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In sports, championships often define a person’s legacy. Not winning a title gives fuel to sportswriters and talking heads who question an athlete’s true value.
Sometimes legends find themselves remembered more for what they have not done than for their accomplishments. But those résumé gaps can also help drive them to achieve even greater things in new arenas.
For 17 years Dan Marino was the on-field leader of the Miami Dolphins, taking the team to the playoffs 10 times and compiling statistics that were otherworldly: throwing for 61,361 yards in his career, holding 30 Dolphins passing records, voted to the Pro Bowl nine times starting his rookie year, and named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 1984, which was only his second season.
Marino was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005, and his name always comes up when the conversation centers on the greatest quarterbacks of all time. But his greatness comes with an asterisk: He never won the Big Game.
“I always wanted to win a Super Bowl but I obviously never reached that goal,” Marino says, “But at the same time I had an incredible career and made it to the Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t trade the Hall of Fame for one Super Bowl. Now I want to do even more.”
With his retirement after the 1999 season, Marino threw himself into other work, pursuing a legacy that’s more lifetime-achievement award than single-game trophy. Leveraging relationships built over almost two decades, he forged business partnerships and built a foundation benefiting children with developmental disabilities. He also created an enviable second career as a TV sports analyst.
Relationships, work ethic and commitment are recurring themes in Marino’s success story. His ability to adapt also contributed to his achievements. He recalls tearing his Achilles tendon during the 1993 season and realizing immediately that it could cause permanent physical limitations or end his career.
“After I was hurt, my body changed,” Marino says. “I always felt that I could play at that same level that I was before, but I would have to do so with a little less mobility. There’s that drive—you want to overcome something, if it’s injury or losing your job, you want to prove to others that you are as good as you once were. I had that, and I would say most successful people do, too.
“You have to adapt when adversity strikes. I adapted as far as my game was concerned when I came off the Achilles injury. I couldn’t go off my toe or my foot, and my movement wasn’t the same. I had to count on my arm and my head. You have to overcome certain things. Maybe my throwing motion wasn’t the same, but the results were. Mentally, it’s just about being tough, and if your natural ability isn’t the same, you have to outwork and outthink others. In all situations you need to find ways to adapt.”
In what appeared to be a seamless transition into life after football, Marino joined HBO and served as co-host of Inside the NFL and later, CBS Sports, where he has worked as a football analyst on The NFL Today for the last 10 years. He’s just as thorough in the way he approaches his on-air job, studying all 32 teams as though he were playing all of them every Sunday. “If you have a passion for something, work hard at it,” Marino says. “I always thought I would do well on TV because I have always been well-prepared, and you need to do that on-air or it looks fake.”
That preparation for life after football actually started years earlier, as he cultivated mentors from among the influential businesspeople he met. “I always talk about building solid relationships in the community, but those are relationships you build through the years. I was fortunate to have played pro football in one city for 17 years and made a lot of close friends who I am still in business with today.”
Marino’s business interests are diverse, in areas ranging from restaurants to technology to nutrition. He’s contributed his talent for relationship-building to these businesses, too. As a major shareholder and former advisory board member for 3Cinteractive, a Florida-based enterprise mobile solutions provider, Marino introduced company officials to John Sculley, the former Apple CEO who is now chairman of 3Ci. Last year 3Ci was named to Forbes’ most promising companies list.
He also credits his friendships with the strides the Dan Marino Foundation has made to help children with developmental disabilities and their families. Dan and Claire Marino started the foundation in 1992 after the second of their six children, Michael, was diagnosed with autism. Since then, the foundation has raised more than $33 million.
“I’d like to take credit for that, but it’s the relationships you build in your community throughout life that helps you build a foundation,” Marino says. “We have raised a bunch of money and have been able to help kids with developmental disabilities by showing them life skills and making them more comfortable in social situations.”
Dan and Claire Marino knew almost nothing about autism when 2-year-old Michael was diagnosed with the disorder 20 years ago. So their initial goal was to find ways to help their son, as well as other kids diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities who didn’t have the resources they had.
“Millions of people are affected by autism; it’s an issue,” Marino says. “For us, it’s always about looking at the next program, the next step. What are we trying to achieve as a foundation to make the biggest impact? We’ve done things for young kids through awareness, diagnosis, outreach, development, speech and language therapies. But to do all that you try to raise as much money as you can to help whatever program that may need it.”
The foundation puts on annual events, such as a cigar and wine dinner now in its 12th year and the annual Walk About Autism fundraiser, which has, over the last two years, raised more than $500,000 for programs, services and participating schools in South Florida.
The organization’s crowning achievement is the Dan Marino Outpatient Center developed in 1998 in partnership with Miami Children’s Hospital. The center provides neurological and developmental services to more than 25,000 children a year who come from around the nation and world.
Another major initiative is the Marino Vocational College, scheduled to open in fall 2014 in downtown Fort Lauderdale, offering teens and young adults life skills, vocational experience and fitness programs. Without these opportunities, the future is not bright for the more than 340,000 students in Florida who have developmental disabilities, foundation officials say, with 79 percent of them not qualified for further educational opportunities and 90 percent of them destined for unemployment.
Marino says his son Michael has thrived over the past two decades with the support he’s gotten and through his own determination. He’s a DJ who loves to produce music and has taken the lead in his parents’ philanthropy as the face of the foundation.
In an interview in June with CBS4 in Miami, Michael Marino recalled the difficulties he experienced as a child. “Because of [my dad’s] support and that push, I am able to be who I am today and to speak well, which I had a real problem with when I was younger,” he said. “I found myself, when I was younger, pointing at a lot of things.”
Marino says he’s amazed by Michael’s accomplishments. “He’s my son and I love him. He’s been a great example for a lot of kids. He’s given a lot of people with children with developmental disabilities a lot of hope.”
Now 51, Dan Marino is working to inspire another group of people as a life ambassador for AARP. “The reality is, turning 50 is just a number,” he says. “That’s the message we want to get across. Turning 50 is just the beginning of the next step in your life.”
Which begs the question: With all of his successes on and off the field, what would Marino like to be remembered for?
“A good actor,” he says with a laugh, referring to his bit role in the 1994 movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. “I will say this—I found out that I have a new respect for guys in the movie business. Sometimes it looks all glamorous, but those guys work their butts off.
“Seriously, I would like people to think that I’ve worked hard at whatever it is I have tried to achieve in life. Whether it’s the foundation or football, I want to be known as a good person, and a person who people want to be around. That’s the important thing in life.”
Marino hasn’t taken a snap in more than 12 years, yet people still clamor to be around him. But with all of his fame and awards, he says he takes the greatest pleasure in helping others, especially when it comes to his foundation.
“It’s cool when people want to talk to you about the Dolphins or Peyton Manning—even Ace Ventura,” Marino says, “But when a parent says that this place [the Dan Marino Outpatient Center] has really helped their family or it helped the kids, that gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction. It is a cool thing to know it is working. You know that what you are doing is working and affecting people’s lives; that’s a great feeling.”
Even better, Dan Marino would argue, than winning a trophy.