Working a football game from the press box comes with a warning: “No cheering.” And by-and-large, everyone abides by this rule.
But sometimes, an athlete makes a play so spectacular, it elicits a reaction.
Take last week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. With Oregon leading Arizona 30-7 in the third quarter, most of the reporters were just waiting for the minutes to tick away so we could finish our articles by deadline. And yet, Marcus Mariota managed to do something that inspired a collective “ooooh” from everyone in the Levi’s Stadium press box.
Some players have “Heisman moments.” That play was one Mariota could add to the Heisman Highlight Reel.
“If this guy isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said after the Pac-12 Championship, “Then I’m in the wrong profession.”
Helfrich won’t need to find a new line of work.
Mariota is one of three finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, which is to be presented Saturday night. But in all reality, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper are in New York City as a formality. Only Marcus Mariota has to worry about his airline charging extra to check a bronze statue.
It’s a long time coming for Mariota, who has been one of college football’s best players each of his three seasons quarterbacking the Ducks. He deserved Heisman consideration as a freshman and sophomore, but was unfortunately snubbed each season, the result of late-season losses.
That he was so harshly docked for sub-par performances in 2012 and 2013 isn’t a criticism of Marcus Mariota. Rather, it’s a testament to just how high he set the bar.
We’ve come to expect nothing short of the incredible from Mariota — so much so that anything falling short of incredible is seen as unsatisfactory. Conversely, his showcases of the remarkable became routine — perhaps mundane, even.
That made the audible reaction to his deep ball in the Pac-12 Championship Game all the more noteworthy. Mariota’s conditioned the audience to anticipate the remarkable, and yet here he is in one of his last games as a Duck still surprising even the most jaded of college football’s followers.
After his season ends with the conclusion of Oregon’s stay in the College Football Playoff, Mariota is almost assuredly bound for the NFL draft.
There’s no telling how his pro career will pan out, but no matter if he’s Canton-bound or the next Heisman bust, Marcus Mariota leaves an indelible impression on college football.
Someone lifts the Heisman Trophy at the end of every season and enters into the most exclusive of fraternities. Within that club is another sub-sect; the “Best of the Best,” if you will.
And you can just call Marcus Mariota “Eric Roberts.”
Without besmirching the accomplishments of any past Heisman recipients, there are those whose performances aren’t exactly forgotten, but don’t live in the same lore as others.
Mariota is one player whose game-day exploits will be discussed years from now, in the same way former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward or Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders are remembered.
I know I will talk Marcus Mariota and his many jaw-dropping plays for years to come, albeit from the comfort of my living room. I have no intention of violating the no-cheering-in-the-press-box rule.