8:54 PM EDT, August 22, 2012
Sixteen guys have walked in Dan Marino's shoes.
By comparison, for the Miami Dolphins, it's been like trading in the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" for sandals from Payless.
There is nothing truly special about Damon Huard, Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Dante Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Matt Moore.
They are truly indistinguishable from each other. Only one (Fiedler in 2001) threw for 20 touchdown passes in a season. Marino (insert sigh for Dolphins fans) threw for 20-plus touchdowns 13 times, 30-plus touchdowns four times and 40-plus touchdowns twice.
Cumulatively, the post-Marino quarterbacks have thrown for 207 touchdowns and 168 interceptions. Perhaps it is why the Dolphins have gone through a league-high record of starting quarterbacks since Marino retired.
Miami has embraced mediocrity between 2000 and 2011, turning the most important position on the football field into a reality TV show featuring 16 guys who deserved to get booted off the island.
Ryan Tannehill needn't worry about high expectations as he becomes the 17th starting quarterback since Marino. As a rookie, his learning curve is already generous. As a Dolphin, he needn't worry about comparisons to anybody except Marino.
No. 13 walked away March 13, 2000, to a respectful standing ovation from everyone in the room, including the usual non-partisan group of journalists who cover the team.
Now, the Dolphin Nation rises up as a collective unit, hoping they have finally found the guy.
"I wanted to be [the starter]," Tannehill said. "As a competitor, that's just human nature. As a competitor, to want to be the guy. I was going out there every day trying to prove that I could be the guy to win games for this football team and, right now, that's the case."
It was the right call for new coach Joe Philbin after David Garrard — nothing more than a stopgap anyway — injured his left knee in a freakish accident while playing with his kid by the pool. Matt Moore has already been given a chance to start, and fits the mold of serviceable, but he is not the quarterback you want for the next decade.
Tannehill is, as he steps into unprecedented territory for great Miami QBs. Neither Marino or Bob Griese were starters in their first year.
But this is the new NFL business model, where rookies are given keys to the offense instead of a clipboard and a visor. And, finally, it seems the Dolphins got wise by taking a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft since they picked a de-valued Marino out of Pittsburgh in 1983.
Tannehill will join Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Robert Griffin III (Washington) and Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) as rookie starters. Russell Wilson in Seattle may be the fifth. Luck replaces Peyton Manning, the iconic quarterback in Indianapolis. Indy basically fell into Luck after a miserable season, and appear to be set on another franchise quarterback for a decade or so.
The Dolphins haven't been as fortunate. They whiffed on Drew Brees when he was a free agent in San Diego in 2006, opting instead for Culpepper. They wooed Manning in the off-season but got rejected in favor of Denver.
Will No. 17 pan out? Maybe there is some cosmic mojo in play here, since Tannehill happens to wear that number.
"We didn't hand him anything," Miami coach Joe Philbin said. "Nothing is forever in this league if a guy doesn't play well, at any position."
The Dolphins have been handing out a lot of starting quarterback jobs since 2000. This time the hope is that they will actually be able to groom a keeper, instead of grudgingly settling for their usual pooper-scooper project.
Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org He is a regular contributor on the Joel Greenberg Show weekdays 4-6pm on 810 AM Yahoo! Sports Radio Orlando.
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