It’s no surprise that Brandon Marshall is juggling emotions as he returns to Chicago for the first time since the Bears traded him following three mostly turbulent seasons here. A player whose game is almost uniquely fueled by passion, pride and sometimes anger is trying to make this just another road trip.
“Chicago’s a great place,” the Seahawks wide receiver told Seattle-area reporters Thursday. “Here [in Seattle], we talk a lot about every game is just another game. That’s something I’ve bought in to. In the past, I may have gone into a game like this and maybe have been a little more hyped. But it’s just another game.”
For the most part, anyway.
“I still got friends on that team,” said Marshall, who played for the Bears from 2012-14. “Still have a lot of friends and even our foundation [the Brandon Marshall Foundation] is headquartered out of Chicago. So, a lot of ties to Chicago — it was a dream job for me. It was sad to go, but now I’m here and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The return of Marshall no doubt will elicit all sorts of emotions from Bears fans. As much as any player other than Jay Cutler, the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver represents the hope, frustration, dysfunction and ultimate disappointment as the Lovie Smith era disintegrated following the 2006 Super Bowl season.
Last impressions are lasting impressions, so Marshall is mostly remembered as part of the Phil Emery blot in recent Bears history. But when Marshall, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver in his prime at 28, was acquired in a trade with the Dolphins shortly after Emery replaced Jerry Angelo as general manager, it was a masterstroke — the most accomplished player ever acquired by the Bears prior to the Khalil Mack trade. Where Angelo dismissed the idea the Bears needed a No. 1 wide receiver to ignite the Cutler era, Emery made it happen.
And it’s often forgotten how well it worked in Marshall’s first season under Lovie Smith in 2012. He set franchise records with 118 receptions and 1,508 yards (12.8 avg.), with 11 touchdowns as the Bears went 10-6, but missed the playoffs. (The Bears’ second-leading wide receiver that year, Earl Bennett, had 29 receptions for 375 yards and two touchdowns.)
And, eager to prove himself after arriving in Chicago with a history of off-the-field legal issues and suspensions, Marshall was on his best behavior — not coincidentally in his only season playing for Lovie and with Brian Urlacher.
“Brian Urlacher was a guy that brought everyone together,” Marshall said. “Sometimes you go into a locker room and there are classes — guys that are paid a lot of money; Pro Bowl guys; scout-team guys; guys that just got to the team. Brian and all those guys did a great job of making everyone feel welcome and like they’re just as important as the next guy. [I] saw Brian Urlacher sitting down with Lance Briggs — that was his guy. Then in the next meeting, he was sitting next to a guy that just got there and [was] treating him the say way.”
Though they were on opposite sides of the ball, Urlacher’s influence directly impacted Marshall during that lone season with him.
“I was — still am — a really emotional guy,” Marshall said. “I remember dropping a ball here and there, doing something that let the team down and he would pull me aside and say something. In the heat of the moment, I might be on the verge of tears, so to speak. He’ll come and say, ‘Bro, it’s just a dropped ball, but we’re all right. You’re going to get another one.’ He just had a way with his teammates, picking guys up and making sure everyone felt included. He’s a special guy.”
After Lovie was fired and Urlacher retired following the 2012 season, Marshall’s career with the Bears took a darker turn under new coach Marc Trestman. He was still productive, but too often a distraction. Marshall’s support of mental-health awareness — he had been diagnosed with boderline personality disorder in 2011 — was well-meaning but awkwardly handled, particularly in one rambling press conference he called on his own. In 2014, he was flying to New York on his in-season off day to appear on “Inside the NFL” on Showtime.
He had a post-game, locker-room outburst in which he called out teammates following a loss to the Dolphins that was supposed to a straight-talk wake-up call, but backfired. The Bears lost their next two games, 51-23 at New England and 55-14 at Green Bay to all but end the Emery/Trestman era. Later that year he challenged a Lions fan to a fight — offering $25,000 to “get in the ring with me” in response to the fan taunting Marshall and insulting his mother on Twitter.
By then, Marshall had already played his final game with the Bears. He was out for the season after suffering two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He was traded to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick that became Adrian Amos. When the Bears acquired him, it cost them two third-round draft picks.
Marshall has always had a tough time balancing his immense physical talent, his passion and emotions and what it takes to be a good teammate and a winner. He’s a six-time Pro Bowl player who never has been in a playoff game in 12 NFL seasons. He’s missed by one game six times. But he’s learned some valuable life lessons, including in Chicago. And he feels he’s better off for the experience.
“There’s a lot of things I learned there,” Marshall said. “When you’re winning, you can do certain things, say certain things. When you’re losing, sometimes you got to chill out a little bit. I never did, I just stayed the same. So, it was a lot of lessons I learned there.
“As far as the teammate thing — guys are watching you every single day. How do you respond to when you’re injured? How do you respond to criticism? How do you respond to hard coaching? I had to figure it out because our locker room kind of fell apart [in 2014], deteriorated, and it started with us, leaders.
“So I just sat back and reflected for those couple of months before I went to the Jets, wrote all that stuff down, and tried to carry that stuff with me. Things that I will hold forever, and I use those things in my parenting now, and with my foundation and business.”
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