Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Mark Clayton

Happy 48th birthday to former Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton. From 1983 to 1993, few NFL receivers put up better numbers than Clayton. Although he's not in the Pro Football Hall of fame, his career numbers are better than many receivers currently enshrined in Canton. He caught 582 passes for 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. At one time, he held the NFL record for touchdown catches in a season with 18 in 1984. Together with fellow receiver Mark Duper and quarterback Dan Marino, this trio formed arguably the most dangerous passing combination in NFL history. The Marino to Clayton connection combined for 81 touchdowns, forming the second most prolific quarterback to receiver touchdown combination in NFL history behind Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Clayton played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Dolphins and was a 5 time Pro Bowl selection. He finished his career in 1993 with Green Bay and is one of only three players to catch passes from Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Born Mark Gregory Clayton in Indianapolis, he grew up like many Indiana kids playing basketball. But his short stature and quick feet made him an outstanding football player at every level he played. During his career at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Clayton weighed only 155 pounds and played quarterback and tailback. His lack of size didn't attract a lot of colleges. His only scholarship offers came from Louisville and Indiana State. He chose Louisville and went on to a fine--yet unoticeable college career. Louisville's football program was always in the shadow of the basketball program and Clayton was never showcased on national television. He finished his college career with 1,100 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior.

Despite a productive college career, Clayton was not considered a top prospect entering the 1983 NFL Draft. At 5'9 and 163 pounds and 4.63 speed in the 40 yard dash, Clayton's physical numbers weren't impressive. He was drafted in the 8th round by the Dolphins--the 223rd overall pick of the entire draft. (The NFL Draft no longer has an 8th round) While Dan Marino was the biggest name of the Dolphins 1983 draft class, Clayton was drafted behind forgetable players like Baylor defensive end Charles Benson and Rutgers linebacker Keith Woetzel. But it didn't take long for Clayton to prove he was a special talent. In Dan Marino's first NFL start, Clayton caught his first touchdown pass in an overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. But it was his second season in 1984 when Clayton exploded as one of the leagues best receivers. He caught 73 passes for 1,389 yards and a then NFL record 18 touchdowns. Clayton and Mark Duper became the most prolific receiving duo in the NFL and earned the nicknamed "The Marks Brothers". That year Marino threw a then NFL record 48 touchdown passes, 26 of them were caught by the Marks Brothers. That season the Dolphins beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and reached Super Bowl XIX, losing to the 49ers. It would be the only Super Bowl appearance in Clayton's career.

While Clayton had his best season in 1984, he wasn't a one-year wonder. Five times had accumlated over 1,000 yards receiving in a season, reaching the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons. He led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches in 1986. Despite not having great speed in the 40 yard dash, Clayton possessed great football speed. Many of his big plays came after catching short passes and running for additional yardage. He also had tremendous leaping ability, which made up for his lack of height. Clayton had a 40 inch verticle leap and was known for his ability to jump over ping pong tables. He was a cocky player who often backed up what he said.

When Dan Marino gave his hall of fame induction speech in 2005, he quickly singled-out Clayton and Duper as two huge reasons for his great career. Marino finished his speech by throwing a football deep to Clayton, who was sitting in the audience. As usual, Clayton caught Marino's perfect pass with ease. It's debatable whether Clayton was the greatest receiver in Dolphins history. Unlike Paul Warfield, he's not in the hall fame. Nat Moore and Mark Duper also had great careers. But when it comes to stats, nobody was better than Clayton. No Miami Dolphin has caught more passes and scored more touchdowns. It's not likely Clayton will ever be inducted in Canton. But it may be just as difficult for any present or future Dolphin receivers to ever surpass Clayton.

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