By Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean
Marc Mariani felt the pain. He saw and heard the other players react. They told him not to look down, but he did.
the Titans wide receiver saw was his left ankle "just kind of hanging
there." The bones in his lower left leg were shattered.
Mariani, whose underdog story made him a fan favorite, immediately wondered about his career.
was a scared feeling of, 'this could be it.' Your mind immediately goes
to, 'is this the last play I'll ever play? Is this the end of my
career?' " Mariani said Monday. "That was kind of my worry from the
He quickly snapped out of it, about the same time the
team's medical staff put the bones back in place. As he was carted off
LP Field early in the preseason game against the Cardinals, he asked for
his cell phone. Morphine could wait.
"When I got in the
ambulance, that's the first thing I did - I called my mom," Mariani
said. "That's the only thing I could think about, and she was obviously
distraught and in a panic. I tried to calm her down and let her know it
was going to be all right."
He immediately went into surgery at
Baptist Hospital to repair the compound fracture, and three nights later
he was home with his mother, father and girlfriend.
not suffer any ligament or tendon damage, but the recovery could take a
year. He's in a cast, crutches by his side, but hopes to be back on the
field for training camp in 2013.
"It all happened so fast, and
I'm not going to lie, it was scary," he said. "Now I just have to have
patience and have faith that everything is going to turn out OK in the
Mariani's tibia and fibula snapped above his left
ankle, and it wasn't a clean break - "It kind of exploded a little bit,"
He watched a replay of the gruesome injury on YouTube.
felt it when I got stepped on, and I knew it hurt, I knew it wasn't
right," Mariani said. "And when I was laying on the ground is when I
reached down and looked at, and I saw it and it was obviously crooked.
And then the reaction by some of the other guys - that's when I knew it
was gone. I felt it, and grabbed it and it kind of flopped over, and
that was beyond painful.
"... It was a scary feeling. Your ankle is not supposed to look like that.''
He's now able to find humor in the moment, however.
is a funny picture of my ankle just kind of hanging there and the ball
still high and tight in my arms," said Mariani, who was returning a
punt. "I made a joke I still have ball security, even though my ankle is
Long, tough recovery
Doctors told Mariani the bones could heal and be stronger than ever, he said. A rod was placed in his lower leg during surgery.
Two orthopedic surgeons with no direct knowledge of Mariani's injury told The Tennessean that a player with such breaks could return to the field in anywhere from six months to a year.
receiver Kenny Britt, who has yet to practice or play since suffering a
torn ACL last September, said Mariani can expect to face challenges
he's not used to.
"It is hard. Mentally they'll tell you they are
OK. I know he is going to go through some things," Britt said. "The
first couple of months is the hardest because you can't move around and
do things for yourself like you are used to. You just have to lean on
"It will take him time to go through rehab and learn how to walk again, but he will do it. He is tough.''
year Mariani suffered an ankle injury that nagged him throughout the
season, but he bounced back through the offseason and training camp with
what offensive coordinator Chris Palmer called "outstanding" play.
wide receiver Damian Williams: "It stinks for him, and it stinks for
us. He was a big part of our team, does a lot of things for us. I wish
him a speedy recovery."
Facing his fears
When the Titans picked Mariani in the seventh round of the 2010
draft, plenty of analysts scratched their heads. But the former Montana
wideout had a great rookie season and made it to the Pro Bowl as a
Having already overcome long odds to remain on an NFL roster, Mariani said he's ready for the next test.
is just another mountain to climb," he said. "This is a different type
of adversity than I've ever experienced before, but I know I have to be
patient and work through it. I am going to give it all I've got. I'm not
afraid of battle, I'm not afraid of adversity. I just have to pick
myself up, and I know I have a lot of support."
supporters include his mother, Julie, and father, Steve. They were
watching the game in Montana and quickly flew to Nashville. His
girlfriend, Carly, will serve as his nurse for several months.
is a bummer and it is devastating that my year ended so soon," Mariani
said. "... But I am definitely not going to get down on myself. I am going
to have full optimism and full confidence that it's going to be back
100 percent. My plan is to get back on the field."