Dan Marino could have been a game changer in concussion discussion

Dan Marino didn't have a history of concussions during his 17-year NFL career.

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Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly lay too emaciated from cancer treatments to attend his Kelly for Kids Foundation charity golf classic that has raised millions of dollars for children.

But Dan Marino — Kelly’s greatest on-field rival — was there Monday. For the kids and, especially, for Kelly.

That same day, the L.A. Times learned that Marino was suing the National Football League.

In its essence, Marino was contending that the collective NFL — which would include former Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and former coach Don Shula — concealed the long-term effects of concussions from players to keep them in action on Sundays.

Spin this any which way — flare, screen, takeoff, hook — and dress it up in legalese, but that’s what Marino was chucking.

This from a 17-season NFL superstar who passed for a league-record 65,871 yards and 452 touchdowns. Who earned a bust in Canton. Who rode the wave of fame to a recently concluded 12-year run at CBS, promoting the very league he was taking to court.

Until Tuesday.

That’s when, upon further review, Marino reportedly withdrew from litigation. According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, a source said he merely wanted to be included in any award of health benefits determined to have been caused by participation in league activities, should the need arise, in future years.

What in the heck is going on?

Say this with certainty: As was the case on game day, with Marino in action this is far more interesting. One of most charismatic competitors in the history of the game involved in former players’ suit that is far from being resolved and seeks reinvigorated leadership.

A $765 million settlement with the commissioner’s office by more than 4,000 retired NFL vets was rejected by United States Federal Judge Anita Brody. After $90 million came off the top in attorney fees, the remaining $675 million was deemed inadequate to fund claims that will come with the fury of special teams kickoff coverage.

Just ask any new NBA owner. If it’s not a billion here and a billion there, we are not talking real money. A fact not lost on 32 NFL owners, either. We are back to square one.

Those players need a Dan Marino involved.

Two decades ago Marino and Kelly would stop the football world when they went head to head. It did not get any bigger than Shula’s Miami Dolphins and Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills. En route to enshrinement in the Hall, Kelly fired his way to 39,330 passing yards and 258 touchdown passes.

In the heat of Florida’s sunshine. In the windy chill of upstate New York. In the day, as good as it got.

Both were as tough as their Western Pennsylvania roots. One played collegiately at Pitt for Jackie Sherrill. The other at Miami for Howard Schnellenberger. Those two coaches wrote the book on gut checks.

For all the glory, Marino also endured a pounding.

A classic pocket passer, he hung tough and took 292 career sacks. Those are takedowns, ball in hand, on hits delivered by swarming defensive ends, blitzing linebackers, hulking tackles and speedy second-wave corners, that accomplished their objective.

Add nearly 9,000 passing attempts — again in the pocket — and do the math. How many times was Marino hit and still got the ball away? Either a wack or a hammer that left a welt. And go ahead and include 301 rushing attempts, nearly all ending by being tackled, and here is the most amazing Dan The Man statistic of all:

Marino suffered only two known concussions. In 17 years.

Of course there was the lost season of 1993 when an Achilles injury doomed the Dolphins. Marino was never quite the same with a braced right leg.

A longtime former NFL rival who battled in the trenches against Marino and Dolphins suggested a loyalty to the men he played with and against initially pushed Marino into momentarily joining this fray. He certainly does not need the money, whatever may come the players’ way. The game has been great to him.

Perhaps he felt his inclusion could propel this forward, that better research and superior medical studies might come, that he could aid this game becoming safer for all.

Marino was — briefly — the biggest name on the list of former Sunday standouts.

One would believe, even with the best of intentions, it appeared that Marino was turning on the very franchise he served for nearly two decades, against a legacy of autumn success unmatched in the history of Sunshine State.

There’s chatter that he’s in talks with the Dolphins for a front-office position.

Perhaps a Monday visit to a fellow football icon — once a fierce rival, now a dear friend who is courageously enduring the fight of his life — reminded Marino he truly doesn’t have a problem in the world.