Miami Dolphins: The 40th anniversary of the 1983 NFL Draft

Pitt Panthers Dan Marino was the 27th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 NFL Draft.
Pitt Panthers Dan Marino was the 27th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 NFL Draft. / George Gojkovich/GettyImages

The NFL needed a draft with plenty of buzz and excitement after what had happened the previous year. The 1982 season was interrupted by a strike after two weeks of play. After nearly two months of inactivity by the league on the field, a 57-day players’ strike finally ended.

Thanks to some rescheduling and an expanded playoff field, the Super Bowl Tournament would be made up of eight teams per conference. When it was all said and done, the Miami Dolphins and the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins would meet in Super Bowl XVII. Don Shula’s team led early but would fall, 27-17.

A year later, the Dolphins would be making their first selection with the 27th overall pick. It was a draft class loaded with talent and history would prove that out in a big way. All told, seven of the 28 first-round selections would wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of course, that includes the last of the six quarterbacks taken in the first round.

Depending on whom you listen to or read and what you choose to believe, the bottom line is that University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino was available for Shula and the defending AFC champions to grab at No. 27. At the time, David Woodley was Miami’s starting signal-caller but wound up getting benched in the Super Bowl loss to Washington in favor of Don Strock.

Marino would make his starting debut in Week 6 at home vs. the Bills. He played in a total of 11 regular-season games as a rookie (9 starts) and finished with 20 TD passes and only six interceptions. However, the Dolphins were stunned at home by the upstart Seattle Seahawks in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Then came 1984 and one of the most impressive campaigns by a quarterback in the league’s history. Marino shattered the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season, finishing with 48 scores. He threw for a then-record 5,084 yards. The Dolphins began the season 11-0, finished 14-2, and reached Super Bowl XIX.

Does it really feel like it has been four decades since the quarterback with the quick release was picked in the first round? For some, it may seem even longer. That loss to the 49ers (XIX) in 1984 marks the franchise’s last appearance in the “Big Game.” On the other hand, the Dolphins have been searching for someone to fill Marino’s cleats. He played 17 seasons, threw for 61,361 yards and 420 scores before retiring after the 1999 campaign.

These days, Tua Tagovailoa is the man behind center. He was the fifth overall pick in 2020 and has been in and out of the starting lineup. The Dolphins are coming off a 9-8 season and their first playoff appearance since 2016. The club hasn't won a postseason game since 2000. The franchise is preparing for this year's NFL draft but has only four picks.

In case you’re wondering, the other six players drafted in the first round that year who are in the Hall of Fame are fellow quarterbacks John Elway and Jim Kelly, running back Eric Dickerson, tackle Jimbo Covert, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, and cornerback Darrell Green.

One last note from the 1983 draft. The Dolphins wound up with another super steal that year via wide receiver Mark Clayton, an eighth-round pick from the University of Louisville who remains the Dolphins’ all-time leader in catches (550), receiving yards (8,869) and total touchdowns (82).