Hometown hero: Dan Marino honored at alma mater Central Catholic


NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino visited his alma mater, Central Catholic High School, on Tuesday morning to accept the Pittsburgh Hometown Hall of Fame award. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

Hall of Fame quarterback and Pitt alum Dan Marino returned home Tuesday morning, receiving another honor to add to his decorated resumé.

But unlike the Pro Bowl berths, the 1984 MVP or his Hall of Fame bust, this award also celebrated what led to those accolades and the place that fostered the legendary signal-caller’s talent.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Ford Motor Company recognized Marino as part of their “Hometown Hero” program at 8 a.m., presenting him with a plaque during a ceremony at his alma mater, Central Catholic High School in Oakland.

“Simply to bring something back here, a plaque, back here, is very special,” Dan Marino said in a speech to an audience full of Central Catholic students and alumni. “And I think [the Hometown Hero program] will last a long time and generate a lot of good feelings for a lot of high schools across the country.”

Marino graduated from Central Catholic in 1979. He then embarked on a four-year career at Pitt, throwing 74 career touchdown passes. He played for the Miami Dolphins from 1983 to 1999, throwing for over 61,361 career passing yards and 420 touchdowns. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him in 2005.

The Hall of Fame initiated the Hometown Hero program this year, aiming to “honor the hometown roots of the greatest heroes of the game, with plaque dedication events in local communities.”

Marino, who grew up in Oakland, is the fifth recipient of the honor. He joins former players including Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown and Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene. Former Bucaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks will become the sixth honoree next Monday.

The event began with an introduction and prayer from Brother Robert Schaefer, Central Catholic principal, who invoked the school’s recent WPIAL Class AAAA championship, inviting a rendition of the school’s fight song by the Central Catholic Marching Band.

After a few brief words from Megan Carlini, Ford regional sales manager, and George Veras, Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises president and CEO, Marino’s presenter, Central Catholic head football coach and high school teammate of Marino, Terry Totten, took the stage.

“It is a true honor for me to have the opportunity to present the greatest quarterback to ever step under center, anywhere at any time,” Totten said, “and to do it at one of his favorite places, Central Catholic.”

Totten highlighted Marino’s NFL accomplishments, such as his 48 touchdown season and litany of fourth-quarter comebacks, but said they didn’t paint the full picture of Marino’s legacy.

“I’m here to tell you, if there was a hall of fame for the way you carried yourself, the way you treated others, the values you held and the way you represented your community and your school, Danny is going into that hall of fame in the first ballot as well,” Totten said.

Following Totten’s presentation, Marino emerged from backstage and revealed the plaque that will now grace the halls of Central Catholic.

In his speech, Marino pointed out  some of his former high school teammates in attendance, including his teammate Mike Berger, who now serves as the Miami Marlins vice president and assistant general manager.

“[Dan was] the quintessential teammate,” Berger said. “Whether it was football, baseball, he really was. He was the ideal teammate. And just a supreme talent athletically.”

During his speech, Marino urged the onlooking students to cherish their remaining high school days.

“Remember the impact that these people around you are going to have on your life,” Marino said. “Never forget that this is a great time in your life, and it’s never going to be the same.”

During his speech, he also recounted his parents’ pride in his acceptance into Central Catholic.

“I think back about my dad, who’s not here, and my mom, and how proud they were that I got into school here. Because I almost didn’t,” Marino said. “I think being a quarterback helped a little bit.”

Marino also acknowledged that he was envious that the Central Catholic football team has an opportunity to play for a state championship, conceding that his teams never had that chance.

He did play for a state championship in baseball, though, and recalled his coach in that sport, Joe Emanuele, who attended Marino’s homecoming..

“Although we didn’t play for a state championship in football, which makes me jealous that you guys are and I can’t, but we did play for two state championships in baseball,” Marino said. “And [Emanuele], he is a special person, and I love him. He’s a Central guy for life.”

Marino also thanked his football coach at Central Catholic and a big influence on his career, Rich Erdelyi, who was not in attendance.

“He claims that I came here throwing left-handed and he taught me how to throw right-handed,” Marino said.

He closed his speech encouraging the Central Catholic students to pursue their ambitions like he did.

“I barely got into Central Catholic, I didn’t know I was going to be a professional athlete, I didn’t know I was going to be in the Hall of Fame,” Marino said. “But I always dreamt about it. And, you know what, I did it. So don’t let anybody tell you you can’t be what you want to be in life.”

After the ceremony, Marino spoke to the media about the honor, and how it differs from some of the other accolades he has received.

“It’s unique in a way, and I think it’s a great program, what the Hall of Fame and Ford are doing,” Marino said. “To help hopefully make an impact on these kids’ lives and see that if they have dreams they want to achieve, they can do it, and that there’s a Hall of Famer that went to the same school they’re going to, and that they can be successful in whatever field they want to be successful in.”

Marino, who lives in Florida, was in Pittsburgh on Nov. 7, for Pitt’s game against Notre Dame, where he served as the team’s honorary captain. Even with his time away from Oakland, he expressed how personal his trips back are.

“It’s emotional sometimes. This morning, I got out at the parking lot here [at Central Catholic], and then you turn around and look over and there’s the Cathedral of Learning,” Marino said. “And then you remember where I grew up, Parkview Avenue, sitting on my front porch I could see the Cathedral of Learning.”

Marino said the region will perpetually be an important part of himself.

“I’m Oakland all the way through,” Marino said. “It’s always great to come home.”