Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota may be far removed from his days living in Hawaii, but he’s certainly still beloved by fans in his home state.
HONOLULU, Hawaii—Justin Davis rolled his eyes, making it clear what he thought of the question.
Still, given his attire, it had to be asked: Would Davis, a boy local to Hawaii, support the newest Tennessee Titan, Hawaii’s favorite son and the 2015 Heisman winner? Would Davis show up in a Marcus Mariota jersey?
“My favorite teams,” Davis said defiantly as he pointed to his white and red Colin Kaepernick jersey, “are the Niners, the Niners and the Niners.” Older brother Tommy, 15 and wearing the exact same top, nodded in agreement before offering this: “I guess we can like [Mariota], because he’s one of us. But we could not root for him in any situation where the Titans played San Francisco.”
About 30 fans gathered Sunday morning at the Saint Louis Crusader Lounge, a space run by the alumni association of Saint Louis—Mariota's high school—and a spot that, in the last 10 months, has doubled as a home for the Marcus Mariota fan club. It’s where locals went to watch Mariota and Oregon on their march to the national championship game last year, where Mariota held his invitation-only draft party and, for the rest of the NFL season, where fans can catch every Titans game. Sunday there were loud cheers and louder groans as Cleveland recorded seven sacks on its way to a 28–14 victory.
“I think Marcus has spent more time on the ground today than he did his entire career at Oregon,” said Keith Haina, a 1987 Saint Louis graduate and JV coach at the high school. “Look at all those grass stains. We need to get him a new jersey.”
Mariota finished the day 21 of 37 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. It was a noticeable difference from his regular season debut last week, when he posted a perfect passer rating (158.3), completing 13 of 16 for 209 yards and four touchdowns in a showdown against No. 1 pick Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay in a 42–14 Tennessee rout. On the surface, Mariota’s Week 2 performance might look like a letdown. But in this state, where pride and love for locals runs deep, it’s all aloha.
“The beautiful thing about this game is that there’s always another sunrise,” said Vinny Passas, the longtime Saint Louis quarterbacks coach and a close confidant of Mariota’s. “And after this game, that’s what I’ll tell him.”
Passas, a ‘74 Saint Louis grad, helped organize the Mariota watch party. Known to locals as “The Clubhouse,” the Crusader Lounge—which taps out at a capacity of 350 people and features a full bar, conference room and rental hall—typically stays closed on Sundays. But demand for Mariota, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL draft and a Honolulu native, was too high to keep the doors shut.
Though the local Fox affiliate in Honolulu brokered a deal to broadcast every Titans game this season, there was no guarantee each game would be played live. Realizing delays wouldn’t work for everyone, The Clubhouse purchased DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket and used word of mouth to spread news of breakfast watch parties. There’s no kitchen at the Crusader Lounge, so the SLAA arranged Sunday for rice, eggs, sausage and bacon to be brought in and served buffet style, for $5 a plate.
Bar tenders poured bloody marys, children ran around playing pretend football and patrons debated the pros and cons of drafting Mariota to their fantasy teams. Haina, who plays in two fantasy leagues, says Mariota is both the most popular and the most unwanted: “He’s inspired so much school pride, some guys who went to other high schools are like, ‘I’m from Punahou, I’m not taking a Saint Louis guy, you have him!’”
A group of women from Honolulu’s Queen’s Medical Center, who work as nurses and administrators and have no direct tie to Mariota, showed up 10 strong, decked out in Titans wear. Almost every person in attendance had on some Mariota-related item, from a Titans jersey to a Ducks hat to a special Saint Louis Heisman tee. The boys in Kaepernick jerseys, who didn’t realized they walked into a Mariota party, sat in the corner quietly cheering the 49ers.
Manager Tina Deitschman, also clad in a Mariota Titans jersey, says she anticipates a spike in attendance over the season, and that later start times will help; the 7 a.m. HST kickoff doesn’t exactly jive with the local 6 a.m. mass offering, or on a place known for “island time.” But she thinks that by the end of the season, locals will be spilling into the parking lot.
The Clubhouse Hall, Deitschman noted, is always available to rent, though scheduling at the same time as Tennessee might not be the smartest move.
“If you try to do something during a Titans game, you better figure out how and where to park,” she said. “Because here, Marcus is the priority.”