You wanted to hope. That's why Thursday's news was a slap to the senses. You wanted to hope Dan Marino was beyond this. You wanted to hope his good work all these years reflected someone out of the reach of gossip pages.
You wanted to hope he'd never be reduced to a tabloid headline involving the phrase, "love child.'' Or issue a statement about fathering an illegitimate child. Or have a source close to the family call to assure his wife, Claire, was "aware of this from the beginning."
But on Thursday, the world learned from a New York tabloid that Marino, the Miami Dolphins' Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL analyst for CBS Sports, fathered a 7-year-old girl with a former CBS colleague and paid her millions to keep it quiet.
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It's a disheartening path for a good man to walk.
And, make no mistake, Marino is a good man. This news changes some things. But not that. He is a good, responsible, civically conscious, locally conspicuous and, yep, obviously flawed man.
As we all are.
As he always was.
Marino has entertained millions with a football, helped hundreds of thousands around the world with his autism center, brought smiles for years as Make-A-Wish's top celebrity request and developed a pristine image in South Florida as a family man who puts family first.
And he fathered an illegitimate child in 2005.
Does that last line damage anything before it? Should it? Or does he just have to deal with its fallout inside his family and in a responsible way with the involved mother and child?
The fact such uncomfortable questions are asked tells how fast it can change in today's culture, how fast it all has changed in the short term for Marino. He did the responsible thing in the aftermath.
He told his wife, as the family source said. He supported the mother and daughter financially from the start. He apparently has some measured relationship with the child. Why would he tell the world? Was it the world's business?
But when confronted by The New York Post he told the truth.
"This is a personal and private matter,'' he said in a statement. "I take full responsibility both personally and financially for my actions now as I did then. We mutually agreed to keep our arrangement private to protect all parties involved.
"My wife and I have been married for almost 30 years, and we have six children together. And we continue to be a strong and loving family."
It's always uncomfortable wading through another person's privacy, as we increasingly seem to be doing in sports, as if to satisfy American's increasing need to be titillated.
The fallback line to say about Marino now is, "We never knew him." That's the cliché when celebrities stumble. And it's partially true in the sense no one knows their neighbors these days, much less a sports star you see in snippets.
But if Marino had done something violent, if he used a gun or was involved in a domestic dispute, the "We never knew him" clause would be more applicable. This isn't so much a matter of us not knowing someone.
It's more a matter of him, a man making a mistake. The most disheartening part is Marino, whose name stood for only good for years, joins the scrawl passing before America's eyes of recent, questioned athletes.
Lance Armstrong lied. Alex Rodriguez used. Ray Lewis bought Deer Antler Spray. Dan Marino fathered an illegitimate child.
A week ago, I wrote a column saying Marino might eventually become more known for his good work with autism as with football. This week's news doesn't change that. It changes how some people will look at him, though.
In all of Marino's years, his most controversial public act was something as benign as snapping to a reporter after a loss, "You wouldn't know that, would you? You didn't play the game." He then quickly apologized.
No apology was necessary or warranted Thursday. He is a good man. He is a flawed man. He's acting responsibly in the serious aftermath of a mistake. And the world spins.