It is the abiding dream of every NFL fan that on some heaven-sent day, either through an intelligent draft choice, a shrewd trade or the kind of dumb luck that brought Dick Night Train Lane to the Lions, the team he roots for will acquire a bona fide superstar.
He will be an athlete of consummate skill, capable of delivering some wretched team out of recurrent defeat unto the promised land of win streaks, playoff games, championships and rap videos.
The dream lives on because, occasionally, it comes true.
Consider the impact Dan Marino has had on the Miami Dolphins, the team he took to the Super Bowl one year after he was their first-round choice in the 1983 draft.
That was the year John Elway was the first player taken in the draft -- by the Denver Broncos -- and neither Miami nor Denver has been quite the same since. Elway took the Broncos to the Super Bowl last season, and he might do it again in 1987, if Marino doesn't get the Dolphins there first.
They are both from the same mold as, say, John Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, Walter Payton, Phil Simms, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor, Randy White and Bubba Smith -- all winners in their own special way.
Lane, who showed up at the Lions' offices one day and asked for a tryout, was an all-pro cornerback who was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for intercepting 68 passes during 14 NFL seasons. He might have been the first defensive back an offense purposely tried to avoid by throwing to the opposite side of the field.
But quarterbacks, more often than other players, are perceived as a franchise's messiah. For that reason, Vinny Testaverde and Jim Everett ultimately will be expected to produce the kind of success Marino and Elway have achieved.
The expectations might be even more intense for Testaverde, the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner now employed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the last five seasons, Tampa Bay has won 17 games, with a variety of offensive game plans not so much executed as mangled. Testaverde, in contrast, passed for 6,297 yards and 48 touchdowns in his last two seasons at the University of Miami.
New Coach Ray Perkins has had experience developing rookie quarterbacks on bad teams, as he demonstrated with Simms on the '79 Giants, and it is unlikely Testaverde will start before Perkins determines he is ready. Confidence destroyed is a difficult thing to restore.
"Everybody's been talking about one player changing it around, and it's not going to happen that way," Testaverde said earlier this year, when he was signed to a five-year contract for $8.2 million. "It's going to take a team effort to do it.
"I think it would take two years before any quarterback could go into the NFL and do well, unless you're a fantastic athlete like Dan Marino. I'm not expecting to do anything great. I'm going to go in and be the best I can be."
In his debut against the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason opener, Testaverde threw three touchdown passes during a 6-minute 18-second span of the fourth quarter. "That's a sampling of what we've said all along," said Perkins. "He's going to be a great one."
Future greatness also has been predicted for Everett, who came to the Los Angeles Rams in a trade with the Houston Oilers, who had been unable to sign him, three weeks into the 1986 season.
But it was seven weeks before he got his shot with the Rams. In six games, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound rookie completed 73 of 147 passes for 1,018 yards and eight touchdowns. But he showed his lack of experience, especially in the Rams' 19-7, season-ending playoff loss to the Washington Redskins.
"Last year, especially when I came in, everything was very, very basic, very simple to understand," Everett said. "This year, I think we're starting to get a little bit more complex in our offense overall, both running and passing the ball."
Others likely to have noticeable impact on their teams this season include:The Chiefs, who fielded the 27th-best running attack in the league last year, have unveiled Paul Palmer and Christian Okoye. Either one is likely to produce a profound effect on the rushing attack; together they might take it all the way to respectability. Palmer, who went to Churchill High School in Potomac, led the nation in rushing last year at Temple, while Okoye, a 253-pound Nigerian, made a name for himself at Azusa Pacific.The Raiders' running game, already in good shape with Marcus Allen in the backfield, could get an added boost if Bo Jackson succeeds at his new hobby. Barring a World Series appearance by the Kansas City Royals, the former Heisman Trophy winner could be available for eight games.It is possible Brian Bosworth has alienated half the fans after maneuvering through the supplemental draft to a 10-year, $11 million contract with Seattle. But if he infuses the Seahawks' defense with the competitive fire and excellence he displayed at Oklahoma, the Great Northwest soon will be Boz country.