people you work with. If you’re around good people, it usually works out.
Speaking of Anthony’s Runway 84, my editor told me about once seeing you sitting undisturbed at the bar. He was struck by how everyone reverentially gave you space. [Marino laughs.] Is that the kind of response you normally get when you’re out around town?
I’ve known Anthony for a lot of years and a lot of people usually have seen me there before. And then there’s times when I go places I haven’t been and you get the response of taking pictures and that stuff. But that’s not a big deal. I think it’s great. Fans want to be fans and a lot of them have been very good to me. I respect that part of them just being fans.
What do you like best about living in South Florida?
Well, I love Pittsburgh because that’s where I grew up, but at the same time I’ve been living here since I was 21 years old. It’s part of my life — all of my kids have been born down here. The community has been so good to me, as far as some of the charity stuff I’ve done, and the corporations I’ve been associated with that have helped our foundation and what we’ve been able to accomplish for kids with developmental disabilities. We’ve raised a bunch of money and really had an impact on a lot of families in this community. Plus, the sunshine’s not too bad.
What do you do as special advisor to the Dolphins?
I work in all areas. I go to the Senior Bowl, the Combine, help out with some of the player evaluations, go to some meetings when I can, just be around with the players and coaches as much as I can. I love it. I love football so I’m glad to be a part of it. And I do some marketing stuff with corporate partners, so it’s kind of an all-involving position.
What are your thoughts on the team going into next season?
Obviously, no one is happy that we finished the season at 6-10. I’ve always been: Let’s be positive. We’ve got a lot of really good players. I love what [head coach] Adam Gase has been doing so I’m gonna be positive about us next year, that we’re going to improve and have a chance to get to the playoffs and see where it goes from there.
I hope you’re right.
I hope I’m right too. [Laughs.]
When you look back on your record-setting 1984 season, what is it that you most often think about?
It’s the thing I think about all the time — not that it drives me crazy, but — you know we had a great year, we set the records with my teammates, go to the Super Bowl and lose to San Francisco. That’s always going to be in the back of my head, no matter what. I accept it — you know, it’s life. That’s the one feeling I never had — everything else in football — but never had that feeling of what it’s like to walk off the field that last Sunday and be a winner, be a champion. But that year was incredible. We did some really special stuff.
My 13-year-old son’s a big NFL fan. But when I try to tell him about how dominant you were, it’s ancient history to him. What do you say to people like that?
Just tell ’em you can look it up on the Internet. They’ll figure it out.