Seattle safety John Harris wrapped his sweating curls in a white towel headdress and heaved a giant lungful of defiance. For starters, he asked aloud, was Dan Marino all that great?
"You tell me," he said and puckered his parched lips. "You saw the game. I thought we did pretty damned good against him."
And why did so many yellow flags take sudden flight in the early goings of the third quarter during the Miami Dolphins' 31-10 victory today? The first of three against the Seahawks' secondary was a personal foul against Harris for almost running tight end Bruce Hardy into the nickel seats. But who figured a flag would result from simple extra effort?
"Payback calls," Harris said and chewed his teeth. "The big payback. I saw no reason for that ref pulling his flag against me, there was no malicious intent. I was just making a tackle. I didn't know we were out of bounds."
The personal foul put the ball on Seattle's eight-yard line, giving the Dolphins a free lunch on their first possession of the third quarter. On the previous drive, the first of the third quarter, Seattle kicker Norm Johnson missed a 41-yard field goal attempt that would have made the score 14-13, Miami.
Instead, there was Marino and his speedy group of receivers knocking down the door, threatening to push the score to 21-10. Three plays after the penalty against Harris, cornerback Keith Simpson was penalized for interfering with Dolphins tight end Joe Rose. That put the ball on the one and further frustrated the Seahawks' illusions of overcoming the four-point halftime deficit.
"It sent everything to hell," Harris said.
Another flag against Simpson, for holding receiver Nat Moore, was nullified when Marino threw a scoring pass to tight end Bruce Hardy over the middle. But it so infuriated the Seattle secondary that strong safety Kenny Easley and Simpson, performing a nasty war dance, had to be coaxed away from the team of officials.
"They ran a pick play to get Hardy open," Simpson said. "But I don't know how he managed to get so free in the end zone. I had Moore held up pretty good on the line of scrimmage. If Nat thought I was holding him, he'd have to tell you. I don't think I was. It was totally frustrating."
Simpson was later frustrated when Clayton pulled in a 33-yard touchdown pass despite being closely covered. Simpson said of his effort, "I know I had Clayton covered on that touchdown. He has a good vertical leap, and when he went up for the ball I felt my body slowly shift down.
"They should have flagged him for interference but they never penalize the receiver on a play like that. Why was he given the right to jump all over my back and I couldn't touch him? It should have been even-steven."
Simpson said he learned "a few things about Dan Marino that I'd rather keep to myself. But I think he's gutsy. He has to learn a lot about reading defenses. He does know that whenever we go to the nickel coverage, there's a one-on-one situation out there.
"He's good at figuring out who was in the single coverage and going to him. But sometimes he'd throw the ball right into the coverage. Then he'd come back and do it again. Is that courage or inexperience or what? You have to wonder."
Probably genius. Marino completed 21 of 34 attempts for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He was especially effective in the second half, after Dave Brown, the nickel cornerback, injured his left calf.
"When Dave went out," Simpson said, "we had to make crucial adjustments back there. It ended up putting four people out of their regular positions. I don't know how much difference it all made in the game, though."
Brown said his absence "shifted and changed everything. But Dan Marino is a great quarterback. He can throw the ball anywhere. A lot of quarterbacks would have been cautious after throwing an interception. But he keeps coming back at you, trying the same stuff. And he always comes back strong."