Pittsburgh Steelers: Biggest Draft Day Regret In Franchise History
Why should the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Dan Marino when they could have Gabe Rivera?
That question has never been answered in the Steel City, and there are better odds of winning the Power Ball than understanding why the Rooney family passed on one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Looking back at the Steelers and the quarterbacks who have played behind center since the retirement of Terry Bradshaw, none (with Ben Roethlisberger possibly coming close) could be the man who made fans and the media forget the gaff management made in 1983 when Marino was there for the taking late in the first round. The only thing that remotely makes Roethlisberger a more viable option is the two Super Bowl rings he wears to Marino’s none.
Still, when you talk about regret – and Pittsburgh has been known over the years for picking solid players through the NFL Draft, this one makes no sense. It was well documented in ESPN’s 30 For 30 Series “Elway to Marino.”
What makes the story so tragic is that Rivera’s career ended well before it truly started, and Marino grew into a top-5 quarterback of all time.
As I stated back in March of 2013, the pick was known to be popular (or unpopular) for two reasons. The first was that the Steelers were looking for a replacement for Terry Bradshaw and hometown favorite Terry Bradshaw was still on the board. Rivera was supposed to be a great pass rusher, but he suffered a career ending injury in his rookie season. Ironically, Bradshaw went down with an elbow injury and never played the same way again.
I can only imagine how many Steelers fans took out their Horrible Hankies and directed them at team management.
According to Fox Sports’ Tully Corcoran, Rivera had some drinks, got behind the wheel of his 1983 Datsun 280-ZX and crashed it into another motorist in a little town called Ross Township north of Pittsburgh. It was about 9 p.m. and raining. When paramedics arrived, they found Rivera immobilized in some weeds. His heart was bruised, his shattered ribs had punctured his lungs and his spinal column was crushed. He'd somehow been ejected through the back window, all 6 feet 2 and 293 pounds of him. The other driver was OK.
And just like that, Gabe "Senor Sack" Rivera, Texas Tech All-American, Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round draft pick, son, brother, expectant father, was paralyzed from the chest down.
Authorities charged him with driving under the influence and other driving offenses, but the Allegheny County District Attorney at the time, Robert E. Colville, eventually dismissed the drunk-driving charge, saying, "There is no punishment that the law can give that would be comparable to the loss he has had."
Said Rivera of the incident: "I don't remember anything. I know I was drinking and wasn't wearing a seat belt."
Rivera had been a stunning prospect. He had that rare gift the best defensive linemen have — he was a dump truck that drove like a Corvette. Everybody from the old Southwest Conference days seems to remember the time Rivera chased down SMU running back Eric Dickerson and ripped off his helmet. He was a consensus All-American as a senior.
But he just wasn’t Marino.
He was the last quarterback of the Quarterback Class of 1983 to be taken in the first round out of Pittsburgh.
Marino held or currently holds dozens of NFL records associated with the quarterback position. Despite never being on a Super Bowl-winning team, he is recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history. Best remembered for his quick release and powerful arm, Marino led the Dolphins to the playoffs ten times in his seventeen-season career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
He led the Miami Dolphins to an AFC championship in the 1984 season, only his second season in the NFL. During that year, he threw a then-NFL record 48 touchdown passes. Despite the 14–2 season and Marino's touchdown record, the Dolphins lost Super Bowl XIX 38–16 to the 15–1 San Francisco 49ers.
It was his only Super Bowl appearance, one he said he figured that he and his Dolphins would be back gain and he would eventually claim a championship ring. It is the only think that eluded him in his career in Miami.
And Steelers fans to this day still ask themselves, “What would have happened had the Steelers taken the hometown hero?”