DAVIE, Fla. -- These days, when Peyton Manning arrives in a city where he knows Dan Marino might be hanging out, he usually sends the Dolphins' Hall of Fame quarterback a quick text. It might be inquiring about meeting for dinner. For drinks. For golf. Whatever.
The relationship, according to multiple people close to both QBs, is a special one -- a unique combination of mentorship, mutual respect and friendship. And that is why, in this unique hour, Marino might now be the unexpected ace in Miami's hand.
If the word "unexpected" catches you off guard in that context -- shouldn't Marino always be an expected advocate for the Dolphins? -- that's because this tale, like so many others inside Miami's headquarters, requires a more thorough understanding.
In 2011, owner Stephen Ross privately reached out to Marino about a small consultant role. No one else in the organization knew. (Very few know about it still -- until right now, of course.) At that point, a Ross-Marino relationship began to develop beyond the previously superficial pleasantries.
Ross asked Marino if he'd be interested in helping the team find a quarterback. Watch some film. Throw out his thoughts. Basically serve as a paid QB consultant to help bridge the ever-widening gap between Marino and his eventual replacement.
For reasons that aren't known -- but also aren't personal -- the role never really materialized. Marino, who made it clear he'd want no money to provide such a service to his beloved franchise, nonetheless appreciated the gesture. Even if Ross approached Marino in far more formal manner than necessary, it helped.
Why does this matter now, you ask? It doesn't take a consultant, let alone Marino, to know Manning is a Hall of Fame talent. But as the Dolphins have so often learned over the past three years, whether it had to do with Jim Harbaugh or Jeff Fisher or Ryan Clark, it does take some successful, sincere lobbying to get what you want. This situation with Manning, above all others, clearly will prove that.
If or when Manning proves healthy enough to be a starter in 2012, the Dolphins are among the teams who will treasure his services. And if or when that time comes, it is widely understood that Manning will want to join a team in a win-now mode with a sound organizational structure. Based simply on the perception developed nationally about the Dolphins over the past several years, that's not a good sign.
But regardless of the dysfunctional image -- some of which was deservedly earned -- this is not an organization in turmoil. It is instead one that fits Manning's likely list of desires quite well. One capable of winning now.
That's where Marino comes in: He is currently in a position to help this team in a way he hasn't had a chance of doing since he retired March 13, 2000. Few know Manning better than Marino. And few have a more candid perspective of the Dolphins' organization, too.
Marino's perception of this business regime hasn't always been rosy -- and that's why Ross' recent outreach might be coincidentally important to the present.
For the first few years of Ross' ownership of the Dolphins, Marino wasn't as quick to warm up to the new regime, mostly because he didn't sense much extended warmth from their end first. Ross was busy adding celebrities to his arsenal of minority owners -- and yet never did he reach out to the one celebrity who matters most to South Florida football fans. Had the relationship continued on that track, regardless of Marino's lifelong loyalty to the organization, it most certainly could have impacted this potential courtship.
But it's a new day for Marino and Ross' Dolphins, which could bode very well for Miami. You don't think Marino and Manning will talk?
"I need to ask someone what to do next," Manning said Wednesday during his farewell news conference in Indianapolis.
You'd better believe the Dolphins' legendary quarterback is going to be on the short list. What will Marino tell him? How will it impact this monumental decision? If you asked me one year ago, I would have winced at the possibilities.
But now, with Manning in prime position to sign with the Dolphins, Marino might just be the man who has the power to help land the one player capable of replacing him.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington