by Rob Moseley
One by one, Oregon players approached Marcus Mariota as he sat in front of his locker, leaning in close to whisper words of encouragement for their leader.
In those moments just after the Ducks' 26-20 loss at Stanford on Thursday, Mariota mostly was able to keep his emotions in check.
Then, Mariota emerged from a side door. There stood his family. Immediately, Mariota crumpled into the arms of his father, Toa, a scene eerily similar to one involving Joey Harrington and his father following the 2000 Civil War.
The family stole back inside the locker room, sharing a few moments together. A more composed Mariota reappeared minutes later, to take questions from media. His emotions never wavered again.
"They understand the trials and tribulations," Mariota said. "To be able to have them here means a lot to me."
In the wake of the Ducks' defeat at the hands of the Cardinal, nobody was more devastated than Oregon's quarterback. He fought through obvious discomfort in his braced-up left knee to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
But Mariota was also a nonfactor in the run game, and was involved in a couple of the night's biggest moments — some errant passes in the first quarter, a fumble in the third — that set the stage for Stanford's win.
Mariota's left knee, braced since the second half against UCLA two weeks ago, is "a little banged up" but "nothing exceptional," he insisted afterward. The injury had no effect on his decision-making in the pocket, he said, though it seemed to inhibit use of the read-option run game.
To the extent the knee might have hurt, though, it wasn't nearly as painful as the loss. And so, Mariota's teammates were there postgame, for the guy multiple players said afterward is the "heart and soul" of the team.
"He makes this team go, and we need him to know that," quarterback Dustin Haines said.
"They love him," UO coach Mark Helfrich said, explaining all the one-on-one interactions involving Mariota in the locker room. "That's it, more than anything."
The willingness of teammates also hurting from the loss to reach to him personally, Mariota said, "means a lot."
"Those guys mean the world to me," he said. "We invest so much in this. It does get tough. They all felt the same way, and it was nice to get a hug, and say 'It's OK.' I appreciate that."
Once his teammates had cleared out, Mariota went out to greet his family, and had the emotional moment with his father. His steely demeanor minutes later with media was a result of that scene with his family, Mariota said.
"They're going to help me through this," he said. "That moment really helped me flush it. It helps you get it out of your system, and get ready for the next week."
Yes, barely 10 minutes after crying into his father's shoulder, Mariota was already talking about Oregon's home game against Utah next Saturday. His focus was on the future, even if he'd been caught up briefly in the devastation of the past.
"That's just Marcus," said UO guard Mana Greig, who also played with Mariota in high school. "He's a perfectionist. He wants to be perfect. But he's going to come back. I've known him for a while now. He'll be all right."