The I-5 Corridor's rooting guide to Herbert vs. Mariota II
Struggling to decide between the Chargers and Falcons Sunday? You've come to the right place.
The first time Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert faced each other in the NFL came as a special moment for the Oregon program. The 2020 meeting between the two pillars of UO’s success in the 2010s came as a surprise — a Derek Carr injury brought Mariota in off the bench for Las Vegas in the first quarter— and ended as a classic, with Herbert passing for 314 yards and two touchdowns to edge Mariota, who impressed with 226 yards and two touchdowns in his first appearance in a year.
Said Herbert after playing his idol: “Pretty crazy experience. I grew up watching Marcus. He was my favorite player. Just being from Eugene, I knew that program so well. To be able to play a couple of games against him, it’s just been really cool to see him out on the field. It’s everything I ever wanted.”
The Chargers improved to 6-9 on the season and had a coaching change coming on the horizon. Still, the league buzzed about the potential of the big-armed kid from Eugene who had already broken the record for most touchdown passes thrown by a rookie.
Meanwhile, Mariota was just trying to prove he could still play at a starter’s level.
Two years later, Herbert has a Rookie of the Year trophy, been to the Pro Bowl and was a trendy dark horse MVP pick coming into the season.
And Mariota? He’s a starter again, finding new life to his career with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Chargers and Falcons play Sunday. We know that’s going to be stressful for you, Oregon fans.
Don’t worry. Here’s how you should root.
You should root for Justin Herbert and the Chargers if…
You’re an Oregonian.
It’s not that the state of Oregon doesn’t produce NFL players. Portland’s Samori Toure made his NFL debut just two weeks ago with the Green Bay Packers and caught a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
But it’s not often that Oregon produces NFL players with face-of-the-league potential. Herbert is one of just 14 players born in the state of Oregon to reach the Pro Bowl and just the third quarterback with such credentials. Heck, Herbert is the first Oregonian quarterback to make his NFL debut since Derek Anderson in 2006.
You’re a front-runner.
Look, Herbert shed his underdog status long ago. Yes, we know he was an overlooked three-star quarterback with minimal offers before he committed to Oregon. And, yes, we know he was overshadowed in his 2020 draft class by players like Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. And of course every time he threw a touchdown as a rookie, we too heard the, “Where was this the entire time he was at Oregon?”
But that was long ago. After that 2020 game between Herbert and Mariota, I talked to a bunch of former Oregon quarterbacks for a story in The Athletic about what that game meant to them and the program. Chris Miller, a former first-round pick, gave me this quote about Herbert’s play as a rookie:
“He’s doing some things and making throws that 1 percent of NFL football players can make. There was a throw two or three weeks ago where he rolled to his left and threw an absolute dart on a line in the end zone between like three dudes in an extremely small window. Aaron Rodgers can make that throw, and he might be the only guy. Patrick Mahomes can make it, but I don’t know that Patrick gets that type of velocity on it.
“There’s probably five dudes in NFL history who can make that throw and Justin is one of them.”
That last line didn’t make the story. Deemed too overzealous for print. Now it’s impossible to miss Herbert’s name in the lists of best quarterbacks in the NFL, and among the best arms in the league’s history.
You’d like the Blazers to win an NBA championship someday.
Herbert is 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds. He can run. His ball can fly. And while yes, he may be susceptible to a rib injury, who else can follow a bone-crushing hit with something as ridiculous as this?
Herbert has two years and a team option left on his rookie deal, but whenever he ends up signing an extension with the Chargers, it’ll be one of the richest deals in NFL history. Think in the ballpark of $50 million a year. Mix that in with Herbert’s blossoming endorsement portfolio and we’re witnessing the beginnings of Justin Herbert’s Uncle Herb phase.
It’ll be awesome watching him courtside in the owner’s seats at the Moda Center someday.