NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Marc Mariani was ecstatic when the Tennessee Titans drafted the Montana Grizzly in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The Havre native would repay the organization with a trip the Pro Bowl his rookie season, where he would set records in the return game. Years later the Titans would cut ties with Mariani, who landed in Chicago. In September, he went full circle, returning to Music City.
“We had to pack up and move to Chicago and then we had to pack up and move right back when those things happened but it’s part of the business. I always kept an eye on what was going on here and always thought, ‘What would it take to get back there?’ Every time I was a free agent or looking for more work I was checking to see what the roster looked like and when things didn’t go my way in Chicago and I got the call from Mr. Robinson I was ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it. It’s great and I’m trying to help this team win by doing my part, I know my role and I’m excited about it.”
Fans in Nashville have added to the commotion with the Titans are in the playoff hunt. Despite being with the team for only three months, Mariani says he could tell there was a change of culture inside the locker room.
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“It’s an exciting place to work, everyone likes to come in and go to work, making each other better. We joke a lot, we play a lot, we hang out a lot outside the office but when it’s time to work we work. That’s the one thing I noticed about this team right when I showed up, we practice hard and it’s paying off.”
NFL rule changes have made the return game more challenging for players, including Mariani. Kickoffs often sail into the end zone and players must be quick to decide between taking a knee or pushing the odds on a return.
“It’s tough and I think it really adds another element to the kick return game. You have to be back there making good decisions and doing what’s right for the team because if you catch the ball in the end zone you get it at the 25 but you see guys every week get stopped inside the 20 and that hurts your offense. It’s not like it used to be, there aren’t as many opportunities but it’s definitely a huge role because it’s important to start those drives as good as you can.”
Last season Mariani took numerous reps at wide receiver, catching 22 passes for the Bears. Though his offensive snaps have dwindled with the Titans, Mariani says he can fill in at a moment’s notice.
“When my number is called, I’ll be ready. I prepare every week like a starter and go back and forth with the guys getting those reps to make sure we’re on the same page. It only takes one play in this league and I’ve been on both sides of that, I’ve been taken out and given the opportunity, so I stay ready to go and when they call for 87 I’m ready.”
Griz fans are still getting used to the number 87. After donning 83 in his first stint with Tennessee, Mariani wore 80, his number with Montana, during his time with the Bears. The number on the jersey may be different, but his Grizzly ties remain.
“I pay attention pretty closely and I keep in touch with some of those guys. Some of the guys on the Griz staff I played with so we keep in touch and I see those records going up in smoke every week, all those offensive records, but it’s all good. I want to see those guys win. I’m a big Griz fan now since I’m an old washed up has-been up there so I look for them every Saturday and talk smack to the opposition. That’s my role now.”
Washed up and has been? I don’t think so my friend.