Marc Mariani is on his way to the first Pro Bowl in his young, but exciting NFL career.
However, a stop-over in his home town became what will likely be the biggest event of 2011, even with most of the year still to come.
Mariani was at the Havre Holiday Village Mall Sunday to sign autographs and meet fans, and what was originally billed as a three-hour session, turned into a scene unlike any I've seen in all my years covering, being a part of, or just being around the Havre sports landscape.
Fans lined the mall early Sunday morning and the session didn't end until 12:20 a.m. Monday morning — a mere eight hours after the intended cut off line.
And was I surprised so many people turned out to either meet, support or just see the former Havre Blue Pony and Montana Grizzly star? The answer is an emphatic no.
The fact that the kids who got the chance to meet Mariani and have him sign their jersey's, pictures, cards and mini helmets can now say they live in the same town or went to the same school that their now-favorite NFL player did means the world to them, and it showed on Sunday.
As I walked through the mall speaking with and observing so many people I knew, I could not escape the fact that the young people in line throughout the day were seemingly more excited about being there to meet their hero than they probably were just a few weeks ago on Christmas morning. It was just what I imagined if I could have gotten the chance to meet Michael Jordan or any of my own childhood idols.
That's what Sunday was about — the kids of this community having a role model they can honestly and truly look up to, and on top of it all, having the chance to say they met him, to say they shook hands with him and get their picture taken with him.
To a young person, that's a moment that will never be forgotten and to many, it will have a profound effect on their lives. And it's also what makes Marc Mariani such a unique and special professional athlete.
Let's face it, at autograph sessions just like that all over the country, when it's advertised 1-4 p.m., you can bet your bottom dollar, it's going to end at 4 p.m. no matter how long the line. But that's not who Mariani is. I know he genuinely appreciates the overwhelming support he's received on his way to NFL stardom, and he showed the kind of class individual he is yet again on Sunday by staying until the last autograph was signed.
Those are the type of things Mariani does and it's a lesson a lot of professional athletes can learn from. He carries himself with class and integrity and, at least in these parts, he's so much more than just a very good football player, we, as a community know he's a great person and someone the youth of Havre and the Hi-Line can, and will always be able to look up to. And that's one of the many reasons Havre, as well as people from all over the area showed up in droves to see him on a cold, windy and snowy winter day in Havre.
So here's a special thanks to all of those who worked so hard to put such an amazing day together. Cheers to all of you who were able to make it to the mall and be a part of such a great event. As always, Havre never ceases to amaze me when it comes to the community supporting great causes, like Sunday's event, which also raised money for several different local charities. And when it comes to supporting great people and it's great athletes, like in so many other ways, Havre is a special place when it comes to those types of things and it makes me proud to be part of this community.
And most of all, here's a special thanks to Marc, simply for being the type of person, and the type of athlete we can all be proud of, and someone we can all learn from and look up to. And also for giving your home town a day it will never forget.
And what a day, and night it was.