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Marino: Big chance for Manning

By Steven Wine

AP Sports Writer

MIAMI - Super Bowl-bound for the first time, Peyton Manning welcomed the advice of Dan Marino.

They share a bond as two of the NFL's most prolific passers, their record-breaking achievements tainted only by their failure to win a title.

That could change today for Manning, when he and the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.

So what counsel did Marino offer when they spoke in person last week?

''We talked about which restaurants he wanted to go to when he was here,'' Marino said.

OK, so Manning doesn't need Marino to tell him how important the big game will be. Marino reached the Super Bowl only once, in his second season in 1984, and he and the Miami Dolphins lost to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers

38-16.

''The difference is, I was 23 years old at the time, and I actually thought that I'd be back many a time,'' Marino said. ''After that game, I would have told you, 'I'll be back in this game, and I'm going to win.'''

That didn't happen. Marino played another 15 years, reached the AFC championship game only once and lost. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and still holds NFL career records for passing yardage and touchdowns, but his failure to win a ring weighs against him in debates about the greatest quarterback ever.

At 30, Manning might soon become part of that conversation - especially if he can win a Super Bowl.

''This might be his only opportunity, and I think he understands the position he's in,'' Marino said. ''There is no doubt in the back of his mind, somewhere he's saying how important it is to win this game so no one will ever question his ability to win the Super Bowl. That's always going to be in the back of his mind until he wins it.''

In his ninth season, Manning is aware that the chance to win a ring could be fleeting. Free agency will make it difficult for the Colts to keep their offensive juggernaut together.

''You feel a small window of opportunity,'' Manning said.

''You'd better try to do it while you have the chance.''

Manning and Marino played against each other for two seasons, and they're now friends and golfing buddies. For Manning, it's a relationship that dates to his grade-school days.

''I had two favorite quarterbacks growing up,'' Manning said.

''My dad was my favorite, and then once he retired in 1984, Dan Marino took over as my favorite quarterback. He was just coming into the league.''

Marino became a starter as a rookie in '83.

The following season, he threw for 48 touchdowns, an NFL record until Manning threw for 49 two years ago. In subsequent seasons, Marino was saddled with teams that had a mediocre defense and a worse running game.

They were high-scoring but one-dimensional and not built to win a title.

For a long time, Marino refused to attend the Super Bowl out of frustration at his team's perennial late-season meltdowns.

But he has been around this week in dual roles as a network TV announcer and ambassador for South Florida.

He'll take part in the coin toss today, then root for Manning.

''The first thing I would say is, 'Take advantage of your opportunity,''' Marino said.

That's advice Manning will try to follow. He took Marino's restaurant recommendation, dining Monday with 20 other Colts at an Italian place in Fort Lauderdale.

Manning picked up the tab and savored the first night of Super Bowl week. He knows he might not be back.