He says if I'm going to be thorough and write a fair story, I need to see how he interacts with his wife — whom he hasn't told I'd be staying — his friends and his dogs.
"I want you to observe me for who I am," he says in the car. "There is a perception out there that is unfair, and there really is another side that I think will help your story."
Marshall drives directly to Grande Oaks Golf Club, a private club where he is not a member — "I just called up." He says he rarely plays golf. He is reminded in the pro shop to tuck his striped shirt into his beige linen pants.
Teeing up, he stands with his feet close together, suggesting an awkward swing will follow. But then he winds his arms around his body and lets loose a powerful and sweeping swing; it reminds me of his touchdown catches, arms outstretched.
He makes a bogey and breathes a sigh of relief. "Yeah, that was an awesome hole."
Is there an activity in America that better symbolizes success than golf? It's expensive to play and prides itself on exclusivity. The sport dates back centuries, and its tradition carries order and a dusty rule book. Few black athletes played for fun before Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley blew the stuffiness out of it.
Now here is Marshall's 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, famous for breaking tackles and eluding defenders, scooting around on a golf cart with his knees jutting to the sides, navigating lush fairways and skirting unexpected sand traps.
Between shots, he goofs around. When his friend and trainer, Matt Gates, hits over the green and then back into the fairway, Marshall shouts to Gates that he is playing "military golf" — "left, right, left."
After a couple of hours, he asks if I'm familiar with "ghetto golf."
Huh? He smiles. He defines the term as playing music during golf, breaking etiquette.
On the next hole, he says, "Let's listen to some Mike." He taps his iPhone, and Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" comes on. "Now we're ready to golf!"
Marshall does not keep score, and about halfway through our time he realizes he is playing the course out of order. He loses interest after 14 holes, and soon we're back in the Mercedes.
Marshall's mansion is tucked into a small, gated community in Southwest Ranches, near the Dolphins complex and among other athletes and celebrities. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson lives next door. To reach the elegant 17,064-square-foot fortress on 2.4 acres with a red stucco roof and sparkling marble floors, visitors must wait for another steel gate to open excruciatingly slowly, allowing an opportunity to absorb what a nearly $10 million annual paycheck can buy.
When Marshall enters, the barking of his three pit bulls echoes. Friends sometimes call Marshall's phone when they enter because they can't find him. "House so big you gotta call on the cell," he later jokes.
Marshall shows me to a guest room — my "quarters," he calls them. The bed is from his Broncos days. The pet tarantula in the closet is cared for by his wife; he says he last saw it a year ago.
The modern and bright decor features sleek furniture and shelves holding items such as a shiny, silver, plastic tree trunk and an oversized, white sculpture of a hand. The tree trunk still has a price tag from an affordable retail chain. No pictures of his parents are on display, but three poster-sized ones of Marshall and his wife adorn the walls.
He owns a painting of himself with Jay Cutler, back when both were on the Broncos. It depicts a shouting Cutler grabbing Marshall's face mask. Marshall says that before that game, they talked of breaking the record for tandem touchdowns, held by Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
"This was our rookie year, and we were like, 'Man we're going to beat that record!' So when we scored, he ran up to me and was like, 'We got 140 more left to go!' "
On his patio, eating a salad, Marshall leans back in his chair and gazes at his pool and the surrounding palm trees. His mother-in-law, visiting for Easter, scans an iPad.
This privileged life — luxury cars, golf, a gorgeous house — is barely imaginable for anyone growing up in Marshall's old neighborhood.
Understanding Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall opened his home to the Tribune to offer a genuine sense of the new Bears star. The picture that emerged was of a man striving for serenity in his life while keeping inquiries into his tumultuous family past at arm's length.
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