Check any ancient football manual and you'll find the law: "When you're troubled by a young quarterback and find yourself out of defensive options, blitz him senseless."

It seems, however, that against Miami quarterback Dan Marino, age 23, such a strategy won't work.

As Marino passed for 421 yards and four touchdowns in the Dolphins' 45-28 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the American Football Conference title game Sunday in the Orange Bowl, he seemed as unaffected by the Steelers' incessant blitzes as he was by establishing a few more passing records.

Is this kid rattled by anything?

Miami Coach Don Shula said, "We hurt (the Steelers) when they tried to put pressure on. Dan is so quick with the gun that he gets it off."

"I don't think there was a defense made that we didn't try," Steelers cornerback Dwayne Woodruff said. "We blitzed. We tried zone, man to man. We even tried playing street ball.

"A lot of times, we had receivers covered and Marino threw the ball to the only place he could to complete it."

And how might the San Francisco 49ers cope with Marino in Super Bowl XIX on Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. EST in Palo Alto, Calif.? "First, I would find out what hotel they were staying at," Woodruff told reporters. "Second, I would kidnap Marino until an hour after the game."

"It's a great combination: a good quarterback, well-coached, and great receivers," said Tony Dungy, the Steelers' defensive coordinator. "I don't know how to defend them. You know the ball is going to be in the air 35 to 40 times and you've got to get the interception and cause the fumble. (Marino) is not going to be 10 for 40 or 12 for 45. You've got to come up with the stopper (turnover), and we couldn't do that."

Marino twice exploited blitzes to throw touchdown passes to wide receiver Mark Duper. Another time, the Steelers blitzed and Marino hit wide receiver Jimmy Cefalo with a precise 40-yard scoring pass that was nullified by a penalty.

Another time, blitzing linebacker Jack Lambert got to the quarterback. As Marino was falling to the ground, though, he somehow lofted a pass that running back Tony Nathan caught for a 19-yard gain. Lambert shook his head. Hmmm.

That was as close as the Steelers got to a sack.

The fact is, Marino has been sacked just 14 times in 18 games this season. The Redskins' Joe Theismann was sacked that many times in consecutive games against Dallas (eight) and St. Louis (six).

"All year, we've been able to pick up the blitzes," said Miami tackle Jon Giesler. "We're good picking them up, and with Danny's quick release, that's two strikes against the defense."

Marino has built some stunning statistics, aided by a quick release, capable blocking and a veteran's calm. He's thrown 55 touchdown passes in 18 games. If you can believe this, Marino has more touchdown passes this season than teammate Reggie Roby has punts (55-54).

Marino has passed for 400 yards or more in five games this season, including Sunday's playoff bonanza. The league's career record in that category (in regular-season games) is five, held by former Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Jurgensen played 18 years; Marino has accomplished his four 400s in 32 regular season games.

Consequently, Marino also has built some stunning confidence among those who man Miami's offense.

"He may have an off-day, but that's never happened this season," Cefalo said.

"Everything is working now. We're grooved, groomed, ready," tight end Joe Rose said, adding of Marino, "The bigger the game, the better he is."

All-pro guard Ed Newman, the 12-year veteran who remains from the Dolphins' Super Bowl teams of the early '70s, was asked to compare Marino to former Miami quarterback Bob Griese. He said, "(Marino) breaks all of Griese's records. He's a better quarterback.

"Griese's been known as the General. I think you could say that Marino is the Technician. And I think our offensive line has good technology; we're good at picking up the blitzes."

Marino flew to New York yesterday to receive the league's most valuable player award as voted by the Professional Football Writers of America. "Who's to say what's easy and what isn't?" Marino said at a press conference. "I'm not the one who's making it look easy.

"Yesterday, the Steelers blitzed us and we hit them with a couple of big plays. It looked easy, but Mark Duper had to read the blitz and I had to read the blitz. He had to know what to do, stutter-step on the cornerback and then hit it."

The Steelers tried all sort of defensive tricks Sunday. They often double-covered wide receiver Mark Clayton, who caught a league-record 18 touchdown passes during the regular season.

It didn't work. Clayton caught four passes for 95 yards, including a 40-yard scoring pass, and he played only in the first half because of a slight shoulder injury.

"They were putting a man in front of me (in double coverage) and they had single coverage on Duper," said Clayton, as cocksure as he is fast. "At the beginning of the year, it was the other way around. Golly, what did I do to deserve this?"

Of course, Pittsburgh's defenders were talking about how the Dolphins' offense countered with different tricks. Shula, who allows Marino to call plays only on third down, has made his legend with such ingenuity.

"(The Dolphins' offense) will do something to see what you will do," Pittsburgh cornerback Sam Washington said. "Once they get the picture, they'll adjust."

The New York Jets limited Marino to 192 yards passing in Week 13, the only game this season in which the Marinometer has not spun to at least 200 yards. Of course, Marino threw four touchdown passes in that game to produce a 28-17 victory.

Miami players had to scratch their heads when they were asked to name the defenses that have stopped Marino's passing majesty this season.

"I don't recall us being stopped," Cefalo said. "To us, it appears that getting 300 yards (passing in a game) is being stopped."

"It's been a while. I can't remember," said Giesler, the tackle. "I don't think that anybody has, really."