Better than Namath, his coach said of him, and tonight Dan Marino worked Broadway Joe's kind of miracle when he threw a fourth-down, 33-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 24-20 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
"It has been a dream of mine to play in the Sugar Bowl," said Marino, who completed 26 of 41 passes for three touchdowns and was named the game's outstanding player. "I am on cloud nine."
Ahead early in the fourth quarter, then behind later, when Georgia quarterback Buck Belue turned a throw-it-and-hope pass into a touchdown, Pitt drove 80 yards for the dramatic touchdown that left Georgia players on their knees and weeping.
Two of Herschel Walker's inimitable sweeping runs into the end zone on a mediocre night -- 25 carries, 84 yards -- and Belue's six-yard touchdown prayer to Clarence Kay gave Georgia a 20-17 lead with just over eight minutes to play. Although No. 1 Clemson most likely would win--it led Nebraska, 22-15, when the game here ended--Georgia dared hope for a second straight national championship and it was only one play from victory here in front of 77,274 spectators in the Super Dome, most of them Georgia zealots.
One play to go. Fourth down. Forty seconds left.
Already Marino had kept Pitt alive on a fourth down. On fourth and four at Georgia's 46, one play from defeat, Marino called a daring play, a quarterback draw. He gained eight yards.
And now it came to fourth down again. Fourth and five, 33 yards from the end zone.
"He's the greatest quarterback I've been around," his coach, Jackie Sherrill, has said of Marino, a junior who passed for 2,615 yards in Pitt's 10-1 regular season. Sherrill was an Alabama teammate of Namath, who was, the coach said, awfully good but not in Marino's class at finding holes in the defense.
Now it was fourth and five, and Marino set up quickly behind an offensive line averaging 260 pounds a man, a line that gave up only nine sacks all season. While Marino surveyed the defense, tight end John Brown streaked downfield on a post pattern. Nothing fancy. Just flying down the middle.
"We thought they would go for it all on the last play," said Georgia Coach Vince Dooley, "but we thought we needed to put more pressure on Marino . . . I don't know what the turning point was except that the touchdown came on the last play . . . The tight end (Brown) made a great play and Marino made a great, great play."
Of that Georgia pressure, Marino said, "We were really surprised they tried to blitz on the play. We were going to cross the backs and try to hit one of them. When they saw the blitz coming they stayed in and blocked. John wasn't the primary receiver on the play, but I saw him hit the open seam and he made a great catch."
As Marino's pass sailed high and 50 yards down the field, Brown sprinted past safety man Steve Kelley at the 10-yard line. Brown caught Marino's pass two steps into the end zone.
"Brown bent to the outside and saw my shoulder and turned to the outside and then broke back to the middle," Kelley said.
"Danny is a great quarterback," Brown said, "and he picked me out. I was really the third receiver on the play. It is a mark of a great quarterback to hit someone when he's not the primary man. We knew we had to stick it in the end zone."
Sherrill said, "Danny knew where the dots were on the field and hit the open man."
On his 26-of-41 passing, Marino gained 261 yards and produced all three touchdowns, earlier wrapping up another 80-yard drive with a 30-yard pass to Julius Dawkins, then giving Pitt a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter with a six-yarder to Brown.
Georgia had scored first on Walker's eight-yard sweep of right end midway through the second quarter and owned a 7-3 halftime lead largely because Pitt was hamstrung with eight penalties for 64 yards.
Pitt, the top-rated team in the country until losing for the first time in its 11th game, a 48-14 humiliation by Penn State, quickly demonstrated in the third quarter the offensive firepower that produced 32 points a game this season.
Driving 80 yards in Pitt's first possession, Marino complete three of four passes for 48 yards, the last 30 to Dawkins for a 10-7 lead. But after Pitt fullback Brian Thomas lost a fumble at his 10, Georgia moved ahead, 13-10. This was easy. They just handed it to Walker going right. One run, 10 yards, touchdown.
Marino's six-yarder to Brown came eight minutes later, but was followed by Georgia's longest drive of the game.
The Bulldogs went 80 yards in 10 plays, needing barely three minutes to get back in front, 20-17. The big plays were made by Belue and Walker.
On second and 13 at his 43, Belue, thinking to pass, scrambled instead for 23 yards. Walker on the next play ran 25 yards.
Then, on third and goal at the six-yard line, Belue, running away from defensive end Michael Woods, lofted a prayer into the left corner of the end zone--where, surprise, Kay caught it for a touchdown that seemed enough to win.
When it wasn't enough, when Georgia had lost for the second time in Herschel Walker's 24-game career, Walker said, "I thought we played pretty good, but Pitt played a little better." As for his 84-yard night, he said, "Pitt's defense is one of the best in the nation."
Pitt's fullback, Thomas, had another idea. "Coach Sherrill had a dream that Walker would get 80 to 90 yards and that I'd outrush him."
Thomas carried 25 times for 129 yards. Sweet dream.