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Even without a ring, Marino headed for Hall

 Twenty years ago this month, Dan Marino played in his only Super Bowl _ and lost.

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Twenty years ago this month, Dan Marino played in his only Super Bowl and lost.

That blemish on the resume won't prevent the NFL's most prolific passer from being elected next week to the Hall of Fame. But for Marino, the memory of a less-than-super Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers gnaws nonetheless.

I wish I won,'' Marino said Friday.Over 20 years, that's what you think about. I never got that opportunity again. That's the one feeling I'll never have as a player. You've got to live with that. That's being honest with you.

``That's the one thing a lot of quarterbacks have felt _ to walk off the field and say you won the Super Bowl. I've had every other feeling you possibly can have in the league.''

That includes plenty of fourth-quarter comebacks, last-second heroics and record-setting performances with the Miami Dolphins, which is why Marino is considered a lock for Canton. Hall of Fame election results for 15 finalists will be announced in Jacksonville next Saturday, the eve of the Super Bowl.

Marino, 43, discussed his impending honor reluctantly, wary of sounding presumptuous. He complained amiably that a Dolphins official twisted his arm to talk, turned down the offer of a lectern and spoke with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans like some rookie.

``It's humbling to even think about the opportunity to get into the Hall of Fame, when you think about all the years the league has been in existence and all the incredible players,'' he said.

Humility gave way to honesty when Marino was asked if he could always throw a football well, even when he first started playing catch with his dad.

You know what? Yeah,'' he said with a grin.I could flat-out throw it my whole life. I can't disagree with that one.''

The prospect of entering the Hall of Fame stirred childhood memories, Marino said. So did a trip last weekend to his hometown of Pittsburgh to work as a TV network announcer at the AFC championship game.

Marino visited the church where he was an altar boy and drove by his high school, where football practice was a far cry from the glamor of the NFL.

``We didn't have grass on the field, so when practice was over we'd have to fill our helmets with rocks and junk and put it in the dumpster before you were allowed to leave,'' he said.

Marino played at the University of Pittsburgh, then joined the Dolphins as the sixth quarterback taken in the 1983 draft. He set NFL career passing records for touchdowns, yardage and completions, retired five years ago and is in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.

In anticipation of Marino's selection, the Dolphins distributed two pages of quotes from those paying tribute. One remark stood out.

``I don't believe that there is anyone who has made more of an impact on the NFL,'' said Don Shula, who made a fair impact himself.

Heat fever grips Miami these days thanks to Shaquille O'Neal, but the city's most beloved athlete remains Marino. Even new Dolphins coach Nick Saban is an admirer _ he recalls a Monday night game in 1992 when he was an assistant at Cleveland and Miami trailed 23-20 with 1:18 left.

We had been stopping Dan Marino's team all day, but they all think they're going to score,'' Saban said.And our team also thinks they're going to score.''

The Dolphins won, 27-23.

Marino misses the excitement of such moments, as he was reminded at the AFC title game last week.

When the crowd is going crazy and the national anthem is playing and they're introducing the players, that feeling overtakes you,'' he said.It never leaves you. What leaves you is the thought that you could still play.''

While Marino enjoys statistical supremacy at his position, he'll head for Canton without a championship ring, which hurts his stock in the debate about the sport's greatest quarterbacks. He spent the final 15 years of his career trying unsuccessfully to reach the Super Bowl, which makes his only appearance in the title game even more galling.

On that January day in 1985, Marino threw two interceptions and the Dolphins lost to Joe Montana and the 49ers, 38-16.

I remember wishing we could play again the next day,'' Marino said.It might have been a different result.''

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