Following Sunday’s NFL football game against the Denver Broncos at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee Titans’ receiver and former Havre Blue Pony star Marc Mariani talked about the highs and lows in the game of football.
And just minutes into the third quarter of Denver’s 26-20 win, Mariani experienced the ultimate high for any NFL player, let alone a rookie seventh-round pick from the University of Montana.
After Denver kicked a field goal to open the second half, Mariani took the ensuing kickoff and raced through open space, down the right sideline and into the endzone for a speedy and magical first-ever touchdown in the NFL. The return was 98 yards from start to finish and was not only Mariani’s first of what looks to be many more to come, but it was the first kickoff return for a score by any Titan in nine years.
“That’s awesome, that return, it’s a feeling you can’t really explain,” Mariani said. “I saw green grass and we hit it, it was set up perfectly, the guys in front of me were perfect. That’s what it’s supposed to look like when you execute.
“Crossing the line,” he added. “70,000 people screaming, it was pretty cool.”
Mariani had a huge day statistically for the Titans, returning six kickoffs for a whopping 187 yards. On his next return following his TD, he had a solid 30-yard return. He also returned one punt for nine yards and played extensively at receiver as Tennessee lost starter Justin Gage to injury during the second quarter.
But as exciting as his first career TD was Sunday, Mariani and his kickoff return unit also had a difficult moment towards the end of the game. The Broncos scored the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes to play and on the ensuing kickoff, the ball came up way short and bounced in between Mariani and his up-backs. The “live” ball also took a high hop and as Mariani went up to snag it, he was hit by a Bronco and the ball sailed loose and was recovered by Denver.
The Broncos scored a field goal and Tennessee had one more shot to win the game after a solid final return by Mariani.
“They were kicking into the wind,” Mariani said. “I was short to begin with but it just died. I was yelling as loud as I could, ‘Short! Short!,’ but that’s my responsibility to make that play.
“We are not looking to blame anything on anybody,” Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher said in his postgame press conference. “That ball held up. Marc was lined up short. We moved our front line up. That ball got held up in the wind. There was a gust of wind and it actually went backwards, or stalled and came straight down. So, they got a unique bounce. It was one of those things that sums up the game.”
And while there was no way to know if Tennessee would have overtaken the Broncos had the unusual kickoff play not happened, Mariani, ever the competitor and ever now the professional, took his roller coaster day and put it all in perspective.
“There’s ups and downs in this game, highs and lows, today I got both,” Mariani said. “All that matters is the win, and we didn’t get that today. That’s all that matters to every guy in this locker room.
“I felt great that I made a big play to help this team win and I feel even worse that we had a play that could have turned the game in our favor but went the opposite way. It was one of those days with highs and lows, so I’m just going to get the film, go back to work and keep getting better.”
Mariani, who is now fourth in the NFL in kickoff returns, and the Titans (2-2) are back on the road on Sunday to take on the Dallas Cowboys.