Mark Clayton’s Magic Night

When you mention receiving records in the NFL, the name that sits a top several categories is Jerry Rice. However there have been great performances and incredible stats gathered by other receivers. What gets lost are the records that were broken by others just before Rice came into the league.  One such record was set by Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

You need to understand the Dolphins had played in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. The late David Woodley struggled in the second half of that loss completing just one pass. The following draft Don Shula moved to upgrade not only his quarterback, Dan Marino in the 1st round, but began to look to upgrade one of the league’s slowest receiving corps in the draft. Clayton was selected in the 8th round from Louisville in the same ’83 draft.

Thus began the genesis to one of the NFL’s greatest offenses. Clayton began slowly as a reserve catching just 6 passes in his rookie year. He teamed with fellow reserve WR Mark Duper to form the core of what would be Shula’s new passing game. All three played with a chip on their shoulder all year long as they assaulted defenses on a week to week basis. While Marino shattered the all time record for touchdowns thrown in a season, he was within 58 yards of Dan Fouts yardage record going into the finale vs. Dallas.

Overshadowed by the records Marino was eclipsing, Clayton entered the finale just 2 touchdowns shy of an even longer standing record. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch’s record of 17 TD receptions which had stood since 1951. He would have to do it against a Dallas Cowboy team that needed a win to make the playoffs.

Clayton had scorched the NFL’s 7th rated pass defense for 4 recpts 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. His two 4th quarter touchdowns allowed him to set the new record at 18 TD receptions. . His record stood until Rice broke it in 1987. Then Randy Moss pushed the record to 23 in 2007. In fact only Sterling Sharpe in 1994, Rice, and Moss are the only receivers to amass 18 touchdowns in a single season. Just 4 receiving seasons in 65 years.

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton’s 1984 season of 78 rec. 1389 yds 18 TDs was among the greatest in history. He had a good career with 5 Pro Bowl seasons, 5 – 1,000 yard seasons while finishing with 582 catches 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. He did leave his imprint on the game and his signature moment was his record breaking Monday Night in 1984.

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SUPER BOWL XIX RUNNER UP 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Man, the Dolphins of 1984 were ridiculous in winning the AFC Championship 45-28, with a record 4 TD passes over the Pittsburgh Steelers and now it’s on to Super Bowl XIX…Dan Marino, The Marks Bros. would make it to many more Super Bowls…wouldn’t they?

19.3Talk about a whirlwind ride, easily the greatest offensive ride a team has ever gone on.  When Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards (record) and a record 48 TDs in 1984 he broke the old record of 36, last done in 1963.  That’s the equivalent of someone breaking LaDanian Tomlinson’s 31TD record and going for 42!!  Shatter isn’t the word.

After replacing the late David Woodley in mid 1983, Marino made the Pro Bowl w / 20 TDs and the future looked bright.  However in his 1st full season as a starter he blew past expectations and beneficiary of all this passing were receivers Mark Duper, Jimmy Cefalo, and Mark Clayton who set the receiving TD record at 18.  They scored 70TDs (record) as an offense and what is ironic is how anemic this offense was just 2 years before in Super Bowl XVII when they could only complete ONE pass in the second half in losing to the Redskins.

They masked a defense that was in decline…the Killer B’s were quickly losing their sting and points were pouring in on the Dolphins.  They were not a heavy defense and were wearing down from pounding and age.  A.J. Duhe, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, and Bob Baumhower weren’t as stout as they had been a few years before. They did lose a good linebacker when Larry Gordon passed away while jogging in the offseason.  Jay Brophy had been drafted to help shore things up but was just learning the pro game at this point.. The defense had been comprised of the same personnel primarily from 1979-1984. The Dolphins were due to rebuild however the emergence of Dan Marino allowed this team another shot at a title.

Going into the 1984 season, the Dolphins hadn’t recovered from the death of David Overstreet at running back yet. Tony Nathan was a good pass catcher out of the backfield. Marino, Mark Duper, and Mark Clayton kept the rhythm they gained from playing on the Dolphins scout team early in 1983 and unleashed it on an unsuspecting league.

sbxix45The season began in Washington where the Dolphins in a rematch of Super Bowl XVII some year and a half earlier. Where they could only complete 1 pass in the second half of that game, Dan Marino scorched the Redskins for 5 TDs and 370 yards. One of the best defenses in football was embarrassed at home. There was no way for him to keep with that pace.

Another notable game was a game in November v. the defending champion Raiders with cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mark Haynes.  You remember them right? Totally shut down the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, surely they would slow him down…uh…they didn’t. Marino threw for 470 yds and another 4 TDs which included his record breaking 37th of the season to Jimmy Cefalo.  He bookended his record setting season on a Monday night, where he threw for 3TDs in eliminating Dallas from the playoffs for the first time since 1976. The last second 70 yd touchdown to Mark Clayton gave him his 18th TD reception on the season breaking the record of Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch from 1951.

They were able to easily outscore their competition in marching to an 11-0 start, finishing 14-2.  When you include the playoffs, Dan Marino threw for 57TDs! Yikes! Started with a blowout of the Seahawks in a playoff rematch where he threw for 4 more TDs then the 4TDs against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. That broke George Blanda’s AFL Championship Game record of 3 from 1963. Yet here they were, AFC Champions for the 5th time, heading to Palo Alto for the Super Bowl what could go wrong??  The 49ers were prepared to pressure the receivers and had the secondary to play with them and triumphed 38-16.

super-bowl-logo-1984Let’s look at the all time touchdown record a second…Brady had 50 touchdown passes, Peyton Manning 49, and Marino 48.  Brady set the record in his 8th season with the 3 time champion Patriots marching to a 4th Super Bowl appearance.  Peyton Manning had set it in his 7th.  Both were veterans that had been in systems for years where Marino was in his first full season as a starter. Brady and Manning had players drafted that fit what they did where Dan came up with the 3rd string receivers and they all became stars.

In Manning’s case he had Marvin Harrison who set the record for receptions in a season at 143 the year before, a Hall of Fame talent.  Brady had future Hall of Famer Randy Moss to throw to. To break Marino’s record as strongly as he blew by the old one, Brady would have had to have thrown 64TDs.  I still hold Marino’s season WAY higher than those others it was more spectacular and impactful.

However here is the ring for Don Shula and the Dolphin’s 5th AFC Championship…what a magnificent run.

Another look back…

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SUPER BOWL XVII RUNNER UP 1982 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Riggo and Riggonomics powered the Redskins to the Super Bowl XVII title with a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.  For winning the AFC Championship of 1982, this is the ring the Dolphins received.

xvii4In an era where the Dolphins were known as “Wood-Strock”, for the penchant of playing veteran backup Don Strock for starter David Woodley, I found it ironic that Coach Shula didn’t pull the trigger and put Strock in during the second half of Super Bowl XVII.  The Dolphins offense could only complete one pass along with an interception over the final 30 minutes of that ball game.

Starting with the Colts famous loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III, Coach Shula didn’t replace a struggling Earl Morrall with Johnny Unitas.  It was voiced by some (including Unitas) had he started the second half they could have won the ball game.  Apparently that stuck with Shula because if you remember the ’72 Dolphins, in the AFC Championship, undefeated and playing with backup Earl Morrall (yup that same guy) were having problems on offense. Then at halftime, he made the switch back to Bob Griese at quarterback.  ‘

82afcringHe had the same penchant as he was developing David Woodley in the early 80s. Remember the “Epic In Miami” the year before? Shula pulled Woodley in the second quarter when the Chargers built a 24-0 lead. Why did he not pull the trigger in Super Bowl XVII?

In fact the Dolphins defense was in its prime and wanted to make amends for that 41-38 playoff loss to the Chargers. They came through the 1982 strike shortened season as a top flight defense earning the nickname “the Killer B’s” ranking #1 in the league.

As fate would have it the Dolphins hosted San Diego again in the playoffs. The Chargers had just ended Terry Bradshaw’s career with a playoff win in Pittsburgh.  Miami won easily 34-13. This game was the catalyst in turning the tide in moving Miami into the conference’s elite while the “Air Coryell” run ended that day. The Chargers wouldn’t return to the playoffs the rest of the decade where Miami was on the rise. Appearing in 3 AFC title games over the next 4 years, the first being the ’82 AFC Championship.

That game was played in a torrential downpour in the Orange Bowl.  In the mud “the Killer B’s” shut out Richard Todd, Freeman McNeil and the high powered Jets offense 14-0.  A.J. Duhe had a career game with an AFC Championship record 3 interceptions, returning the last for the decisive touchdown.

Although the Dolphins offense started off well in the Super Bowl, they were wasting a good performance by the “Killer B’s”.  It took the famous Riggins 43 yd touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the game to take a 20-17 lead.  They also came within inches of a deflected Kim Bokamper interception for a touchdown that would have strategically put the Dolphins in position to win the game minutes before.

superbowlxviiThe Redskins possessed the football for nearly 20 minutes in the second half.  Woodley only completed 1 pass in the second half.  Maybe Shula felt they didn’t have enough time with the football to turn it over to Don Strock.  Hindsight is 20/20 but wasn’t the reason Coach Shula replaced Woodley back in the San Diego game based on his ability to throw the ball and get hot in a hurry? I’m still puzzled by Shula not making the switch.

Well maybe Don Shula saved his best quarterback replacement job for last.  After this anemic offensive performance in the Super Bowl he drafted Dan Marino a few months later.  Maybe Don Shula knew what he was doing.

Legends of The Fall: Dan Marino

When you ask someone what their definition of a great quarterback is, you invariably wind up with several answers. The one attribute in everyone’s criteria is that of a great passer. It can be argued that Dan Marino was the best pure passer in NFL history.  Everyone mentions his quick release but forgets how fiery his delivery of the football was.

Marino's legendary release.

Marino’s legendary release.

To define his quick release, for the football coaching impaired, is the time it took to complete his throwing motion. The easiest way to measure this back then were to slow film down to individual frames. The average QB release would take 15 frames where Marino was routinely between 8 & 9. So the ball was coming out half a second sooner.

The direct results were more passes getting downfield and less sacks. If we look at his peak years of 1984-1986, Marino was only sacked 48 times while attempting 1,754 passes. The Dolphins led the league in fewest sacks all 3 seasons. Yet through that explosive delivery was the zip and hutzpah he put on the football. For he had one of the strongest arms in league history.

Unlike Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who had league rules altered year after year to make them record breakers, Marino came in and shattered records through sheer ability. People talk of the great class of 1983 and most want to talk about John Elway first. Oh yeah?? Take a look at something:

  • Marino ’84-’86 – 1076 of 1754 for 13,967 yards & 122 TDs
  • Elway ’84-’86 –  821 of 1489 for 9,974 yards & 59 TDs

* To match Marino’s 122 TD total you would have to have Elway’s total from 1984 to the 13th week of the 1990 season! Almost 4 more years!

During this time both Marino and Elway had taken their teams to Super Bowl XIX and XXI respectively. Of these vids, if you only watch one, watch the 1986 vignette. Yet I digress… take a look at Marino’s record breaking fast pitch 1984:

Then you have 1985 where he led the Dolphins back to the AFC Championship Game. Had they won, we would have had a rematch between Marino and Chicago’s 46 defense in Super Bowl XX. Considering Miami gave the 18-1 Bears their only defeat, its something to think about.

Then you have perhaps his greatest season in 1986:

What made his 1986 season special is he was truly all they had and teams still couldn’t stop him. In 1984 he still had many teammates who had made it to Super Bowl XVII the year before he was drafted. The Killer Bs defense was there but aging. By 1986 most of those teammates were gone as a rebuliding phase had started. Still he went 378 of 623 for 4,746 yards and 44 touchdowns. The 44 was 8 more than the previous record and he was within 56 yards of Fouts’ other mark of 4,802.

Dan Marino bust

Also because it was the second time scaling those heights. He had set the record of 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in his 1984 campaign. He shattered the old record of 36 touchdowns which had stood for 21 years. He did it in his first full season as a starter. Not his 7th or 8th when Manning and Brady finally topped his mark.

Ultimately it was the fact that the game had passed by Don Shula as to why Marino didn’t make it back to the Super Bowl. The rest of his career the Dolphins failed to get a prime time receiver or runner. In 1995 they were the poster child for why the quick fix free agent route wasn’t the best place to build a team.

Yet when you look back at the promise of a young Dan Marino, the sky was the limit. He was definitely a legend of the fall.

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NFL Week 17: Assault On the Record Book With an Asterisk

Now that Christmas break is over it’s time to get down to the end of the NFL season and the all out assault on the record books. Last Monday night,  Drew Brees became the all time single season passing yardage leader, breaking the mark of Dan Marino with 5,087 yards. A tremendous feat until one reminds you that Tom Brady can actually surpass him with 191 yards against Buffalo, if the Saints rest Brees. A deeper look and if Matthew Stafford throws for 482 (a longshot), Eli Manning throws for 413, and Aaron Rodgers throws for 357 in the final week, we will have FIVE passers with over 5,000 yards in one season. Seriously?? When there have only been two 5,000 yard passers in the 92 year history of the NFL?? Something is definitely wrong.

In fact, for the 2011 NFL season, we have a legitimate chance of having TEN 4,000 yard passers in one season. The problem is the league is legislating defense out of football. Head to head shots on defenseless receivers is an important step to player safety which we are all for, but hitting still has to be a part of the game, right?? In fact, the next time you watch an NFL game, notice how many wide receivers wear NO leg pads as they sprint upfield. Of course this is a byproduct of receivers trying to get downfield faster but they truly don’t expect to get hit. Not even bumped within the first 5 yards off of the scrimmage line. This is the Mel Blount rule… yes the famous former Pittsburgh Steeler. Before 1978, defenders were able to beat receivers up all the way down the field. A defender could pop a receiver running a route as long as the pass hadn’t left the quarterback’s hand. So being “checked” by a linebacker and sometimes a safety wasn’t uncommon. Yet there was a point where re-emphasis to receivers running without interruption took place.

It came in the aftermath of the 2003 AFC Championship Game when the Colts lost 20-7 to New England. NFL and media darling Peyton Manning and the Colts, accused the Patriots of abusing the 5 yard chuck rule. This led to talks throughout Super Bowl week as the Patriots prepared to play the Carolina Panthers that the league would crack down on defensive holding / illegal chucks. Don’t know if it had an affect but Super Bowl XXXVIII was the first league championship game in history with both teams scoring 3 times in the 4th quarter. Fireworks galore. As the 2004 season approached the league was still talking about re-emphasizing the 5 yard chuck rule and yardage and points rang up in the ensuing years.

In 2003, only Peyton Manning and Trent Green crossed the 4,000 yard threshold. Then 5 quarterbacks crossed the mark in 2004. Now we’re up to possibly 10?? Couple this with the league cracking down with new penalties upon hitting a defenseless receivers downfield and monstrously large pass interference penalties, defensive players are scared to touch receivers now. Now as we watch the game, a defender that is rushing the passer, in an attempt to knock down the pass will get a 15 yard penalty if his hand grazes the quarterbacks head. This is all complete nonsense and the NFL is turning itself into basketball on grass with the intimidation factor taken away from defenses. The only rule adjusted to help defenses in the last 15 years is when they removed the “force out” rule in 2010. There need to be a few more.

So what has happened is teams are realizing opponents can’t play defense and are lining up in 4 and 5 receivers like never before. The advent of the bubble screen is an effective ploy that has led to inflated passing numbers but not like the rules downfield.

So why an asterisk?? It’s as though the league pushed for this to happen instead of it taking place naturally. When Dan Marino broke the all time mark with 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. He was head and shoulders above everyone else, he didn’t have 4 other quarterbacks poised to break it with him. He obliterated the old touchdown mark of 36 that had stood from 1963 until 1984. It was the mark of a great quarterback at the zenith of his game and it made the moment he broke those records special. What happened last Monday night was just Drew Brees got to Marino’s record against watered down defenses first before Brady did. Forgive us but the sense of accomplishment just wasn’t there. With the rules in place now, a young Marino would hit 6,000 and 60 TDs easily.

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Forty Niner Championship Victory A Year in The Making

When you look up NFL champions of the past you’ll find the 1984 champion to be the San Francisco 49ers. However what and where did they get their motivation?? Would you believe losing the championship game a year before had a lot to do with it?? Have a read…

SUPER BOWL XIX CHAMPIONS 1984 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS <——————————————Click Link (from upcoming book)