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VOL. 36 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 31, 2012

No guarantees, even for good guys

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Marc Mariani had improved his preseason receiving numbers (four catches, 68 yeards), inproving his value for the upcoming season.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

People often have a jaded view of the NFL.

Yes, they see the best football players the country and some of the best athletes the world has to offer.

They see the millions being handed out to players, and the billions being raked in by owners from everything to sweetheart stadium deals to lucrative TV packages.

Certainly, there is a cold business side of professional football that many people who are even fans of the game cannot relate to, especially when it comes to the money, glitz and glamour that goes with the fame of professional football.

There are certainly too many stories of players who have too much money in their pockets, too much time on their hands in the off-season and too many arrests on their records. But that doesn’t include everyone who plays in the NFL.

In fact, in every locker room in the league, there are guys who still make it easy to root for them because of the what they have overcome or because they just happen to be good people.

Marc Mariani is one of the good guys, which made his gruesome preseason injury particularly hard to watch. He’s a player who seems to “get it,” to understand just how blessed he is to be playing professional football.

For those who don’t know, Mariani’s season ended in a meaningless preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, running back a routine kickoff when his lower left leg was bent the wrong way on a hit and snapped. If you haven’t seen it and have a strong stomach, you can find it on YouTube.

The diagnosis: compound fracture. Broken tibia and broken fibula. Immediate surgery. Season over, career now in question.

Mariani, if you’re not familiar with his story, is your classic overachiever. See him on the street and you would never mistake him for a professional football player. He stands 6-1 and weighs 190 pounds, numbers that seem exaggerated considering his slight frame.

A seventh-round, 2010 draft pick still in his rookie contract, he also on the low end of the salary scale. His signing bonus was less than $60,000.

The Titans drafted him after he had starred at the FCS level at the University of Montana, where had had originally been a walk-on. Most observers figured it was some sort of favor done by former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose son Brandon was a friend of Mariani when they played together at Montana.

Given the chance in camp, Mariani quickly proved his abilities. When Damian Williams suffered a minor injury in training camp that year, Mariani seized the opportunity and went on to become a Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie, taking back both a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns that season.

Last year, when the kickoff rules were changed, Mariani and most return men were adversely affected. There were some who thought Mariani might even lose his roster spot unless he developed his skills as a pass receiver, something he did in camp and in preseason.

Now Mariani will have to go through a long recovery process with no guarantees of what lies ahead.

His positive attitude was on display even after surgery when he tweeted a smiling photo of himself on crutches with the damaged leg wrapped.

“First time on crutches! Headed down the hall! Baby steps baby!! #day2,” the tweet read.

The odds may be longer than ever, but don’t think for a minute that Mariani won’t fight his way back for another chance.

“Baby steps baby!!”

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