Marc Mariani is growing accustomed to playing on some of the grandest stages in football.
He's played at Iowa's famed Kinnick Stadium and in two FCS national championship games.
And that was just in college.
In his brief NFL career, he's already thrilled home crowds at Tennessee's LP Field in Nashville, as well as playing a stellar game at the new Meadowlands Stadium last month against the N.Y. Giants — the NFL's largest venue and the sight of a future Super Bowl.
But on Sunday, Mariani soaked in the experience and made a splash on perhaps the NFL's most famous stage, as well as the sight of the 2011 Super Bowl.
The former Havre Blue Pony, who grew up playing in front of the loyal Blue Pony Stadium crowds in Havre took on the mighty Cowboy Stadium on Sunday in Tennessee's 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
"It's an extravagant place," Mariani said of the new Cowboy Stadium. "It kind of trumps where I was last year, going to places like Idaho State and most of the stadiums I played at in college."
And while Sunday's are for games, and NFL players try and block out what goes on around them, Mariani certainly took notice of what a few billion dollars can do for a game day experience.
"It's got everything and it's all around you," Mariani said. "Walking through the place, there's lounges and clubs and restaurants. There's fountains inside and outside. Then there's the huge video screens and the place holds 100,000 Cowboy fans, it's a pretty extravagant place and it's an incredible game day experience.
"It was an incredible scene," he added. "And a very fun place to play a road game."
A long way from home and Class A football, even a long way from the days of playing at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, the majesty of playing "America's Team" at what is now knows as "America's Stadium" wasn't lost on Mariani.
But when it came to game time, he, like every other NFL player blocked out the pageantry and the surroundings and got down to business.
And when it came time for Mariani to make a play, he did just that, and he did it in front of not only the NFL's most infamous home field advantage, but in front of a national TV audience.
With the Titans and Cowboys tied at 27-27 late in the fourth quarter, and Dallas having just seized momentum, Mariani took an ensuing kickoff and blazed through a wall of Titans and Cowboys. The return was 73 yards and with a face mask penalty tacked on at the end, he set Tennessee up for Chris Johnson's game-winning touchdown from three yards away.
The return, his second-longest of his career was sweet justice for Mariani, who, for a second week in a row, had the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
Last Sunday, Mariani and the Titans' kickoff team couldn't come up with a late kickoff in a loss at home against Denver.
"It was a situation where I wanted to make a play really bad at that point," Mariani, who had 109 yards on three kickoff returns for a sparkling 37.4 average said. "We were close to breaking one against them in the first half and we didn't get it done. We knew it was there for us, and their (Cowboys) 15-yard penalty on the touchdown before gave us a great opportunity.
"When I got the ball at the 20, I knew I was going to have some room," he added. "And the guys up front just did a perfect job and I was able to get through some traffic and I just ran, as fast as I could go."
Mariani, who nearly had his second touchdown in as many weeks if not for a personal foul face mask tackle by Dallas kicker David Buehler, said he wasn't thinking about last week's difficult play as he shielded the bright sunshine from his eyes awaiting Buehler's fourth-quarter kick, but that he was excited about being a part of a possible game-changing play yet again.
And his head coach took notice of just how difficult the play was from the start.
"I don’t think anyone can appreciate how difficult that was with Marc in the sun trying to find the ball in the first place," Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher said in his postgame press conference Sunday. "To find the ball and hit it the way he did, it was just a well-executed play."
And in the end, Mariani did hit it. He hit a home run for his team when the Titans needed him most, and he did it in a place he once maybe didn't think he'd be playing.
"I was excited about having the opportunity at the end of the game," he said. "I really wanted to make a play and it all worked out in the end, and we got a big win on the road.
"It was a fun game, an exciting game to be a part of," he added. "That stadium is a pretty amazing place and it was a lot of fun to go in there and help my team get a win."
Mariani and the Titans will now turn their attention from a famous venue to a famous night. The Titans will next play at the Jacksonville Jaguars Oct. 18 on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
Note: Fans can follow Marc Mariani's rookie season all year long with the Havre Daily News and online at www.havredailynews.com.