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Jim McFarlin | Photo: Jack Perno | May 10, 2013
After announcing himself with a 1,500 yard season, Bears superstar Brandon Marshall gears up to give his all to his team and his city.
Brandon Marshall is buzzing around an alcove nestled within Trump International Hotel & Tower, surrounded by stacks of mix-and-match shirts, pants, sportcoats and shoes. In the midst of a wardrobe change, he is nude from the waist up. If you had Marshall’s taut, tattooed physique, you would look for reasons to stroll around half-naked, too.
Marshall, the magnificent wide receiver for your Chicago Bears, is far more accustomed to snatching passes than striking poses. Yet he is warm, gracious and accommodating throughout this hours-long photo exercise, pausing to grant an interview with NBC 5 (for whom he appears on the station’s Sports Sunday show during the NFL season), even suggesting locations and style combinations to the fashion coordinators. To anyone within his orbit, Brandon Marshall appears to be a young man extremely comfortable in his own skin…
And at home.
“Man, I absolutely love it here,” the Pittsburgh native enthuses. “It seems like every taxi I get in, if I go to the sports club, the grocery store, there’s always someone there just embracing us more and more every day. It’s a wonderful feeling, and we really appreciate how much love Chicago gives us, how they’re standing behind us and our cause.”
“Us” refers to Michi, Marshall’s wife of three years, his college sweetheart at the University of Central Florida, the woman he calls “the most influential person in my life.” However, he just as easily could be talking about “Team Brandon,” the small circle of financial, marketing and spiritual advisors with whom he’s surrounded himself to plot strategies for life on the gridiron and beyond. The team includes Andrew Stroth, Marshall’s marketing advisor and president of Chicago-based Impact Talent Associates, his longtime NFL agent Kennard McGuire, and Kathy Lee, his manager and the person responsible for running his nonprofit, Project Borderline. “Success comes when you do the right thing over and over again,” Marshall says, his intense brown eyes as focused as if he were following a Jay Cutler bomb. “Greatness comes when you have a team and you do the right thing over and over.
“My advisory team, we can just sit down and create stuff. Brainstorm. Dream. One book I read [in the offseason] was Good to Great, by Jim Collins. He did a study of Fortune 500 companies and their CEOs, and it really opened my eyes. We want to make an impact in the community first and foremost, but when we talk business the people who jump out to me are people like Magic Johnson. Jay-Z. It’s inspirational when you can read their books or just study them, see how they started and where they’re at. Football is my platform, but not my purpose.”
As platforms go, however, All-Pro receiver ain’t half bad, particularly in this sports-obsessed city where Da Bears are life itself. In the fall of 2011, when it was evident his days with the Dolphins were numbered, Marshall was chatting on the phone with his buddy Cutler, fellow member of the NFL’s 2006 draft class and his pass-and-catch partner for three years with the Broncos. “I told him, ‘This is my last year in Miami, and I’m thinking about asking for a trade after the season,’” Marshall recalls. “Jay was like, ‘No, we’re going to try and get this done before the trade deadline!’” Shocked by the Bears’ interest, Marshall did what any pro baller would do: He fell to his knees in prayer.
“I said, ‘God, your will be done. Wherever it is that you see fit for me, I know you will place me there.’ Then I sat and wrote down the top three places I would like to go. No. 1 was the Chicago Bears.”
On March 13 last year—past Cutler’s trade deadline prediction but right on time for Marshall nonetheless—he officially became a Midway Monster. Reunited with his friend, a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, in a city starved for an elite-level receiver? You don’t honestly believe Marshall thought this was coincidence? “The Word says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart,’” he relates. “That was a prayer that convinced me. I need to really lean on him more than I do.”
Desire becoming reality was even sweeter than he imagined. “It’s like cheating to me,” he says with a smile. “I mean, you look at how many great players have come and gone here, you walk into Halas Hall and feel the legacy, see all the names and pictures on the wall, it’s an amazing feeling. But I don’t see too many receivers up there. That’s why I say it’s like cheating.
“I probably could have had a 1,000-yard season my first year and people would have gone crazy,” says Marshall. “But coming in and having 1,500 yards [1,508 to be exact], they’re just so excited. They’re treating me like I’m the next king or something! It seems like every time my wife and I go out, somebody offers to buy our meal. We keep telling people, ‘Please let us pay for our steak.’”
Marshall is intent on giving, not taking. In April, on night one of the NFL Draft, he hosted a draft party at Municipal Bar + Dining Co. on West Ohio—and bought dinner for the first 100 fans through the door. He established Project Borderline, a foundation dedicated to spreading awareness and information about mental illnesses like the borderline personality disorder he acknowledged in 2011 and continues to combat. Though they still own a house in Florida he and Michi have made their home here, plan to start their family here. On Tax Day, Marshall and Stroth met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall to discuss opportunities to assist the mayor with youth and anti-violence initiatives.
Marshall not only requested the meeting; he conducted it. “I’ve been representing athletes for 18 years, and Brandon is the most dynamic, centered, caring athlete I’ve ever worked with,” says Stroth. “So many athletes have the opportunities, but don’t take advantage of them while they’re in the game. Right now, any major CEO in the Chicago business or charitable communities wants to meet with Brandon Marshall, because he’s at the top of his game.
“He’s such a special talent. I think he could be a real difference maker in Chicago.”
He’s making a difference right now in a very small community. Donnita Travis, founder of the By the Hand Club for Kids, the successful religious-based after-school program serving more than 800 children in Chicago’s most beleaguered neighborhoods, says Marshall has become a regular guest. “He’s our neighbor, he lives in the neighborhood,” she says. “He came here, introduced himself, hung out with the kids. He had them help him create a new touchdown dance. And when he came back the second time, he remembered their names.”
Marshall has traveled a very long and rugged journey to arrive at the Shangri-La of Soldier Field. You’ve read the headlines. You’ve heard the stories. Is he really a 2.0 version of himself? Well, how many celebrities do you know who enter a time of prayer prior to a photo shoot? There was Marshall, huddled quietly with his spiritual guide, pastor Charles Jenkins of Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, before the first camera ever clicked.
It’s not inconceivable that Marshall, in the prime of his playing career at 29, could emerge as the leader of this Bears squad. Who better? Brian Urlacher has left the building. “Brian is irreplaceable, in his community, on this football team,” says Marshall. “There’s only one Brian. But this is an opportunity, not just for me but for other guys to step into a leadership role and really embrace it and make an impact, not only in the locker room but also in this community.
“So I look at this as a challenge, and whatever happens, happens. I just want to serve the guys, the organization and this community. That’s my mindset. That’s my belief. And that’s the only way to be.”
Styling by Eric Himel and grooming by Carley Martin with Factor Artists. Shot on location at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago