Watching their stirring Hall of Fame speeches Sunday, with their Hall of Fame coaches looking on, inspired many how-do-they-rank debates about Dan Marino and Steve Young.
If, say, Marino had played his first seven seasons for Young's first San Francisco coach, Bill Walsh, how many Super Bowls would Marino have won? In Miami, of course, Marino didn't win a single championship -- under Don Shula or Jimmy Johnson.
And was Young ultimately better than Joe Montana? The stats would say yes; the Super Bowls no. Montana won four, Young one.
Yes, Sunday's two first-ballot Hall of Famers won one Super Bowl between them. So exactly how great were these immortals?
Daniel Constantine Marino Jr. simply threw the football the best, ever. His lightning body-whip release even eclipsed Joe Namath's. At 6-foot-4, he couldn't run for down-field yardage, but his Fred Astaire footwork often bought him the extra second he needed in and around the pocket. And his velocity was underrated because he could throw with such catchable force on one play, such stunning touch on the next.
In 1994, I once mentioned to Troy Aikman, in a casual conversation about which NFL quarterback could throw the hardest, that I figured it was John Elway.
He surprised me by saying, with conviction, "No. Marino."
Elway's heater always generated more hype. Elway appeared to throw a harder ball to catch -- a real finger-breaker. Marino, perhaps registering even higher on the radar gun, threw sticky bullets.
An absurd 51 different receivers caught touchdown passes from Marino. If he threw it, you just knew you were supposed to catch it.
There has never been a more arrogant, fearless and confident passer. Marino was the Michael Jordan of passers. He knew there was no needle he couldn't thread and no chimney he couldn't sweep for a touchdown.
That was his greatness.
And his weakness.
In 1983, Marino hit Miami coach Shula with a hurricane-like force. By then, Shula had coached in five Super Bowls, and won two. But one first-hand look at Marino in mini-camp, and Shula was like a granddad smitten with his first grandson.
No way could Shula have truly appreciated what had fallen into his lap on draft day. Twenty-six teams passed on Marino after the bottom had fallen out of his senior season at Pitt -- the Panthers finished 8-4 -- resulting in runaway rumors about Marino's character. Those rumors proved to be untrue.
Shula was so amazed by the force of nature that was Marino's arm that, at age 53, Shula scrapped the bedrock philosophy upon which he had built his legend.
He basically neglected his running game and defense in favor of the forward pass.
Marino, with a record 48 TD passes, threw Shula all the way to a Super Bowl in the kid's second season. In the AFC title game, Marino threw for 421 yards and four TDs as Miami wiped out Marino's hometown Steelers 45-28.
But Montana and Walsh were waiting for them. In a Super Bowl played near the 49ers' Bay Area headquarters, at Stanford Stadium, Montana won the game's MVP after throwing for a then-record 331 yards. But he didn't outgun Marino by himself. Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig combined to rush for 123 yards as Walsh toyed with a Miami defense that didn't belong in a Super Bowl.