Season Stats: 14-2 record (2-1 postseason), lost Super Bowl XIX, 362-of-564 (64.2 percent) for 5,084 yards, 48 TD, 17 INT, 108.9 passer rating
Though most of his records have been broken, Dan Marino’s 1984 season should still be the gold standard for quarterback excellence by a sophomore.
We saw him in 1983 as a very efficient rookie, but he ripped the league apart in 1984. The 48 touchdown passes blew away the previous record of 36. It would not be surpassed until Peyton Manning first broke it in 2004 under relaxed passing conditions.
The 5,084 passing yards were not surpassed until a pass-happy Drew Brees did it in 2011. Thanks to the new kickoff rule, the last two seasons have seen defenses hemorrhaging passing yards at a record pace.
It’s like Marino was putting up today’s video-game numbers on a old Nintendo Entertainment System he stole from Japan in 1984. He didn’t even have to steal it. They just gave it to him out of Godzilla-esque fear.
There is the “yeah, but” of not winning the Super Bowl. Still, Marino gets the top spot over Warner here for several reasons.
Marino’s running game was inferior to Warner’s. The 1984 Dolphins were one of the most pass-dependent offenses since 1970. Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams had three of the five most efficient, balanced offenses with Marshall Faulk’s dominance.
Warner played a much easier schedule as detailed on the previous slide. Marino played tougher teams with better defenses. If you adjust their passing stats for opponents, Marino increased his opponent’s defensive passer rating by 34.02 points. Warner only increased his by 24.46 points in 1999.
While Warner won a Super Bowl, let’s not pretend the 1999 Titans are on the same level as the 1984 49ers, who went 18-1 and were elite on both sides of the ball. Had Marino’s defense held Joe Montana’s offense to 16 points, he almost surely pulls out the win that day. Instead it was a 38-16 loss.
Warner was 1-9 in his career when his team allowed 38-plus points. The lone win came after Aaron Rodgers fumbled the ball for a game-losing touchdown in overtime in the 2009 playoffs.
Warner had better weapons with Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce all being Hall of Fame caliber. Marino had weapons, but he maximized the careers of Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, the latter with 18 touchdown catches in 1984. Bruce and Faulk were already Pro Bowl players before playing with Warner.
There’s no doubt Warner wins the “came out of nowhere to do this” contest, but fair or not, there’s just something about a 23-year-old Marino tearing up a league that wasn’t pass-happy yet compared to a 28-year-old Warner doing his thing under a different passing climate.
Not only did Marino star in the regular season, but few people realize he was the first quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards in a single postseason as well. He threw for 1,001 yards in three playoff games. A quarterback has surpassed 1,000 yards in a postseason six times since. Only Warner in 1999 (1,063 yards on five more pass attempts than what Marino had) did it in three games. Everyone else played four.
Marino also had eight touchdown passes in the playoffs, which tied the record at the time. It has since been raised to 11, first done by Joe Montana in 1989.
Marino’s 1984 season should always stand the test of time on lists of greatest quarterback seasons. He not only had the record production, efficiency, but he was doing it to win games and reach the Super Bowl.
Marino was the first sophomore quarterback to start in the Super Bowl. He’s the only one to win 14 regular-season games.
It’s hard to imagine someone will set the league on fire in year two the way Marino, the most natural of pocket passers, did.
Andrew Luck might throw for 5,000 yards this season, but we haven’t seen the efficiency to think he could match Marino’s season. Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III may play efficiently, but there’s no reason to think they still won’t be in a balanced offense.
Who knows? Maybe Mike Wallace going to Miami will introduce the deadliest deep-ball duo in the league with Ryan Tannehill’s sophomore season. He can break Marino’s franchise records.
Not a chance?
Yeah, Marino’s 1984 season is probably safe at No. 1 for another year, but young quarterbacks keep getting better. We’ll be watching 2013’s sophomores with heavy expectations.
At least one probably ends up on this list come January (or February).
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.