Marc Mariani said earlier this week that Pro Bowl traditions for rookies include players who make the least amount of money pick up plenty of tabs during their stay in Hawaii. So while he may be out some bucks when he leaves Honolulu, he'll still be leaving with plenty to smile about.
Although the NFC pounded Mariani's AFC squad 55-41 Sunday afternoon in Hawaii, the Tennessee Titans receiver and former Blue Pony star left his own mark on the game by returning nine kickoffs for an astounding 326 yards — both new Pro Bowl records. Mariani shattered the old records of eight returns by former Titan Derek Mason in 2004 and 228 yards by Chicago Bear Jerry Azumah during the same 04' game.
And in breaking records, once again Mariani proved why he belongs on the NFL stage with the game's biggest stars.
Mariani averaged almost 37 yards per return on Sunday with a long of 52 yards. Not only that, but he took almost all of his kicks from five-to-six yards deep in the end zone as Philadelphia's David Akers was booming them all day long.
In fact, Mariani was so busy as the NFC led 42-0 in the second quarter, he nearly broke the yardage record by halftime, and at one point, returned three kickoffs in a span of four minutes earning the praise of FOX analysts Terry Bradshaw and former Ravens head coach Brian Bilick.
But returns weren't all Mariani did on Sunday. He proved his worth to his peers by running a reverse for 11 yards and an AFC first down in the second half, which was one of two reverses the AFC ran for him. And he was in on three special teams tackles, including ironically enough, one in which he helped bring down the Bears' Devin Hester, arguably one of the greatest return specialists in NFL history.
Sunday afternoon also saw the first live-game pass come Mariani's way since the preseason back in August. Mariani had a deep ball thrown his way from Chief's quarterback Matt Cassel, but it fell incomplete.
All week, Mariani worked out with Cassel, as well as NFL veterans Philip Rivers of the Chargers and Payton Manning of the Colts. Mariani, who quickly became a popular figure among the AFC team of veterans this week, was even teased about being Manning's son throughout the week in Hawaii.
And while the NFC players will pick up the $45,000 bonus for the win, and AFC players collect a reported $20,000 for the loss, Mariani will have something only Falcons' tight end Tony Gonzales has from Sunday's game — Pro Bowl records.
"I think I am living in a 'Wow' moment. It is all of it,'' he told reporters this week. "To be able to meet and shake hands with the best football players in the world, it is so exciting. Just walking around and seeing everybody I've just tried to soak it all in and enjoy it.
"It is special.''