Marcus Mariota's heroics takes Tennessee Titans into the next round. By Albert Ainuu
No matter how many times you watch football there are only a few moments which define the legacy of a player and that was broadcast in living color for the world to see in the first round of the NFL Playoffs this year. The teams were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans led by Samoan Quarterback, Marcus Mariota. This was his 3rd year playing in the big league as a highly drafted college player. He was the Heisman Trophy winner in 2014 and was drafted by the Titans in the next draft with high expectations.
Marcus has lived up to the hype in this game which is built on hype. But he has also been challenged. This year was not the year many had envisioned after the success he had in his first two seasons. His numbers declined and the injuries he suffered forced him from the game for a while. As he healed the team continued to win more than they lost. A testament to the resilience of the Defense and the coaching staff. The season ended on an up note as the Titans beat rival Jacksonville Jaguars who were rising steadily as the bad boy defense in the NFL this year. That victory secured their spot in the playoffs with a 9-7 record, which is not that outstanding, bu it gave them the opportunity to compete and that is all Marcus wanted.
Mariota played through a hamstring injury which severely limited his running ability and also affected his accuracy as he threw more interceptions than Touchdowns for the first time in his career. But these were all symptoms of his injuries and these were about to heal in time for the playoffs, the second season of the NFL.
For Tennessee it was their first trip back to the Playoffs for 14 years. The fact that Marcus was able to deliver a playoff spot for the team in 3 seasons spoke volumes of his consistency and mental toughness. One of the outstanding characteristics mentioned whenever Marcus Mariota is discussed is he keeps an even keel with his emotions. Whether they are winning or losing , his outward persona doesnt change much or vary. Although recently he apologized to the media for being terse with them after a loss where he threw for 2 interceptions that cost them the game. But the apology, which stemmed from an "earful" he received from his mother, endeared him even more to fans and media....and even some enemies. That he has been struggling this year is an understatement. Marcus has set such a high standard for himself and the team, which he has brought up from 2-14 the season before he was drafted (2014) to a spot in the playoffs. That is an amazing feat for someone who is 24 and still listens to his Mother.
But the game itself was one for the books. Kansas City had home field advantage in one of the loudest stadiums in the League. The crowd was loud on this day and it paid dividends as the Kansas City Chiefs exploded for 3 touchdowns in the first half. They exposed the youth of the Titan defense and Mariota and the Offense were unable to move the ball with any consistency. It looked bleak indeed for fans of the Titans as the teams came back out for the 2nd half. But this is where legends are made. Not in the sunny climates of peace and comfort. No, the real steel is delivered from the fires of contention and struggle. The struggle was real for the Titans but they responded.
It helped that defensively the Titans came alive under the leadership of the ageless Dick Lebeau, a man who has been coaching in the NFL for over 40 years. When he brought his team to the sideline after they allowed 2 touchdowns in one quarter he spoke to them and they settled down to the tune of allowing only 7 points after their first quarter. Their "Steel Curtain"esque play opened the door for Mariota to display what he had been unable to do most of the season. He played like Marcus Mariota.
In the second half it was no longer a hesitant Mariota. he called most of his own plays and the combination of the hard running by Derrick Henry and the decisive plays made by Mariota turned the game 180 degrees from what had happened 30 minutes before. This was the quietest stadium in America after the start of the 2nd half. The KC fans were unable to believe what was happening on their field. The Titans were destroying them. Play after play, Marcus provided the spark needed to extend drives. He ran for 1st down when the team was unable to move the ball, and those runs were not the smooth fluid runs we were used to seeing. He ran with the gait of an injured gazelle but he was still able to make the yardage needed to secure a 1st down.
Then came the first TD. This play will be remembered by Titans fans for many years to come. The first Mariota to Mariota play ever. As he lined up close to scoring a Touchdown for the Titans Mariota scrambled to avoid the sack and found himself all alone to his left but defenders were waiting for him to run so he passed it and Darrelle Revis of the Chiefs jumped high to block the pass and batted it right back to Marcus who caught it and launched himself into the endzone for the first Titaln score of the game and an amazing statistic. Mariota passing to himself for a touchdown. Fantasy Football fanatics were besides themselves trying to figure out the total points that play alone generated. Only one other person has done a similar play and that was a long time ago. Needless to say it sparked the Titan Offense.
The Titans went on a roll for the next quarter and scored 19 points to add to the 3 they had in the 1st half. They were p by one point 22-21 and they were driving with minutes left, but they had a crucial 3rd down which if they failed to convert would give Kansas City the ball back with enough time for Alex Jones to score or at least get them in place for a field goal and win the game. The crucial play was a third down and 10 yards to go. The play they called was a running play with Derrick Henry. As he started up field the Chiefs Linebacker made a run toward him that would surely stop Derrick from gaining 1st down, but then at the last moment Marcus Mariota, the quarterback of all people threw a block that freed derrick to run more than 15 yards and that was it. The game was over. Tennessee had won its first playoff game in 14 years.
When the dust cleared Marcus Mariota was the hero. There was no doubt this game was won due to the determination of Marcus Ardel Taulauniu Mariota. He made sure the mistakes of the previous games were behind him. He put all the negatives behind him and carried the Titans on his back into the next round of the playoffs. This was a Herculean effort and one that was not apparent at the outset of this game. But by the end of the game what was apparent was Tennessee had seen greatness. They had witnessed the maturing of an athlete and leader. A man was born right before their eyes in the furnaces of Arrowhead Stadium, in the face of 60,000 screaming fans, most not supporting him, he dug deep into his soul and released victory. That was one for the ages indeed. He would enjoy this for maybe one day but now he faces an even tougher test as he goes up against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots
this weekend. We wish him luck and have confidence that the beast inside Marcus has awoken.
And it couldnt have happened to a nicer guy.
Juju Smith-Schuster has broken records in his rookie season with Pittsburg Steelers
laThe season of 2017 in the NFL was truly one that revealed how amazing some of the new talented "rookies", who recently entered the league, were. One of the most successful players in the NFL this season was a second round draft pick from USC in Los Angeles, California. A 6' 2" Samoan wide receiver came onto the scene in 2017 and now he is about to become a household name.
Meet Juju Smith-Schuster. He has blown everyone away with amazing feats of athleticism, speed and strength at such a young age, in fact he is the youngest player in the NFL. He began playing at 20 yrs old.
What was interesting was when he played at USC he was known more for his clutch receiving, being able to get the hard yards when they needed a 1st down. He was the reliable handed receiver who was not afraid to run those difficult routes in the middle of the field and get those yards when USC needed a first down.
He was known more for his physicality than his speed so when he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Steelers there were many who questioned using such a high pick on a player not known for his break away speed which the NFL values so much, especially in receivers. They are the speed merchants of the league and no one wants a slow receiver, If anything all teams are looking to add speed to their squad through the draft. However, the Steelers wanted him bad and they drafted him high. The accepted narrative on Juju was that he was not blazing fast. The EA Sports video game "Madden" only gave him an 86 level for speed. That is not very fast.
Well guess what? They will be upgrading that mistake in the new version of Madden due to Juju's fantastic year where he became the darling of the Steeler Nation (which is no small feat) by showing the fans he was reliable AND fast. In fact he left so many would be tacklers grasping at air when he would break long runs after catching the ball that they no longer consider him a slow receiver.
In two games Juju returned a punt and kick off for touchdowns. The last was in the season ending game against the Browns where the Browns had just scored a tying touchdown that was the highlight of their season, raising the possibility that they may win a game this year. Into the spoiler role stepped Juju. The kickoff from the Browns went straight to him and the poor Browns fans went from jubilation to despair in less than 11 seconds.
Juju caught the ball at the Steeler 4 yard line and then continued to sprint past all the Browns defenders and stiff arm the poor kicker who had the best chance at catching him, on his way to a 96 yard kick off return for a TD. The play took back the lead for the Steelers and they ended the Browns 2017 season: 0-18.
The 2017 Season was a memorable one for this Samoan kid because he brought such a breath of fresh air to a league fighting its own PR issues with players disrespecting the flag during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem. The protests and controversy surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement was casting a shadow over the league and many fans were turned off by this display of disrespect by the players and some coaches.
Into this scenario Juju provided relief. Juju himself is also part African American so the protests could have easily affected him as a player, but he was so excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL and it showed every time he stepped onto that field in his black and gold uniform. We can all safely say Juju was born to be a Steeler. He has the "blue collar" attitude and humility instilled into his muscular frame by his parents and family.
Juju was adopted by his real mother Sammy and her husband Lawrence Schuster when he was quite young. Juju changed his name to add Schuster while at USC to let his Step father know he was proud to be known as his son and that was quite an honor for Lawrence who was at Juju's side as he grew up. It was the right thing to do and Juju made it happen.
Now he makes it happen on the football field for his coaches, teammates and the fans of Pittsburgh who just cannot get enough of Juju.
Early on in the season Juju was brought in sparingly as a wide receiver. Remember this is Pittsburgh with perhaps the best receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown. But Juju's playing time kept increasing to the dismay of Martavis Bryant the number 2 receiver. He was not happy when comparisons were made by some who said Juju was a better receiver than Martavis. He said some things which could have been taken the wrong way by Juju, but he did not allow these to be distractions to him or the team. He showed maturity by focusing on improving his play and being ready whenever he would be called on.
When he did get a chance Juju made the most of it. During one game he amassed the most points for a receiver in that week of fantasy football. He scored 2 touchdowns receiving and a third touchdown when he ran a punt back for over 9o yards and scored a TD. He set the record as the youngest player to ever amass over 1000 all purpose yards total offense in a season.
Juju also showed why he is not your normal receiver. He loves to block. This has been a boon for Steeler running back Laveon Bell, who has become Juju's partner in crime when they celebrate Touchdowns which happen frequently when assisted by Juju's blocking. In one game the Iga ve'a celebration was unveiled. It caught the attention of the fans and from that point on Juju's TD celebrations were a subject of discussion and analyzing for Sports Reports.
Perhaps the most controversial thing Juju did all season was knock out Bengal Linebacker Vontaze Burfict with a big hit, who Juju hit as he was trying to tackle Laveon Bell. The hit was so hard it took Vontaze out of the game. It was a serious hit and the fact that Juju stood over him after the hit was not acceptable to many including Juju himself who apologized after. Juju was fined and penalized for that, however Juju became even more embraced by teammates and fans for that hit.
The main reason so many were estatic with that hit was because Vontaze is known as a dirty player on a rival team and he had intentionally sought to hurt Steeler all star Antonio Brown in a dirty play the prior season. The hit he took from Juju was seen by many as payback however, Juju was just playing physical ball which he has been known for from SC.
The records Juju has established in the NFL are impressive when it is taken into account how young he is. Rookies do not rise into the top contention for receiver in any team much less one with talented receivers as Pittsburgh is blessed with. That has set Juju apart, and while doing his thing, the skill players on the team are not threatened by his exuberance.
Steeler quarterback Ben Rothlisberger is a big fan of Juju's and he has fun trying to keep him in check during practice, but during the games Ben has shown great faith in the rookie with throws to him when they need those crucial yards like USC used to do and Juju usually responded with a game changing play.
Its hard not to like Juju, He is so full of energy and when he smiles the whole world feels good. Its contagious and when he plays something good always happens. Lets wish the Steelers much success during the playoffs this year.
And who knows there maybe another ring for the Steel City coming soon. If it happens then they made the right choice drafting Number 19 in the second round.
Summarizing the NFL Draft. 7 Polynesians drafted in 2016.
By Namulauulu Alapati
The 2016 Draft has come and gone. Unlike last year there was no fanfare and debate as to who was the best Quarterback in the nation, as was the case involving our own Marcus Mariota and eventual number 1 pick, Jameis Winston. That draft, 2015, was pivotal because it was when Samoans became synonymous with Superstardom on the highest level in professional sports in the USA.
The draft is such an over-hyped event which seems to bring out the worst in many a young man trying to impress the public. It also exposes the individual to the storms of media and journalistic extravagance. For a young man unfamiliar with the almost overwhelming attention it might cause stress and mishaps which have caused slips in the draft for some very highly touted athletes.
This year's NFL draft was not immune to such an outcome for several athletes whose stock suffered by virtue of videos that were posted which revealed drug activity, or injuries which were cause for teams to back away unwilling to take the risk. The Draft is a beacon for the league and those in college trying to enter the lucrative NFL. With contracts entering the ridiculous amount of $100 million over the course of the contract (some 7 years, others longer) the magic term now is guaranteed money and that amount has reached the 70 million dollar mark. With Andrew Luck's contract about to be renegotiated, the consensus is that we will witness a contract unlike any seen before for a NFL player. The business side of this sport is now becoming extremely difficult for teams to make a stupid choice. The business side of the game has become as important as the Combine when evaluating the potential of prospect prior to the draft.
In this year's draft there were alot of Polynesian players who benefited by the demise of one of the top draft picks. Ronnie Stanley an Offensive Lineman from Notre Dame whose mother is Tongan, was selected Number 6 by the Baltimore Ravens and Deforest Buckner of Oregon who is Samoan, a Defensive Lineman was selected number 7 by the San Francisco 49ers.
They were slotted to be taken in that area but with the fall of the projected top pick Laremy Tunsil after a video of him smoking pot emerged on line, they moved up in the process. These moves in the first round are measured in millions of dollars. Tunsil's fall cost him probably $10-15 million since he was projected to be the number one pick at one point.
Both Ronnie and Deforest were considered in the top of the Draft after great collegiate careers, and they were smart enough to know the ramifications of any misstep this close to the draft. Having Marcus Mariota's extraordinary example to follow did not hurt as they kept their focus on having great seasons prior to the draft and impressing the pros with a combination of size, dedication, humility and work ethic. This seems to be the winning formula which is working for our Samoan and Polynesian football players.
Other Samoans who were taken in this years draft include Su'a Cravens of USC taken by the Washington Redskins in the 2nd round and then Isaac Seumalo of Oregon State who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 3rd Round.
Polynesians as a whole were well represented. Kamalei Correa from Hawaii joined Ronnie Stanley at Baltimore as a 2nd round pick, Bronson Kaufusi a Tongan also went in the 3rd round to Baltimore. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, another Tongan was selected by the Eagles in the 5th round.
Other notable free agents who were selected but not drafted included Ian Seau of Nevada taken by the Los Angeles Rams, Alex Fifita to the Falcons, David Moala and Kyle Peko to the Denver Broncos, Manoa Pikula to the Green Bay Packers, Ka'imi Fairbairn to the Texans, Sione Houma to the Saints, Destiny Vaeao to the Eagles, Jay Fanaika to the 49ers and Lene Maiava to the Seahawks.
The numbers are pretty intimidating when looking at how many collegiate players are vying for the less than 2000 positions in the NFL every year. The rookie class is coming in with a desire to unseat those already established in the league. The turnover has to happen because the cost of keeping older players does not match their productivity. Players who are lucky enough to make the team must step up to the level of these top notch athletes and show they belong. Unseating a veteran is not an easy job. This is why this class of Polynesian football players is so blessed and must make the best of this opportunity.
We here at Le Malae salute this 2016 class of NFL rookies of Polynesian and Samoan descent and wish them well as they compete for a position in the game.
SHAKE 'EM OUT OF THE COCONUT TREES