Because Miami's mighty mite receivers, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, have been the victims of numerous vicious hits in recent games, Dolphins Coach Don Shula sent out a pre-Super Bowl warning today.
"As long as it is within the rules, it's part of the game," Shula said of any hard hits San Francisco's defensive players might have planned for Duper and Clayton in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium on Sunday. "But if it is deliberate and not within the rules of the game, something should be done. The guy should be thrown out of the game."
Simply put, Shula fears that the Marks Brothers have become Marked Men. Such is the price they must pay for being 5-foot-8 darters who helped Miami become the first team in league history to possess two 1,300-yard receivers in the same season.
"There have been some good hits and some cheap shots against them this year," said Nat Moore, Miami's veteran receiver. "(Defensive backs) have gone after their heads, clubbing them when they tackle them. In general, they are doing all of the dirty tactics that, if you're not mentally strong, can affect you.
"But as you can see by the statistics and the records," Moore said, "no one has succeeded. One thing has been found out -- both of these guys can't be intimidated. Both can play with pain. I don't see them knocking Duper or Clayton out of the ball game Sunday."
The 49ers' defense fancies itself for its hard-hitting fury. Three years ago, the 49ers won the Super Bowl and the secondary became known as "Dwight Hicks and the Hot Licks."
Cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright and safeties Hicks and Carlton Williamson all were named to the Pro Bowl this season. These guys can ring some bells. Ask any receiver. Cross the middle and hold your breath.
And Shula knows all of this. That is why he issued today's warning.
"My game plan Sunday is just coming up and making some tackles and not worrying about roughing up (Duper and Clayton)," said Wright, a fourth-year cornerback. "If I have the opportunity to get in some good licks, I'll do it. But I won't do any devastating, slugging hit that will get the officials' attention."
"I don't think that we'll do anything flagrant," said Lott, also in his fourth year. "No, I don't think those two receivers have been intimidated by anybody this year. They've won games and that's what counts, right?"
"I don't worry about that stuff," Clayton said. "My job is to catch the ball. Their job is to make hits. We'll crash heads and see who survives."
In Miami's 31-10 playoff victory over Seattle three weeks ago, Duper was knocked woozy and required three stitches on his mouth after a forearm hit by safety Kenny Easley. Shula was angry about the hit and said he would file a report to the league office.
Then, in the Dolphins' 45-28 victory over Pittsburgh in the conference title game 10 days ago, Duper was knocked woozy and missed several series after a thwacking from cornerback Sam Washington. Clayton missed the entire second half after jamming his shoulder on the ground, diving for an incomplete pass.
Duper caught 71 passes for 1,306 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Clayton caught 73 passes for 1,389 yards and a league-record 18 touchdowns. Together, they are match and fuse.
Duper, the milder personality of the pair, said, "Teams have been trying to stop us any way they can. But when you're being aggressive in football, I don't think you can say it's a cheap shot. They may try to hit you across the head, but I don't think that it is anything intentional."
Clayton has shown a tough-talk cool this week. It's the kind of bravado seen in Super Bowls gone by from Dallas linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson and Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long. Today Clayton said, "Some of the cornerbacks, when they try to jam you at the line, try to punch you through the face mask or in your throat. Or when you're on the ground, they try to punch you. You know, different tactics."
"Trying to play Clayton and Duper physical can be a big mistake," said Jimmy Cefalo, another of Miami's veteran receivers. "That's why Clayton has had so many touchdown catches this year, he gets by the cornerbacks. Against the Steelers on our first touchdown of the game (a 40-yard Dan Marino scoring pass to Clayton), Clayton stutter-stepped and the cornerback came up for him, he went by and we got six (points)."
And what of the fact that both Duper and Clayton have spent time on the bench recently waiting for circling stars to clear from their vision?
"What that means to me," Lott said, "is that both of those receivers can come back and play strong. I'm looking at what they have done after they have been hit hard. They do things to prove something to you.
"I was with Clayton on a TV show last week. He said he jumped over a Ping-Pong table, width-wise, then length-wise. He said he did it just to prove that he could do it. And he said he did it, too."