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MIAMI DOLPHINS // Marino gets needed help

Someday, when he decides the time is right, Don Shula will find a quiet place to relax and take note of all he has accomplished as an NFL coach.

Someday, Dan Marino will conclude he has rewritten the record book for quarterbacks enough, so he too will call it quits and reflect on his illustrious career.

But Shula and Marino, joined at the hip for more than a decade, have at least a lap or two left before they get off the track.

Shula and Marino. Don and Dan. Really now, is there anybody else who gives the Dolphins instant identity?

This year a lot of people are predicting great things for the Dolphins. For the sake of Shula and Marino, great things better be the case.

Miami stumbled in the playoffs last season as injuries mounted. No excuses this time. The Dolphins loaded up in the off-season, acquiring players in trades and via free agency, and the only acceptable landing spot is Phoenix and the Super Bowl.

"We're aware of the expectations," defensive end Jeff Cross said. "But by the same token, we know that they don't mean much. We'll be as good as we make up our minds to be."

This season revolves around Shula and Marino because both have so much in common and at stake.

Both are considered among the best ever at their trade. Shula has 338 victories, more than any coach in league history.

Marino has broken almost every passing record, or he's about to. Barring an early injury, this is the year Marino eclipses the three major marks for quarterbacks _ career yardage, career touchdowns, career completions.

What Shula and Marino haven't done, though, is bring a Super Bowl championship to Miami.

"I'm going to get a ring if it's the last thing I do," said Marino, who enters his 13th season. "I think everyone is thinking about it."

Shula turns 66 at the end of the season and unless he at least takes the Dolphins to Phoenix, the search party for Jimmy Johnson will intensify. Johnson, who won a national championship at the University of Miami and back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, is the people's choice in south Florida to eventually replace Shula.

It's up to Shula. What happens this year will go a long way toward determining if he returns in '96.

"Getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it all would be something I'd be very proud of. It would mean that I've gone in every decade," Shula said.

Shula and Marino have brought a lot to Miami, on and off the field. Shula has a restaurant, hotel, golf course and highway named after him. Marino keeps popping up in commercials all over town, pitching everything from window shutters to cars.

Still, one gets the idea that unless Shula and Marino deliver on a championship in '95, the season goes down as a wash.

The Dolphins came close two of the past three years. The '92 team reached the AFC championship game, losing to Buffalo. Last year, Miami made it to the second round, but ran out of healthy players and lost 22-21 to San Diego.

Miami went on a signing frenzy in the off-season. Marino gained new weapons in Randal Hill, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green.

Defensively, the Dolphins signed Trace Armstrong and Steve Emtman to shore up the line and also picked up cornerback Terrell Buckley and safety Louis Oliver.

"There's a ton of talent on this team," Armstrong said. "I don't even know if I'll be starting. I'll be honest with you. I have a hard time sleeping at night, thinking about how good this team can be."

The Dolphins definitely caught the attention of one team in California. The 49ers, who seem to have carte blanche on the free agent market, lost out to Miami in the wooing of Emtman.

"It's a little fun and interesting and a little unnerving to see how they're going after the Super Bowl this year," San Francisco president Carmen Policy said. "I'll tell you this: If the Dolphins are in the Super Bowl, don't expect the NFC to be a prohibitive favorite."

"We think we have strengthened our team," Shula said. "I'd love to be able to get this team back on top. That's what my thrust is. We feel we have more pieces in place than at any time during the last several years."

NEW DOLPHINS

Offense

Pos Player Where from

R Randal Hill Cardinals

WR Gary Clark Cardinals

WR Ricky Sanders Falcons

TE Eric Green Steelers

OT Billy Milner Rookie

G Andrew Greene Rookie

Defense

DE Trace Armstrong Bears

DE Steve Emtman Colts

CB Terrell Buckley Packers

S Louis Oliver Bengals

LB Jeff Kopp Rookie

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