NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Before every home game, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota walks out to the field for warm-ups with the mellow song “Polynesian People” by Norm playing over the stadium speakers. Those lyrics remind Mariota of who he represents every time he plays football.
We are the people of the Polynesian islands
We hold the proud blood that runs into this Earth
We know that love is the key to all, we must conquer in this life
This was the message left by our ancestors
Mariota’s quiet and humble demeanor was taught and cultivated in Hawaii. That’s why, if you heard Alabama QB and fellow Hawaii native Tua Tagovailoa speak after winning the national championship Monday night, his interview answers sounded a lot like Mariota’s. They share a relationship and a Polynesian culture.
“Really, it’s just a way of life,” Mariota said. “It’s always about us, it’s always about the community. It’s never about I or what you’re doing. When you carry yourself that way, it’s important that you remember that you represent much more than yourself.”
Mariota, who was born in Honolulu and is of Samoan descent, was named the 2016 Polynesian pro player of the year by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. He’s extremely proud of his culture and home state. That showed when he chose to watch the draft from Honolulu with his family instead of Chicago. It shows every time we hear “Polynesian People” when he comes out to the field for a Titans game.
For many Polynesian and/or Hawaiian kids, Mariota is the torchbearer and ideal role model. He has reached some of the highest places, and he hasn’t been hesitant to reach back for those following him.
“I’ve always hoped that I can help in any way that I can because that’s how guys in front of me helped me out,” Mariota said. “[Former Phillies centerfielder] Shane Victorino, [ex-NFL offensive lineman and former Hawaii offensive line coach] Chris Naeole, there’s a bunch of guys through my career that have contacted me and gotten ahold of me that have always reminded me to keep Hawaii on your shoulder and to represent it the best you can.”
Mariota lives by Fa’a Samoa, or the Samoan Way, which instills humility, respect and focus on achievements of one’s team or community over oneself. It’s immediately apparent when you’re around Mariota.
It goes far beyond football for Mariota, but he understands that his platform makes it even more important for him to stay firm to what his family taught him. He spent the Titans’ bye week reuniting and giving back to his Hawaiian and Oregon roots.
On the field, it has been a big January for Mariota, Tagovailoa and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, all Hawaii natives who led their teams to huge victories.
Mariota led the Titans from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the Chiefs for their first playoff win since the 2003 season. Tagovailoa, in the first significant action of his college career, rallied the Tide back from down 20-7 to win a national championship. Milton helped complete the Golden Knights’ 13-0 season by putting up 358 total yards and three TDs in a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
“A lot of people are just excited. Coach Vinny [Passas] back home, who’s really kind of coached and mentored all of us, I’m sure he’s smiling at us,” Mariota said of his high school quarterbacks coach. “It’s nice to see these next generations of kids coming up and representing Hawaii well. Hopefully they’re laying the groundwork for the next group that’s coming up behind them.”
Hawaii is at the center of Mariota and, recently, the football world.