When former Havre High three-sport star Marc Mariani found out he would be starting on three different special teams units for the Tennessee Titans, he knew, one way or another he was going to be on the field for the first play of the 2010 season.
As it turned out, the Titans kicked off to the Oakland Raiders in Sunday’s season-opener at LP Field in Nashville, so Mariani was on the front lines for the first official play of the NFL season as part of Tennessee’s kickoff cover team.
But as exciting as it was to be on the field as the season kicked off for the Titans, who crushed the Raiders 38-13, the former Montana Grizzly walk-on would go on to have plenty of big moments on his first Sunday NFL Sunday.
“It’s been a long hard road for me, it’s taken a lot of hard work to get here,” Mariani said after Sunday’s win. "But I wouldn’t change a thing right now. This has kind of shaped and molded me, it’s made me work for everything, so it’s been a long road but I’ve loved it.
“To be here, to be out there today and to help this team win,” he added. “It’s an unbelievable experience for me and it’s hard to put into words how fun it was out there today.”
The Titans don’t release an official depth chart to the public, but Mariani earned the week-one nod as the starting kick and punt returner for the Titans after putting up great numbers in the preseason.
And on his first day on the job, he racked up 101 all-purpose yards for a Titans team which finished near the bottom of the NFL in both return categories a year ago.
Mariani’s longest kickoff return of the day, a 30-yard sprint from the goal line almost catapulted him into stardom in his first NFL game. He saw a huge hole open up on the left side of the Titans’ wedge, and as he accelerated through it only one Raider was in a position to make a shoe-string tackle. The play prevented Mariani from possibly going the distance, or at least taking the ball deep into Oakland territory.
“That first one, a huge hole was there, our guys did a great job all day,” he said of the returns. “But I just got tripped up on that one. The Raiders were really flying around today, so I have to give them a lot of credit. But we had a hole on that one. One of these days we’ll take advantage of it. It will come.”
As expected, Mariani was all smiles after a great NFL debut, especially with the Titans coming out on top.
But things were great all day for the former Blue Pony. The Titans were even set to run a play for him with the No. 1 offense on a third-down call in the third quarter, but quarterback Vince Young’s swing pass to Mariani was batted down in the backfield.
So there’s no doubt Mariani has proved and is proving he’s ready for Sunday’s, and while he knows he’s got a long road still ahead of him, he will always cherish his first game.
“The whole environment today, the hype, the excitement in this stadium, it’s hard to describe,” he said. “You dream of doing this, you dream of being here, so to be here, on this field today was very special for me. And I was just thrilled to be able to help this team win.”
Mariani will get another crack at the LP Field excitement next Sunday when the Titans host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville.
Note: Fans can follow Mariani’s rookie season with the Titans with the Havre Daily News and online at www.havredailynews.com.