Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans don’t find the national spotlight too often. Out of 32 team cities, Nashville is 30th in terms of NFL television markets.
For context: Portland, Ore. has a better media market than Nashville, Tenn. That’s an indictment on Nashville, by the way—not a testament to Rip City, which sits in the No. 25 spot nationally as of this writing.
Mariota, however, continues to represent the Pacific Northwest in a way that translates both on and off the field, regardless of how many people tune in to see him week after week.
On Monday night, Mariota’s Titans took on the Dallas Cowboys in ESPN’s Monday Night Football game of the week. In the end, the Oregon product threw for 240 yards on 21-of-29 tosses, collected two scores through the air, snagged one on the ground (in non-sneak fashion) and avoided a single giveaway en route to a 28-14 win over Dak Prescott’s squad—the team located in the fifth-largest television market in the United States.
As little success (opportunity?) as Mariota has had during meaningful games 4.5 years into his career, he’s become known as a player who can explode for a big game, break off a viral run or earn the spotlight because of a highlight play at any moment. Consider his red zone success: The Flyin’ Hawaiian has just one interception in the red zone over the course of his entire career—a pick thrown in an overseas game.
No, Mariota is not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Not yet. He and his team have plenty to prove before we start having that conversation.
But this guy continues to look smooth as silk on turf and must have natural butter oozing from his pores. (It’s a gross thought, but how else do you explain his ability to escape a closing pocket at every level in which he’s ever played?)
Quite frankly, in a day and age where we hear so much about bad guys in sports, entertainment and politics—anywhere you turn, really—we can’t discredit what this human person who happens to play football does off the field as well. Because also on Monday night, Mariota made headlines ensuring a young fan got his moment:
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 6, 2018
It’s a small gesture, but if you’ve never been in that kid’s shoes, you don’t have a clue what it means.
John Canzano added some necessary and accurate editorializing:
You can teach this kind of stuff. Mr and Mrs Mariota apparently did. https://t.co/rP5BGsKbhl
— John Canzano (@johncanzanobft) November 6, 2018
Mariota’s appeal becomes even more apparent when you compare him to the quarterback who went No. 1 in the 2015 draft, just a single spot ahead of him. We won’t get into the weeds here, but comparing Mariota to Jameis Winston is like comparing The Office’s Michael Scott and Todd Packer. The former will work hard, fumble the ball every now again, but ultimately get the buy-in of his teammates—not to mention just about everyone tuning in (there will be haters, though). The latter will be gross and sexually assault women.
(That’s us not getting into the weeds, by the way. The rabbit hole goes deep with the one we know as Jameis. But, as you can imagine, there will be those who laugh and move on because it’s entertainment and not real life to them.)
This exchange we saw on Monday night isn’t the first time we’ve tuned in for the product on the field and been given a reason to stick around. Consider the following exchange, over the course of a football game, between Mariota, his teammates and the officials calling his game.
None of this, by the way, is to say you must root for Mariota. Maybe you like your QBs with a little more swag. Maybe you can only root for a team ready to contend. Maybe you’re an Oregon State fan with PTSD.
Maybe you’re an admitted Oregon apologist. But in this one instance, surrounding this one player, you have nothing to apologize for—and that’s kind of the point.
Regardless of who you are and where your allegiances line up, Mariota gives regular people from a relatively small market someone to root for and someone you can feel good about.
We need a bit more of that these days, both in and outside of sports. Where you find inspiration and whom you decide to look up to is up to you, but in a time when we value (and maybe more importantly, critique) players from a dual-perspective with more human elements in mind, Mariota should be near the top of your list.
That has become very clear over the years. Both on and off the field.