Without a doubt, over the past 27 years all of the Dolphins fans worldwide have witnessed greatness on the field, both on offense and defense. But with all of these legends over the years (Dan Marino, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas specifically) the one thing that separates these players is the legacy they left after they retired.
Two retired peacefully with the team that drafted them and one signed with a rival amid much controversy. These guys took three different roads in the later stages of their NFL careers. I am not here to bash them, I am here to examine and compare them in ways, and point out some of the main points that went into each players decision.
Let’s first start with Zach Thomas. The man gave his all for the Dolphins. He suffered injuries and numerous concussions (which actually ended his career) and mentored young players year in and year out. It’s safe to say that Thomas is considered a true Miami Dolphin through and through by fans.
Thomas also set numerous records throughout his tenure in Miami. But after suffering an injury filled last couple of seasons in Miami and a new regime coming in, such as Bill Parcells and the rest of the Trifecta, Thomas got the boot. He was simply getting too old, and too injury prone.
Thomas understood and went on to play another season with the Dallas Cowboys, where he put up generous numbers, registering 65 tackles, one fumble recovered and three passes defensed. He then went on the following year to go through training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs, before getting cut due to lingering issues from his previous concussions.
Thomas then came back to the Dolphins for one day on a contract that was only a dollar (ironically many get the feeling that this guy would have played for free his whole career) and retired as a Dolphin, quietly. He had a press conference and before we knew it, Thomas’ career was over. Dol-Fans were over the Thomas retirement within the week.
Quite the contrary to our next lab rat, Dan Marino is known as undoubtedly the best player in this franchises history.
He set numerous passing records and defined the art of passing so that players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees could now play the game and get paid like they do. If it was not for Marino throwing like he did over his career, there likely would not be as many prolific passers in the league and the league would not have made the transition from a run first league to suddenly a high scoring, glitzy aerial onslaught.
Marino’s career is not in question right now, or his legacy. He is one of the best, if not the best player to never win a Super Bowl and is one of the top ten quarterbacks of all time, if not top five.
While Marino’s retirement process required a little longer to get over (try 10 years and counting) he did it the right way. He retired with dignity and on his terms. He said no to another season because he felt his body could not handle it. He was not forced to quit, he did it his way. He felt he could have thrown with the best of the best in the league for one more year, but his legs were just not up to the brutal beating that they had taken for years and years.
In the end, Marino said no to all of the other offers before he retired.
So Dan retired, amid many rumors that he was fielding offers from the Minnesota Vikings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.
Marino later admitted that although he had retired, that he was seriously considering playing for the Vikings and that playing in his hometown would have been interesting.
But Marino also said that he was glad that he only played in one town for one team and that he was proud to be a Dolphin his whole career.
Now, in a discussion with Sun-Sentinel’s Omar Kelly, Marino says that he would never had considered playing for a rival like the New York Jets.
So, in a way Marino’s career ended in a way that fans can feel a sense of gratitude towards him. Sure it would have been nice if his last game in a Fins uniform was not a playoff blowout to the Jacksonville Jaguars but that game was merely a blip on the radar of an otherwise outstanding career. He still did not have a run game to complement him at that point in his career, and his front office was not committed to building an offense around Marino.
Now we face our last example. Jason Taylor. The man who could not wait less than a week to see if the Dolphins would like to re-sign him after the draft. The same man who went to the division rival New York Jets because he “had no other offers”. The same man who later went on to say that the New York and Miami organizations “are as different as night and day”.
This was the same man who was beloved in Miami for more than a decade, and after getting traded to the Washington Redskins for a year, came back home for a sendoff party it seemed. At the time I thought that JT would finish his career in Miami and he would stay for at least two more years.
JT then proceeded to decline an offer from the Dolphins during the season that likely would have kept Taylor in Miami until he retired. The Fins then told Jason to wait until after the draft to see what the Dolphins got before they gave him a new contract.
Taylor did not like this idea, and promptly left the fine and glamorous city of Miami for the hated city of New York.
Questions then suddenly arose about whether JT’s legacy would be tarnished at all and whether he would still be considered a Dolphins great after all is said and done.
While, it is not a great idea to compare Marino and Taylor together, I think that since both were great players for the Fins for an extended period of time, while also setting records, a comparison is safe to conduct in this case.
Marino, like I mentioned above, turned down offers to play one more year. JT took another offer from a team when he could have waited a couple of days and found out if his original team would re-sign him or not.
JT turned down Bill Parcells and Miami’s offer. When he said that there were no other offers on the table, well, while that may be true, all he had to do was wait, like the rest of the free agents, to garner some offers. The Dolphins would likely have offered him something, and the Jets would have certainly still offered him a contract a couple of days later if JT insisted on waiting.
But instead he took the other route, and simply signed on with the Jets.
He was, and still is hated by some, and also he is still beloved by fans. But it seems like there is no in between, and some think he has tarnished his legacy as an all time great.
You cannot really compare Zach and Jason because they were in different situations. We all knew that the Dolphins wanted no part of Thomas and we all understood that. But we are still unsure whether the Dolphins would have eventually after the draft, worked out a deal for JT.
The same deal applies for Marino. The Dolphins wanted to rebuild and wanted no part of Marino and were not really interested in building around him since Jimmy Johsnon arrived in the mid-90’s.
But Marino still had a choice like Taylor did. Should he retire a Dolphin, or in Taylor’s case, wait for his team to make an offer or go elsewhere? Or should Marino take the other offers that he received from other teams? Marino chose retirement because he wanted to stay with one franchise his whole career. That meant something special to him, and while it did mean something to Taylor as well, it didn’t mean as much.
That is one of the reasons that Marino is and most likely always will be the best Fin ever. Because not only did he set the standard for on the field, but when retirement came knocking, and he had the decision of going elsewhere or retiring a Fin forever, he chose the latter.
JT will always be a fan favorite of mine, but Marino will always be numero uno in the hearts of Dol-Fans because he went that extra mile to uphold his legacy as a Dolphin. And that is the difference between the two. JT is in New York and Marino is still in Miami.
Dan “The Man” will always be remembered for being a Dolphin. JT will be remembered as a Fin/Skin/Jet. What kind of a legacy is that if you end your career playing for a team that you strived to beat your whole career?
This is how some will remember JT, unfortunately.
Dan didn’t want that and neither do I. Sorry JT, but you’re just the enemy now and while you do have some great history in Miami and have a lot of memories, you will always be remembered by some as the guy who most likely will finish up his career as a Jet, a member of our bitter rivals.
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