NEW YORK (AP) -Fans still clamor for No. 13 to suit up and wing touchdown passes for the Miami Dolphins.
Who knows, maybe Dan Marino could still help the team with which he earned his Hall of Fame credentials. The Dolphins are, after all, 0-12 and could be headed for the first 0-16 season in NFL history.
Marino acknowledges the Miami mess is worse than anything he ever imagined his former team could go through. He offers this advice to anyone who cares about the Dolphins: patience.
``You have to be patient when it gets like this,'' Marino said. ``You always need hope. You're fighting for something positive to come out of a really bad year. What you look for is a sign of hope that the future will get better.
``Hey,'' he adds with a shrug, ``the only way they can go is up.''
If you consider the Dolphins haven't won, that's true. But considering how poorly the team has drafted and how so many free agents have not clicked in Miami since, well, since Marino retired after the 1999 season, it's possible the franchise could founder for quite a while.
That doesn't mean Marino expects the die-hards to abandon the Dolphins even if they do surpass the 1976 Buccaneers, an expansion club that lost all 14 games - and the first 12 of 1977, to boot.
``If you're a loyal fan, you're a loyal fan,'' said the great passer who has seen Brett Favre and Peyton Manning recently surpass some of his most impressive records. ``I know a lot of them are frustrated and they wonder if Cam (Cameron) goes 0-16, is this going to happen again next year. But I'd never say they will give up on the team.
``They have always had a loyal fan base of 50,000 or so, but it's not like Pittsburgh or Buffalo or Cincinnati, where there are people who have been fans for life and they grew up there with their teams. Miami is such an international city and there is not that same dynamic. Heck, you can have people who have lived in Miami for a long time and are New York Jets fans.''
After being blown out last Sunday by the Jets, now 3-9, the realization seemed to hit just about everywhere in the NFL that these Dolphins just might be the most futile team the league has seen. There's almost as much talk about whether Miami will go 0-for-2007 as there is about the Patriots being perfect.
And the odds appear just as good for the Dolphins to complete their flop as for the Pats to go unbeaten.
Of course, Cameron is playing youngsters everywhere, trying to gauge what they might offer in the future - if the coach indeed has a future with the team.
``Cam is in a tough spot, a first-year head coach in the league with no wins,'' Marino noted. ``He has to play some guys and find out if they'll be able to be significant contributors.
``You've got to change the whole mentality of the organization there, but I don't know if it's fair to judge (Cameron) after one year. Over the years, the Dolphins have not been in a position where their draft picks get on the team. They've drafted almost no players still on the team. Players who should be a part of the heart of the team from the draft, who should be in their fifth or sixth or seventh years in the league, they aren't there. That's the first thing you have to look at.''
Marino also believes it's harder to get free agents to look at Miami when they can go elsewhere and have a chance to win more quickly.
In 2004, Marino joined the front office for three weeks as senior vice president of football operations. But he quit after three weeks, saying he wasn't ready for a ``lifestyle change.''
The Dolphins have won 19 games since - none this year.
``It didn't feel right at the time for me to take that step in my life,'' he said. ``I had young kids, important family obligations. It had nothing to do with the organization, it was more personal.
``You always think you want to do that, be back with a team and in the competitive field and working toward a common goal just like when you are playing. It's special when you experience that as a player and it never leaves you. So you think about getting back in it.''
Instead, Marino co-hosts HBO's ``Inside the NFL,'' and appears on CBS' pregame show, too. He rarely pulls punches on the HBO program, but it's clear the truth hurts a bit when he looks at the Dolphins.
``Still, with all that's going on,'' he said, ``you've got to give the fans some hope. But if they go 0-16, well, that's a difficult situation no one has been in before.''

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