No cheering in the press box. It’s the first rule of sports writing. But there I was in the area of the Saint Louis Clubhouse reserved for media last Thursday, applauding heartily when Marcus Mariota’s name was called as the second pick in the NFL Draft, by the Tennessee Titans, and reaching out to offer congratulations and shake hands with Jeff “Hawk” Hawkins, director of football operations at the University of Oregon, who I met through his Honolulu pal Ed Nishioka.
Marcus, you see, I’ve come to take personally, in a way no other story has affected me in my career. Partly, it’s that I’m an Oregon alum and love my Ducks. Mostly, it’s having gotten to know Marcus and his parents Toa and Alana.
It started in October 2012 when I interviewed them before flying up to Eugene to interview Marcus for a MidWeek cover story (Google “mariota midweek chapman”). With their help, I set out to write the definitive story on Marcus. That’s where the oft-repeated story of his fourth-grade essay at Nuuanu Elementary, in which he wrote he wanted to play in the NFL, got its start. It’s one of many details from that cover story that have been borrowed but never quoted by other media. Apparently, there is no such thing as plagiarism on national TV. But it’s OK — in a way I was still telling Marcus’ story.
There’s also this: In this business, you quickly develop a rather sensitive B.S.-ometer. Marcus is genuine. You can trust what he says.
And there’s this:Whether it’s sports or music or any other endeavour , greatness leaps out, and journalists are as drawn to it as fans.
The draft’s timing on April 30 was, well, daft. It was April 28, 2012, that Marcus had his national breakout in Oregon’s intrasquad spring game on ESPN, giving us a glimpse of what might be possible. So in just three years and two days, he went from unknown to the No. 2 pick in the draft.
“Over the years we’ve had great players, and I thought no way we can replace him, but we did,” said Hawk, who has been generous with the University of Oregon Alumni Association’s Hawaii chapter in helping raise scholarship funds for Island kids to attend UO. “But with Marcus, there is absolutely no way we can replace everything he has meant to Oregon football, and to people in two states.”
Oregon media, I’m told by friends up there, was as wall-to-wall in its coverage of Marcus and the draft as Hawaii media. He has, in a way, elevated people in both states.
I’ve seen and sensed what a great young man Marcus is. That was on display again last Thursday, as he stood and amiably greeted (with lei up to his ears), each of the hundreds of friends, family and former teachers, coaches and team-mates who were invited to the draft day party. Having touched and inspired every life there, he was now reaching out to shake hands, chatting and posing for photos and throwing his arms around shoulders, gracious and smiling all the while.
When at last I had a moment with him, I reminded him of our first meeting in the fall of 2012.
“It’s amazing what you’ve done since then,” I said.
“It’s been crazy, unbelievable,” he said.
Believe it. And believe that he’s just scratching the surface of his greatness, both on and off the field.
“Thanks for your support,” he said as I left. That’s Marcus.
As those of us in Hawaii and Oregon can attest, folks in Tennessee just got lucky.
(For more photos, see Page 51.)