Marc Mariani did everything right in the offseason and he came into the 2012 NFL preseason with the Tennessee Titans ready to prove himself worthy of an increased role as a wide receiver.
He didn’t want to be known as just a return specialist anymore. Unfortunately, it was returning a punt which has now derailed Mariani’s 2012 season.
The former Blue Pony and Montana Grizzly great suffered a horrific fracture of both the left tibia and fibula while returning a first-quarter punt during Thursday night’s nationally-televised preseason game between the Titans and the Arizona Cardinals at LP Field in Nashville.
Mariani was treated by the Titans’ training staff immediately on the field, then was loaded on to a cart and taken to a Nashville hospital where he underwent surgery late Thursday night. The game was being televised live on ESPN and replays showed the horrifying break. ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber initially reported that Mariani had suffered a fractured tibia, but a Titans’ spokesperson confirmed later in the game that Mariani had suffered a complete compound fracture of his lower left leg. No recovery time table has been set, but the injury typically takes 10-12 months to recover from.
Mariani had already returned the opening kickoff of the game 29 yards and the punt return in which he was injured gained 14 yards. He was slated to once again be the Titans’ No. 1 return man, despite an excellent showing by teammate Darius Reynaud in the preseason. But it was his increased role as a receiver which had Titans’ players and coaches excited for him, and then devastated on Thursday night.
“I am very disappointed, I feel terrible for him,” Titans head coach Mike Munchak said in the postgame press conference. “Just going out and obviously seeing the pain that he was in, you know those things like that came happen. Stuff like that, as bad as that is, it’s just so hard to see guys that worked so hard this past offseason, develop his receiver skills and a guy that the quarterbacks really counted on and trusted. We just saw him being great in that role along with the return game. That’s a big loss for us.”
Mariani is in his third season with the Titans. He broke into the league as a Pro Bowl returner in 2010 and set a Titans’ record for most return yards in a season that year. He was again outstanding in the return game
in 2011, but in the 2012 preseason, he was seeing much more action as a slot receiver. He had four catches in two games and led the Titans in receiving yards two weeks ago at Seattle. He would have likely saw action in the first half of Thursday night’s game with the No. 1 offense.
Mariani is also highly respected in the Titans’ lockerroom. He’s known as a hard worker and a team-first player who has quickly become a fan favorite in Nashville. While being carted off the field Thursday night, many teammates went to talk to him, including kicker Rob Bironas, another close friend of the Havre native. Several Cardinals also went to speak with Mariani before he was taken out of the stadium, including Cardinals’ star receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Mariani waved to the LP Field crowd for several seconds as he was taken off the field.
“You know just a guy that is not only important to this team, but is one of my good buddies,” Tennessee starting quarterback Jake Locker said. “It’s unfortunate because of his charisma and the way he can change the game through special teams. It’s tough to lose a guy like that, but he’s a hard worker. You’ll see him back here as soon as he can be. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”