Of all the kudos directed at quarterback DAN MARINO during his four-year career at Pitt from 1979-82, this one from Florida State coach Bobby Bowden summed Marino up best: "He's a pro quarterback in college, really."
Marino, a hometown hero who attended Central Catholic High School in the shadow of the Pitt campus in Oakland, was one of the most eagerly sought high school athletes in the country, both for his immense football skills and his baseball ability.
Marino was a bona fide Major League Baseball prospect, both as a pitcher and a shortstop, and was drafted in the fourth round in 1979 by the Kansas City Royals, who projected him as a third baseman or outfielder. But he decided to cast his lot with football and with Pitt, and by the time he graduated in 1983, he had become the Panthers' all-time passing leader with 8,597 yards and 79 touchdowns.
"Dan Marino is the best quarterback I've ever coached against at the collegiate level,'' said Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
The 6-4, 215-pound All-American had a rocket-launching right arm and a lightning release. Marino was a classic drop-back quarterback. But his success as a quarterback and as a leader transcended his physical skills.
In 1979, Marino led the Panthers to a Fiesta Bowl victory after replacing injured Rick Trocano in the season's seventh game. He set a Pitt freshman record with 1,680 yards passing. Marino also led the Panthers to two difficult road victories against rivals West Virginia (24-7) and Penn State (29-14), and a 16-10 win against Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.
As a sophomore in 1980 he was one of the country's leading passers until he was sidelined with a knee injury, and in a twist of fate, was replaced by Trocano, who had been starting at free safety. Marino had guided the Panthers to victories in five of their first six games. Despite the injury, Marino still finished with 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But it was his magical junior season in 1981 that truly earmarked him for greatness and put him on a path that would eventually lead to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Marino passed for 2,876 yards and a school-record 37 touchdowns that season, leading Pitt to its third consecutive 11-1 record. He also set a single-game record by throwing for six touchdowns against South Carolina. He enhanced his reputation for delivering in the clutch in the 1982 Sugar Bowl, when he fired a 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Brown with just 35 seconds remaining in the game for a pulsating, come-from-behind 24-20 victory over Georgia.
That victory put the icing on the winningest three-year stretch in Pitt history -- three consecutive 11-1 seasons for a combined record of 33-3. It was also the third consecutive bowl victory for the Panthers, who defeated Arizona in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl and crushed South Carolina, 37-9, in the 1980 Gator Bowl.
Marino closed out his collegiate career in 1982 by passing for 2,432 yards, the second-highest single-season total in Pitt history, with 17 touchdowns. The Panthers finished 9-3 and ranked as high as No. 9 in the final polls following a Cotton Bowl loss to SMU.
His #13 Pitt jersey was retired following his senior year.
"The four seasons I played at Pitt were four of the best years of my life," said Marino, who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
"I played behind some great offensive linemen, including Jimbo Covert, Mark May, Russ Grimm and Bill Fralic, among others, and I never would have had the success I did without all of their help.
"We won a lot of games at Pitt, and it was especially enjoyable to play so well in my own hometown, in front of all of my family and friends."
A first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1983, Marino went on to gain recognition as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history with a record-breaking 17-year career.
Marino became the Dolphins starter in the sixth week of his rookie season. He immediately took charge of the Dolphins' offense and guided the team to a 12-4 record and the AFC East title. Marino threw 20 touchdowns and recorded a 96.0 passer rating to earn Rookie of the Year honors. He was also named to the first of his nine Pro Bowl selections.
Thirteen times in his NFL career Marino passed for 3,000 yards or more in a season which includes the six seasons he reached the 4,000-yard plateau. He passed for 300 yards in a game 63 times and threw for 400 or more yards in a game 13 times. Marino's 5,000-yard Season.
Marino was named first- or second-team All-Pro eight times and earned All-AFC honors six times.
He retired following the 1999 season as the league's all-time leader in passing attempts (8,358), completions (4,967), yardage (61,361) and touchdowns (420).
In 2005, Marino received his "Canton Call" and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Mom and Dad, it's a long way from Parkview Avenue," said Marino at his enshrinement, referencing the Oakland street he grew up on just a few short blocks from the Pitt campus.
Since his retirement from the Dolphins, Marino has gone on to become a highly regarded studio host for CBS's NFL telecasts. He was named a University of Pittsburgh special trustee in 2008. That same year, he delivered Pitt's c
VIDEO: Exclusive with Dan Marino
TYLER BOYD SELECTED BY CINCINNATI IN 2016 NFL DRAFT
MARK SCARPINATO NAMED TO HAMPSHIRE HONOR SOCIETY
Blue Defeats Gold in Spring Game, 19-17
Coverage: Pitt Football Spring Practice #14
JAMES CONNER TO APPEAR ON THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW