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On This Date in Sports September 4, 1994: Dan the Man Returns

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Making his return from an Achilles injury, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins lights up the New England Patriots, passing for 473 yards with five touchdowns as Miami wins the game 39-35 at Joe Robbie Stadium. Former Patriot Irving Fryer is also key to the Dolphins' victory, catching five passes for 211 yards, with three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

Dan Marino was born September 15, 1961, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up in the shadow of Pittsburgh University, Marino shined at Central Catholic High School before becoming one of the NCAA’s top-ranked passers at Pitt. After a disappointing Senior season with rumors of drug use, Marino’s draft stock dropped, as he was the fifth quarterback taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft, going 27th to the Miami Dolphins.

It would not take Dan Marino long to make the teams that passed him by look bad, as he had a record-shattering season in 1984. That year he had the NFL’s first 5,000-yard season with 5,084 yards along with a record 48 touchdown passes as he won the NFL MVP and led Miami to Super Bowl XIX. The Dolphins would fall short in the big game losing to the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana in what was essentially a Super Bowl road game at Stanford University.

Following a loss in the 1985 AFC Championship Game, they missed the playoffs four straight seasons. As the 1990s began, the Dolphins battled the Buffalo Bills but could not find all the pieces to make a Super Bowl run, losing the 1992 AFC Championship. Miami looked poised for another run the following season before Dan Marino tore his Achilles in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns. At the time, it was expected that Marino would take the Dolphins to many more Super Bowls, but the Miami defense struggled over the next five years. Miami would start 9-2 without their MVP quarterback but missed the playoffs after losing the final five games.

While the Dolphins were looking for a comeback season from Dan Marino, the New England Patriots were hoping to revive what had become the NFL’s worst franchise. The Patriots had beaten the Dolphins to reach Super Bowl XX but quickly hit hard times, going 1-15 in 1990 and 2-14 in 1992. This led to the hiring of Bill Parcells as head coach in 1993. Meanwhile, Drew Bledsoe was selected with the number one pick to be the franchise quarterback they had been seeking for years. The Patriots finished the 1993 season strong, winning their last four games to finish 5-11 as Bledsoe found his grove after, struggling early.

With Dan Marino making his return, Don Shula was celebrating 25 years in Miami after becoming the NFL’s all-time winningest coach a year earlier. The Patriots were trying to win fans back after flirting with a move to St. Louis, as Robert Kraft swooped in and brought the team in the off-season.

It was a typical late summer day in Miami, hot and humid, with periodic rain. This left the dirt part of the infield for Florida Marlins baseball muddy as the Miami Dolphins kicked off the season at home against the New England Patriots. All eyes were on the teams’ quarterbacks as Marino, the veteran, faced Bledsoe, the young rising star, for the first time.

The Dolphins moved the ball well on their first drive but lost it when Terry Kirby fumbled on the Patriots 39-yard line. The Patriots, meanwhile, took the ensuing possession and scored on a one-yard run by Kevin Turner. The Patriots would quickly answer as Drew Bledsoe connected with Ben Coates on a two-yard touchdown pass. The Dolphins continued to look out of sync until Troy Vincent intercepted Bledsoe in the red zone. With the ball back late in the second quarter, Dan Marino took full advantage of connecting with Mark Ingram on a 64-yard field goal to tie the game. The Dolphins again drove into New England territory, but Dwayne Sabb picked off Marino at the end zone. At the end of the half, the Dolphins would drive down and get a Pete Stoyanovich 42-yard field goal to go to the locker down 14-10.

Things did not start well for the Dolphins in the third quarter, as they went three and out, while Drew Bledsoe hit Ben Coates on a 62-yard pass to make it 21-10 in favor of New England. After each team went three and out on their next possession, the Dolphins seemed to finally get their offense on track when Dan Marino completed a 40-yard pass to Irving Fryer. This set up a 26-yard touchdown pass to Keith Jackson. The Dolphins would successfully convert one of the first two-point conversions in NFL history on a Terry Kirby run to get back to within a field goal. The NFL had added the two-pointer during the off-season. The Dolphins' defense made a big play as Gene Atkins picked off Bledsoe, only to see Marino fumble it right back. The Patriots would make Miami pay as Bledsoe connected with Michael Timmson on a five-yard TD pass to make it 28-18.

With time was running out in the third quarter, things began to turn in the Dolphins favor. Dan Marino would connect with Irving Fryer on a 54-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to three points again. The Dolphins defense forced a Bledsoe fumble in the next series, setting up Marino to give Miami the lead, which he did on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Fryer on the first play of the fourth quarter. Drew Bledsoe showing the poise of a veteran, answered right back, connecting with Ray Crittenden on a 23-yard touchdown pass. After each team punted on their next possession, the Dolphins again took the lead, with Marino and Fryer connecting on a third touchdown hook up from 35 yards with just over seven minutes left. The Patriots were driving again, but a crucial Ben Coates fumble at midfield stalled their momentum.

The Dolphins would go on to win the game 39-35. Dan Marino completed 23 of 42 passes for 73 yards with five touchdowns. Drew Bledsoe meanwhile completed 32 of 51 passes for 421yards with four scores. Irving Fryer was the Dolphins leading receiver with five catches for 211 yards, scoring three touchdowns. Ben Coates was the Pats leading pass catcher with eight receptions for 161 yards with two touchdowns.

The Dolphins would win the AFC East with a 10-6 record in 1994, as Dan Marino won Comeback Player of the Year with 4,453 yards and 30 touchdowns. It was the final time in his career that Marino topped 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. The Patriots, meanwhile, made the playoffs for the first time in eight years, also going 10-6. Miami would reach the Division Playoffs, losing a heartbreaker to the San Diego Chargers, while the Patriots lost to the Cleveland Browns coached by Bill Belichick in the Wild Card Game.