AP Sports Writer
AVENTURA — If Peyton Manning wants to talk about playing quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, Dan Marino would be thrilled to take his call.
And, just in case, Marino has his sales pitch ready.
“There's great tradition there. We've had a couple off years but, believe me, they'll be back,” said Marino, the Hall of Famer who threw for 420 touchdowns and more than 61,000 yards in his Dolphins career. “It's a great franchise and they'll get it turned around.”
Manning would almost certainly help in that quest, which largely started when Marino retired more than a decade ago.
From the moment Manning, the four-time MVP, parted with the Indianapolis Colts on March 7, buzz about Manning has been growing in Miami, much of it fueled by the quarterback's arrival in South Florida shortly after becoming an NFL free agent for the first time. Manning insists he
doesn't know what his next move will be and Marino believes him.
“I think he fits with anybody,” Marino said March 8 at a charity golf tournament. “He's one of the best to ever play the game at that position. So wherever he ends up playing, if he's healthy, which is going to be important to Peyton, I'm sure he wants to go out there and play at a high level. Wherever he plays, he'll be a huge impact for that team.”
(On Monday night, Manning met with the new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and other staff members, including offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, in Indianapolis. ESPN reported it was a “good meeting” and lasted between five and six hours. He is likely to announce his choice next week, according to several news reports.
(Also, on Tuesday the Dolphins traded wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears in a move some analysts see as freeing up around $15 million to add to the pot in case getting Manning becomes possible.)
“I know he likes the weather here in Miami but I have no idea where he's going to go,” said Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who caught 10 touchdown passes from Manning in 2009 and 2010. “I could not tell you anything.”
Added Reggie Wayne, who has been working out with Manning: “I don't know. Ask Peyton.'”
Manning's visit to Miami didn't necessarily mean the Dolphins are front-runners to get him. He owns a condo in Miami Beach.
“He does like his privacy — and he's not going to have much of it until everyone finds out where he's going to go,” Garcon said.
Why keep playing?
“He's a competitor. He loves the game. He loves winning,” Garcon said. “You can never have enough Super Bowl rings. He wants to win and he wants to keep playing. … When you walk in a stadium with Peyton, you have at least a fighting chance to win a game.”
After the Colts decided not to pick up Manning's $28 million bonus, team owner Jim Irsay ended months of speculation by releasing the 14-year veteran and longtime face of the franchise. Indianapolis likely will find Manning's replacement in April's draft, presumably Stanford's Andrew Luck. The Colts have the first overall pick.
Manning missed the entire 2011 season because of a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his right arm. He had the most recent of his multiple neck surgeries on Sept. 8.
Once the fusion has healed, the bone is as strong as any other in his neck, if not stronger, several doctors said.
“Did it heal? Is the rest of his neck in pretty good shape? If those two answers are yes, then it gets down to ‘OK, get out on the field and show me you can perform,’ because it will only get better from here with time,” said Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., a spine specialist who has treated NHL star Sidney Crosby and Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones.
For the time being, the Manning watch is consuming Miami.
The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade reached out to Manning on Twitter and LeBron James took time in a postgame television interview after the Heat beat Atlanta last Wednesday night to briefly sell Manning on the merits of South Florida.
Will Marino call him?
“I probably wouldn't do that unless he asks for some advice,” Marino said. “And he has plenty of people that he's working with to help him make the right decisions.”
Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter said if Manning says he's healthy enough to play, then that's good enough for him.
“He's a great football player,” Carpenter said. “I definitely think having Peyton Manning won't hurt your chances. … Obviously, I don't know how hard we're pursuing him. It's hard to say what Peyton Manning's thinking. I'm sure he's going to talk to his family, think about himself and think about where he wants to be and make that decision.''
AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report which was also supplemented with other news reports.