DAVIE, Fla.-As Dan Marino, the National Football Leagueís most prolific passer, gave his farewell speech today after 17 years with the Miami Dolphins, he tried not to make eye contact with his wife, Claire, who sat sobbing nearby. “I kept telling Claire that I canít cry during this thing,” Marino said after announcing his retirement at the Dolphinsí training facility at Nova Southeastern University. “I felt many a time like crying, but I was able to hold back. Tried to make a few jokes and keep it loose.”

Marino, whose career records include most touchdown passes (420), most passing yards (61,361) and most completions (4,967), said he decided to end his playing career at age 38 mostly because of his health. He has had six knee operations, ruptured an Achillesí tendon and, last season, sustained a neck injury that sidelined him for five games. “There are physical limitations I would have had to deal with,” he said. “It kept coming back to how my legs felt during last season, going through the neck injury and not knowing whether I was going to be able to throw the football.”

After the Dolphins indicated by their long, awkward silence that their interest in Marino had waned, he was temporarily invigorated by an offer from the Minnesota Vikings. Coach Dennis Green was so interested in Marino that he offered to let him fly home after every Sunday game and not return until Wednesday. Marino said he had gone through a number of emotional swings before deciding last week to pass on Minnesotaís offer. “There were times I told Claire we were going and two hours later Iíd say, ëNo, I donít think I can go,í” he said. “It is the toughest thing Iíve had to deal with professionally in my life.”

A person close to Marino said that if the Dolphins had shown as much enthusiasm for his continuing to play as the Vikings had, he would most likely still be a Dolphin. “He probably would have gone to training camp, to see how he felt physically, and then take it from there,” the person said.

Marino came in a Dolphin, and he will leave one. That, by itself, is a remarkable achievement. When Marino is eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years, it may be the easiest decision voters ever had. Marino threw more passes for more completions for more yards and more touchdowns than anyone else. His 33,508 passing yards in the 1990ís are the most in a decade for any quarterback. “It is hard to imagine another quarterback duplicating the kind of success Dan had,” Don Shula, his former coach, said. “I know I wonít see it in my lifetime.”