If Lance McIlhenny and Dan Marino were not both...

MIKE RABUN, UPI Sports Writer

DALLAS -- If Lance McIlhenny and Dan Marino were not both college football quarterbacks, they would have about as much in common as high and low.

The contrast between the players who will be at the controls in the 1983 Cotton Bowl between Pittsburgh and SMU Saturday is too obvious to miss. Sort of like wearing a plaid jacket and striped pants.


Marino, who will be playing his final game for the University of Pittsburgh Saturday, stands 6-4, has matinee idol looks, is a classic dropback passer and figures to spend the next several years in the National Football League soaking up big bucks and perhaps making it to the Super Bowl a time or two.

He grew up in the Pittsburgh area, is a publicity agent's dream and his face is familiar to any football fan who picked up a preseason publication this year.

McIlhenny, the key to Southern Methodist's option ground game, would never be mistaken for Marino.

The Mustangs' sophomore barely reaches six feet tall and his passes, even though he threw for 10 touchdowns among his 57 completions, usually look like ducks coming in for a landing.

He has a baby face, goes to school only a few blocks from where he was raised, is not all that well known around the country and has little or no chance of playing professional football. In fact, he doesn't even want to be around football when he completes his senior year in 1983 because he considers it too much of a grind that tends to alter his personality.


But while on the field, McIlhenny is a violent competitor -- built along the lines of other southwest quarterbacks like Texas' James Street (who led the Longhorns to a national championship in 1969) and Houston's Danny Davis (who helped bring the Cougars to the Cotton Bowl four years ago).

'I just love the game,' said McIlhenny, who during his high school days practiced pitching the ball on the option 500 times a day with each hand. 'I wouldn't be out here if I didn't. I like to get involved.'

But he gets so much involved that he feels he overdoes it at times.

'I really don't think I would want to stay in the game as a coach,' he said. 'Oh, maybe I might coach my kids or be a YMCA coach. But football takes a lot out of you. It is a grind. I get too wrapped up in it. My mom will be the first to tell you that.

'Somebody might be talking to me about something and I won't even be listening. I'll be thinking about something else concerning football.

'After the Arkansas game (SMU's final game of the regular season) I got back to being myself. But when we started working out again it all started again.'


While McIlhenny comes across as a bubbly young man who is anxious to chat about any subject, Marino -- at least during Cotton Bowl week - has come across as somber and introspective.

A season in which he has been booed by his home fans and been a target of the media has perhaps led to that.

But when asked how he would like to be remembered by Pittsburgh fans, Marino became a little expansive.

'I think they will remember me as someone who tried his best,' Marino said. 'I think they will remember me as a team player, one who tried to win everytime he stepped on the field.

'I think this is how they will remember all of our seniors at Pittsburgh. And that includes me.'

But the fans in Pittsburgh will probably have plenty more chances to remember Marino. While McIlhenny will be finishing out his college career next season and then heading into whatever enterprise he chooses, Marino should be learning the ropes in the pro ranks.

'I don't even want to concern myself with that right now,' he said. 'Every player who hopes to play professional ball wants to be drafted as high as he can. But that is not my worry right now. I've got one more game to play for Pittsburgh.'


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