Just too much Marino

**

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Another in a series of stories chronicling the 52 playoff games in Steelers history.**

It was a team that had overcome the unexpected retirement of Terry Bradshaw in the previous offseason, a retirement that came after the two-time Super Bowl MVP had surgery on his right elbow. It was a team that had dealt with the surprise training camp holdout that ultimately led to management cutting Franco Harris, one of the most important players in franchise history. It was a team that would enter the season with its third different starting quarterback over a three-season span, because Cliff Stoudt, who had started 15 regular season games in 1983 while Bradshaw nursed his elbow, had signed with the USFL.

Then once the team slogged through all of this and got itself into the regular season, the offense had to deal with some instability at quarterback, and the defense found itself going through what the offense had experienced in 1983. Middle linebacker Jack Lambert dislocated a toe in the regular season opener, and his availability throughout the ensuing 15 weeks became an issue that hovered over the team, just as had been the case for the offense with Bradshaw's elbow.

But by the end of the regular season, the 1984 Pittsburgh Steelers had become a nice team. And here they were playing for the AFC Championship.

There had been some growing pains over the course of the regular season – as the Steelers found a way to generate offense without Bradshaw and Harris and figured out that their defense could survive the loss of a player the caliber of Lambert – but they showed some spark and spunk as well.

The two most apparent instances of exactly this kind of thing both occurred on the West Coast. The first was a game in which they beat the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers, a loss that would be the only blemish on the record of the NFL's first 15-1 team. The other had been their trip to Los Angeles to face the Raiders in the regular season finale. The Steelers went there needing a win to make the playoffs, and they had to get that win against the same team at the same site where they had been humiliated, 38-10, in the 1983 AFC Playoffs. They got that win, too, over the Raiders, and then got to go to Denver to face the 13-3 Broncos in the 1984 AFC Divisional Playoffs.

In Denver, they shocked the world by ending the Broncos' season and spoiling the matchup everyone thought they wanted to see in the AFC Championship Game – John Elway vs. Dan Marino. They shocked the world because they approached the whole experience as a team, instead of as a collection of individuals.

"Everything was about John Elway at that point in time," said Mark Malone, who had become the starting quarterback in place of David Woodley. "I had played against John when he was at Stanford and I was at Arizona State, and in the NFL I never felt you were going to be outgunned by just one guy. John Elway was a great player, he's a Hall of Famer, but I felt we had a chance to win when we went out there."

They did win in Denver to advance to the AFC Championship Game, and that truly cemented a nice season. But it would go no farther for the Steelers in 1984, because the Miami Dolphins were on another level and what that offense did to opposing defenses was decidedly not nice.

Dan Marino had thrown for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns during the regular season, truly unprecedented totals at the time, and his warehouse of weapons included two burners – Mark Duper and Mark Clayton – a couple of reliable, sure-handed tight ends – Bruce Hardy and Joe Rose – and a running back who was an accomplished receiver as well – Tony Nathan.

Being that Marino was in just his second NFL season, opposing defensive coordinators still were searching for answers to his unique skill set. The conventional wisdom always is to attack a young quarterback, but Marino's quick release and nimble feet, plus his rocket arm, plus his veteran's savvy were making this strategy the football equivalent of juggling nitroglycerin – eventually, something was going to blow up in your face.

But the Steelers had a confidence formed by coming together to go on the road and beat both the Raiders and Broncos, and they arrived in Miami for this AFC Championship Game with their own core of guys who had been to these kinds of games and won them.

Six Steelers offensive starters owned at least one Super Bowl ring, as well as four on defense. "(John) Stallworth told me, 'Listen, the difference between winning this thing and losing this thing is minute,'" remembers Malone. "He kept preaching, 'We just have to continue to play and not make mistakes. Don't worry about Dan Marino.'"

The Steelers were not intimidated at the Orange Bowl on that Jan. 6 day when the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl XIX were decided. They weren't intimidated, but they were overwhelmed by the Dolphins' offensive playmakers.

Marino got things started with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Clayton, but the Steelers took that punch and countered with one of their own – a seven-play, 66-yard drive that tied the game on Rich Erenberg's 7-yard run. The Dolphins were "held" to a field goal on their next possession, and the Steelers answered that with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Malone to Stallworth.

The Steelers led, 14-10, and because they had a defense that had 47 sacks and 42 takeaways during the regular season, they kept doing what they did best. Their defense attacked and kept trying to force big plays.

"It became a track meet," said Malone. "They'd score, we'd get the ball and run six or seven plays, maybe score. Then they'd get the ball, and in two plays, bang, they'd score again. They scored three touchdowns in a very short period of time, and it went from where we were leading to being down 14, 17 points."

The Steelers finished with 455 yards of offense, they converted 50 percent on third down, they averaged 4.5 yards per rush, they made plays down the field with their passing game. They lost by 17 points, 45-28, and those watching had the sense that if the Dolphins had needed more, they could have scored more.

Marino completed 66 percent of his passes and averaged 20 yards per completion, which translated into 421 yards and four touchdowns.

"There was no way," said Malone, "that we were going to compete – or any team that year – was going to compete in a passing matchup with Dan Marino and the Marks Brothers."

Steelers

7

7

7

7

28

Dolphins

7

17

14

7

45

TEAM

QTR

PLAY

Mia

1

Clayton 40 pass from Marino (von Schamann kick)

Pit

1

Erenberg 7 run (Anderson kick)

Mia

2

von Schamann 26 FG

Pit

2

Stallworth 65 pass from Malone (Anderson kick)

Mia

2

Duper 41 pasa from Marino (von Schamann kick)

Mia

2

Nathan 2 run (von Schamann kick)

Mia

3

Duper 36 pass from Marino (von Schamann kick)

Pit

3

Stallworth 19 pass from Malone (Anderson kick)

Mia

3

Bennett 1 run (von Schamann kick)

Mia

4

Moore 6 pass from Marino (von Schamann kick)

Pit

4

Capers 29 pass from Malone (Anderson kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

Mia

Pit

First Downs

28

22

Third Downs

4-11 (36%)

6-11 (54%)

Total Net Yds

569

455

Plays-Avg

71-8.0

68-6.7

Rushing Yds

134

143

Att-Avg

38-3.5

32-4.5

Passing Yds

435

312

Att/Comp/Int

33-22-1

36-20-3

Punts-Avg

2-42.5

3-43.7

Penalties-Yds

3-25

3-30

Fumbles-Lost

1-1

2-1

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