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Why didn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Dan Marino? Redrafting 1983

Why didn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Dan Marino? Redrafting 1983

In this retrospective series, we’ll use 20/20 hindsight to play General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers to review past drafts – focusing primarily on top 2-3 selections – and personnel decisions year-by-year and redraft or implement trades based on the Steelers roster at the time.

General rule:  Any “redrafted” pick will generally fall within a 15-pick range and trade propositions being realistic and attainable.


Steelers situation and needs:

The Pittsburgh Steelers were on the cusp of advancing in the NFL Playoff Tournament vs. the Miami Dolphins when they blew a 4th quarter lead vs. the San Diego Chargers at home.  A Mel Blount red zone interception called back on a phantom defensive holding penalty followed by a Bennie Cunningham reception ruled incomplete and the Steelers season ended all too soon.

1983 Draft: 1st Round – #21 Overall; 2nd Round – #43 Overall

Chuck Noll wanted the next Joe Greene, but one of Noll’s problems was realizing he would never again see the likes of Greene.  However he thought he saw something similar in Gabe Rivera.

Courtesy of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” by Michael MacCambridge:

The Steelers were enamored of Gabe Rivera, “Señor Sack,” the behemoth defensive tackled from Texas Tech. Chuck envisioned Rivera as the cornerstone to the Steelers’ move to a 3-4 front. In his dominating line play and quick first step, there were flashes of the player that Greene had been.

Chuck Noll on draft day, 1983:  per “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” – MacCambridge, p. 293:

“We built this team on defense, and we should do it again now.”

Dan Rooney: per “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL” – Rooney p. 293:

Noll and the scouts wanted a big defensive tackle from Texas Tech named Gabriel Rivera.  Chuck thought he could build a new team around Rivera-Just as he built the team of the 1970’s around Joe Greene.

Tony Dungy: per “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” – MacCambridge, p. 293:

In Chuck’s mind, that was still what we talked bout. This was going to be a throwing league even more, so there was more of a premium on putting pressure on the passer, and he saw Gabe Rivera as someone able to so some of the things that Joe Greene had done.

Rivera had 2 sacks in 6 games before he was he was in a car accident, where driving under the influence of alcohol, he crossed into another lane and collided with another vehicle.  He was paralyzed from the chest down.  Rivera passed away July 16, 2018; leaving open one of the greatest “what ifs” in Steelers history.


Grade: F

  • There is no saving grace from this draft.  The tragedy of Rivera is one of what might have been notwithstanding, but 26 players drafted in the first 3 rounds earned Pro Bowl honors (along with 8 Hall of Famers)
  • Only one player the from the 1983 draft – Eric Wiliams – was even on the roster 2 years later.
  • 3rd Round pick Todd Seabaugh wore #59 for his one season, that’s disrespectful enough to Jack Ham.

Redrafting 1983: “The one that got away”

Dan Rooney: “My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL” – Rooney p. 215:

In 1983 we had a chance to draft Dan Marino. Danny was a Pittsburgh boy. We’d watched him quarterback the Central Catholic team.  Danny led the University of Pittsburgh Panthers to four straight bowl games.  Being a local boy, Danny Marino stopped by Three Rivers Stadium one day and tossed some passes around to some of our second-string receivers. We looked at each other and said, “Hey, this kid can play.”

When the 1983 draft came around, a newspaper reporter from the Pittsburgh Press, John Clayton , buttonholed me right outside our draft room. “I’ll tell you what you should do with your draft.” “What’s that?” “You should take Danny Marino on your first pick.”

I thought it was a great idea. We should have done it. But I made a mistake.

When I went to Noll, my brother Art, and Dick Haley, they said, “That’s a good idea! How did you come up with that?”

Instead of saying I thought it up myself, I truthfully told them it was John Clayton’s idea. With that they threw up their hands and shouted, “Clayton? You gotta be kidding!” And that was the end of it.

Tony Dungy:Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” MacCambridge, p. 293:

Dungy recalled Marino’s workout for the Steelers at Three Rivers, when Pitt teammates Julius Dawkins and Dwight Collins ran routes on a windy day.

“Marino threw the ball right on the money, and these guys dropped every ball. I remember thinking to myself, I know why this guy had a bad year. These guys can’t catch.”

Per “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” MacCambridge, p. 292:

Chuck was an admirer of Marino. He liked his toughness and strong arm. But the Steelers had an All-Pro quarterback they trusted, and for Chuck, there were two considerations.

First, the team needed a pass rush and an anchor on the defensive line.

Second, still haunted by the Joe Gilliam experience, he didn’t want to bring in another quarterback with question marks about character. Fair or not, some had those questions about Marino.

Chuck Noll: Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” – MacCambridge, p. 293:

Six picks later, when the Dolphins took Marino, Chuck got on the phone with Don Shula and congratulated him. “You probably got the best guy in the draft.”

Art Rooney Sr:Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work” MacCambridge, p. 292:

In the background, the Chief was circumspect. He’d met Marino and was extremely fond of him. More than once that weekend, Art Sr. would sidle up to Artie and say, “You took the wrong guy.”


The Chief would hold that sentiment till he passed away, August 25th, 1988.  There was also was a hard lesson for Dan Rooney to learn in running the team and it would result in a series of major changes on how the franchise would be run in a few years and replacing who was making draft day decisions.


Thoughts or opinions?  Leave a comment below.


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.



  1. Brian Smith

    December 28, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    If you have the chance to draft a great quarterback prospect like Elway, Manning even Andrew Luck you take him unless you already have a great quarterback (middle aged or younger). Quarterback is the most important position period. You never pass on great quarterback prospect because you have other more immediate needs. Not even if you think you’ve found the next Bubba Smith or Mean Joe Greene. It’s that simple. JMHO

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