MIAMI, NOV. 27 -- In the couple days that have followed Dan Marino's 30,000th passing yard, people have been wondering, once again, why this quarterback is so good. The quick release, the eyes that seem to see behind him, the tutelage of Don Shula, the tradition of the Miami Dolphins: All have been mentioned since Marino joined the NFL in 1983.
At no time had anyone said the words "running game," or Marino's understanding of it. Until now.
"He's much more aware of the running game," Shula said as he and his Dolphins (9-2) began to prepare for this Sunday's 1 p.m. game with the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium. "And of course he's in total control of the passing game."
"His understanding of the running game, and what's wrong when it isn't working," is what has made Marino a better quarterback this season, said Miami all-purpose back Jim Jensen.
Able to look outside himself, Marino has seen this too.
"I think over the last couple years, I've learned a lot more about the running game and controlling an offense, as far as checking from one running play to another running play and putting our team in the right call from the line of scrimmage," he said after practice at the Dolphins' St. Thomas University practice facility. "Before, if the run didn't look good, I'd just change it to a pass and just throw it."
What a strange occurrence this is. Marino reaches 30,000 passing yards in 114 games, faster than any other quarterback in NFL history, and the folks in Miami are talking about how well he hands off.
For the record, the Dolphins are making more of each rushing attempt. Last year, an 8-8 season, they gained 1,330 yards on the ground; this year, they already have 1,192, with five games to go.
"You're always going with what you feel confident with," Marino said. "Our guys believe we can run the ball now, which we have been able to do before, but maybe not as well as we liked. We'll stick with that for right now. I don't think we've been really over-outstanding or anything but we're controlling the ball and doing what it takes to win games."
And he is comfortable with it.
"I think that just comes with time," he said. "The more you play, the longer you see different defenses, you're going to learn more about the game."
It's a sign of the maturity of a quarterback, now into his 30th year, who has grown up before our eyes. Say the word "Dolphins," and you think "Marino." That's because the team he plays for hasn't accomplished much the past four years. The Dolphins were last in a playoff game after the 1985 season. The best of the last four years was 1987, when the team went 8-7 during the strike year.
But Marino has been consistently spectacular through the lean years, never having a full season with worse than a 56 percent completion average, 3,200 passing yards or 24 touchdown passes.
Now, for the first time since he took this team to the Super Bowl in his second season here and almost made it back in his third, Marino is playing on a team that looks capable of going very far in the playoffs.
When the individual accomplishments, such as the 30,000-yard mark, can be shared with a team, it's all the better.
"It's something I'm very proud of," he said. "It's something that you work at. To accomplish it while we're winning, when we haven't been the last couple of years, it's nice."
Shula guesses that Marino will eventually be holding most of the career passing records in the NFL.
"He's going to break all the records in the passing book," Shula said. "This is just the first along the way."
"If I stay healthy, I think I'll have a chance to, sure," Marino said. "It's something you think about, but I'd give all that up to win one Super Bowl. What I really want is to go to the Super Bowl. And win it, not just go. We've got a chance now."
Less than a year ago, there was concern that Marino might not be the quarterback to lead the Dolphins back to respectability. He and Shula discussed a trade, but Shula reminded him that any team that dealt for him would have been so depleted, the situation probably wouldn't have been any better there.
Marino doesn't know if there were any trade talks between Dolphins management and another team. It really doesn't matter now. He's here and he says he and Shula are getting along just fine.
"It's always been fine, but sometimes things get blown out of proportion a little bit," Marino said. "When you're around someone all the time, you're going to have times you disagree on things, and that's just natural. But we get along fine. Always have."
Perhaps, in looking back on eight years of pro football, it all came a little too fast.
"After you've been playing for quite awhile, I think you appreciate the game a little more and appreciate what it takes to win," Marino said. "So when you do win, you enjoy it."
Marino is reminded of the day back in 1983, when his mother and father flew down from Pittsburgh to Miami and he sat with a smile on his face and signed his first NFL contract.
"That was a long time ago," he said wistfully. "A long time ago."