Marino and Rivers: A tale of statistics and inspiration.

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I chose to compare Marino and Philip Rivers because a) they both are exceptional pure passing quarterbacks, b) neither of them has a championship to their resume, c) they have been blessed with having at least 2 exceptional targets to throw to on a yearly basis(Marino had the Marx Brothers and Rivers has Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates), and finally d) They are extremely fiery competitors whose passion for the game knows no bounds.

Now to be fair, Rivers still has a few years left in his career to get his Superbowl Ring. I’m betting he’ll do just that. In my opinion, this year is his best opportunity as the Chargers are loaded with talent at every position and A.J. Smith made the wise decision to retain the services of Vincent Jackson. Rivers will have his top two targets for an entire season, barring an unforseen injury.

What follows is a four year comparison of the 2 quarterbacks stats over the beginning of their careers. I excluded Rivers first 2 seasons as he was backing up Drew Brees as well as excluding rushing statistics as neither of these them are known for being rushing threats. I did however include Marino’s rookie season, even though it wasn’t a comlete 16 games season. Mostly because the numbers he put up that year in the 11 games he played in would be an exceptional season for any QB who had played all sixteen games.

Marino’s first season, 1983, he played in 11 contests, starting 10 of them. He completed 173 passes of 296 attempts for a completion percentage of 58.4%. He racked up 2,210 passing yards, averaging 7.47 yards per completion. He had 20 touchdowns compared to 6 interceptions, zero fumbles and a passer rating of 96.0

Phillip Rivers first season as the full time starter (following the departure of Brees for the Saints), 16 games played, he completed 280 passes out of 460 attempts. That’s a completion percentage of 61.7. He amassed 3,388 passing yards, averaging 7.37 per completion. He tossed 22 touchdowns to 9 interceptions along with 3 fumbles. His passer rating. 92.0

Very similar numbers that I imagine would’ve been closer had Marino played all 16 games in ’83.

In Marino’s second season he played all 16 games and completed 362 passes on 564 attempts with a 64.2 completion percentage and an average of 9.01 per completion. He amassed an incredible 5,084 passing yards, and NFL record. He also threw 48 touchdowns(another NFL record) to just 17 interceptions with zero fumbles. His QB rating was an insane 108.9. One of the greatest single season performances in the history of the sport.

In River’s second 16 game campaign he attempted 460 passes, completing 277 for a 60.2 completion percentage. He threw for 3,152 yards with an average of 6.85 yards per completion. A bit of a down year, as far as yards per reception. He had 15 interceptions to only 21 touchdowns and fumbled 6 times, but finished with a respectable 82.4 QB rating.

Marino’s third year was another monster campaign. Through 16 games played, he completed 336 passes to 567 attempts for a 59.3 completion percentage. He averaged 7.30 yards per completion. He tossed 30 touchdowns and 21 picks that year and finished with a QB rating of 84.1. Nice numbers sure, but compared to the prior season and the one to follow, a bit of a letdown even though he threw for 4,137 yards.

Rivers third full season was a sign of things to come. 16 games played, 478 passes attempted to 312 completions for a 65.3 percentage. He also broke the 4000 yard barrier with 4,009 yards at 8.39 yards per completion, and an impressive QB rating of 105.5. He threw 34 touchdowns and just 11 picks to go along with 6 fumbles. Exceptional numbers, right up there with the likes of Manning and Brady.

The ’86 season, Marino’s fourth, was another one for the record books. 16 games played. A whopping 623 attempts with 378 completions for a percentage of 60.7 at a clip of 7.62 yards per completion. He lit up the record books again with an amazing 4,746 yards in the air to go along with an incredible 44 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and zero fumbles for a QB rating of 92.5 Another amazing season for the books.

Rivers fourth season’s numbers were nearly indenticle to his third full season. 486 attempts, 317 completions for a 65.2 percent completion percentage. He piled up an incredible 4,254 yards in the air with an average per completion of 8.75 yards. He tossed 28 touchdowns and limited his interception to just 9 for a rating of 104.4 Very nice numbers again and beginning to show signs of a consistently great quarterback.

I chose these seasons for their strikingly similar statistics. We all know Danny had several great years left in him before he was forced out by Wannstedt. God willing so does Philip Rivers. Chargers GM A.J. Smith must continue to surround him with talent, and not just on offense. This is just a brief sampling to make a point.

In my opinion, Dan Marino is the best NFL player at any position not to have a Super Bowl Ring. The greatest pure passer to ever play the game. To his everlasting credit, he never gave up his pursuit until his greatest asset, his incredible arm, finally failed him and the Dolphins front office gave up on him. Which is a shame as I believe that kind of consistent brilliance over 17 remarkable seasons deserved better. Speaking of the Dolphins front office, their consistent failures drafting a quality starting running back didn’t help. The most complete team during his 17 years was in ’93, a decent running games and an above average defense provided him with his best chance to reach the Superbowl again. Then he went down with the achilles injury and lost his last best shot. It would be a shame if River’s suffered a similar fate. He’s been blessed with some things Marino never enjoyed on a consistent basis. An above average, and sometimes record setting rushing attack combined with a consistently great defense. We could look back a few years from now an lament the fact Rivers never got his Ring. After all, you never know what can happen with injuries, trades and the like, but if the Chargers front office keeps making solid moves every offseason to maintain their depth as well as bring in solid contributors, River’s has as good a shot as any at getting that Superbowl Victory.

My favorite thing about being a Dolphins fan during Danny’s heyday was the belief that with #13 behind center, no matter the score, he always had a chance to pull the game out. Rivers evokes the same faith in his teammates and the Chargers faithful. There a very few athletes per generation in any sport that possess those kinds of traits. That inspire the kind of faith that makes a fan believe in the impossible. Marino was like Michael Jordan. He always made you believe, with him on the court, you had a chance, no matter the situation in the game. His heart, his unrelenting passion, his incredible will to win regardless of the adversity, to carry his team on his back alone if need be made for some of the greatest moments in NFL history. Rivers evokes that same confidence. The Chargers were beset by injuries to most of their very best players last year. It was always something. Gates turf toe. Losing Marcus McNeill for a majority of the season. But most importantly, the prolonged standoff between his best receiver, Vincent Jackson, and GM A.J. Smith left him extremely shorthanded. Rivers, as all of the great one’s do, overcame these issues and put the team squarely on his shoulders. He rallied the Chargers to a respectable finish and put up huge numbers while having to interchange offensive pieces the entire year. Not to mention one of the worst, unluckiest special teams performances in league history. Only the greats can do that. The Chargers and their fans are just incredibly blessed. As the Dolphins were with Marino all of those years. They’ll always have a chance with Rivers behind center. They are never out of a game with him leading the charge. Even during a season where he lost a Hall of Fame player in Tomlinson, the face of the franchise for a decade, he proved again and again how ready he was for that challenge and then some. Marino, Manning, Brady and Rivers are a rare breed. Players like these are a gift for those of us blessed to watch them play in their prime. I hope we all recognize and appreciate what we get to see every time these guys take the field. We can’t take these athletes for granted. Just ask Miami, who’s front office has been trying to replace Dan Marino for over a decade. Or possibly, this year, the Colt’s if Manning doesn’t return to his previous level of greatness. The Colt’s without Manning aren’t even an average team. That’s how exceptional he is.

Rivers isn’t quite ready to fill Danny’s shoes for me just yet, but he’s on the right path and I can’t think of another player in the NFL that makes me feel that no game is out of reach as much as Rivers does. He plays with a fire and spirit, but also with a team first mentality you don’t often see in an NFL dominated with “me first” or “look at me” players who now are now the rule instead of the exception.

However all is not lost. Players like Rivers, as well as Manning, Brady and others, show us there is still hope. Here’s to hoping they aren’t the very last of a dying breed. They’re are encouraging signs out there still with some of the younger guys. Matthew Stafford seems to fit that mold. A team player who doesn’t ever quit, is fearless, willing to sacrifice his body and potentially his career to carry his team alone if need be. Only time will tell on that one.

The great ones, Marino, Montana, Rice, Manning, Brady, and Rivers show us all that if we truly believe, if we give it everything we have, if we test our limits everyday, our best is almost certainly going to be good enough. It’s not just their status as athletes that make them heroes, it’s how they go about their jobs, how they leave it all out there on the field and never quit. Guys like these would achieve in any career they choose because they get it. That means always give your best, be a team player, and most importantly, never, ever give up. The only way you can truly be a failure is to never even try. As Vince Lombardi once said, “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, what matters is how many times you get back up”.