By Eric Uribe
Tattooed across Brandon Marshall’s left bicep are the letters HDPB. The mark symbolizes the four words Marshall lives by — hard work, dedication, prayers and belief.
Each of the four words has defined his football odyssey, which has footprints in Las Vegas, Reno, Jacksonville and Denver.
Two weeks ago, his odyssey led him to New York City, the site of Super Bowl 48, as part of the Broncos.
Elated, dream, fairy tale and euphoria are all words Marshall used to describe his Super Bowl experience.
After all, Marshall grew up a Denver fan after the Broncos claimed back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the late ‘90s. Moreover, the six-foot-one, 238-pound linebacker joined a short list of former Wolf Pack players to play in the Super Bowl.
But Marshall didn’t just want to be in the game. He wanted to make his presence known.
“I told myself, ‘I got to make a play. This is the Super Bowl. I got to do something,’’ Marshall said. “I was determined to get a tackle.”
He did just that, in the third play of the game, no less. During a kickoff, Marshall blitzed down the field and wrapped up Seahawks return man, Golden Tate.
No one in the 82,529-person crowd at MetLife Stadium was more happy at this play than Marshall’s older brother of two years, Marcus. Sitting alongside their mother and friends of Brandon, Marcus wore a sweater with Brandon’s No. 54 and “brother” written in the back. Marcus let out a big cheer, much to the chagrin of Seahawks’ twelvers sitting nearby.
Brandon ranked playing in the Super Bowl as his No. 1 career highlight, followed by winning the 2013 AFC Championship, being drafted in the NFL, and beating Boise State with the Wolf Pack in 2010, in that order.
Playing on special teams, Marshall was on the field only two more times during the game. One was during Seattle’s Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return touchdown to open the second half.
“We still had life and a lot of time,” Marshall said of the play. “But after that happened, it brought our spirits down. For him to return that, it was like ‘man, what else could wrong?’”
The Broncos never recovered, being stymied 43-8 by the Seahawks, with Marshall calling it a “freak game.” In many ways, the Super Bowl personified his up-and-down NFL career.
Five months earlier, playing in the NFL, little less for the Vince Lombardi trophy, seemed like wishful thinking for Marshall.
He began the year with the Jaguars, the team who used a fifth round pick on him during the 2012 NFL Draft. Marshall was cut for the third time in two years at the end of training camp. He ranks being cut as his career’s lowpoint.
“I was thinking, ‘am I cut out for the league? Am I suppose to be here?’” Marshall said of being released. “I had to shelf those thoughts because I know I can play. I can’t let these incidents or what people say dictate what I truly believe in my heart. And I truly believe I can play and I truly believe the Broncos know that.”
Before his family knew of his release, Marshall texted them saying he was okay and loved them but wanted to process everything alone.
With his career hanging by a thread, Marshall turned to the bible for guidance. He found comfort in the verse, “God rains on the just and on the unjust.” While some of his teammates’ slacked and fell into vice, they remained on the team. But in Marshall’s mind, this was a bump in the road.
The Jaguars offered Marshall a spot on the practice squad, which he declined. He needed a fresh start. Enter the Broncos, who Marshall picked over other teams. Marshall rode the practice squad for 15 weeks before joining the 53-man roster after injury to all-pro linebacker Von Miller.
“(Being released) was a disappointing experience but it’s been his life story,” Marcus said. “He’s always been the underdog. He’s always been told he’s not good enough. He’s always had to prove that he belongs.”
Marshall’s underdog mentality stems a lot from living in a shelter home at nine years old with his brother and mother, Barbara. Without Brandon’s father, his mother juggled two jobs — as a school janitor and staff member at Thomas and Mack Center — to support them at the time.
Brandon says his work ethic comes from his mother, who is his main source of motivation.
“It really strengthened us,” Barbara said of living in a shelter. “In Brandon’s mind, it made him feel determined, to push himself and not be in that situation again — and to have the best life for himself and for his mom and brother. It propelled him forward to do well in school, go to college, and make it to NFL. He’s a fighter. That situation jump started him.”
Brandon went on to an illustrious career at Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas, earning a first-team All-Sunset Conference selection as a linebacker and as a tight end .
His work ethic was evident then, too. His brother Marcus remembers Brandon as an eighth grader going to Cimarron and — in spite of it being against the rules — asking to lift weights with the team to get a jumpstart on the other middle schoolers.
“Brandon works harder than anyone I know, including myself,” Marcus said. “He works incredibly hard because he knows he has to.”
Brandon turned that work ethic into a Division I scholarship with Nevada, where he started 46 games and graduated with a criminal justice degree. It’s that work ethic that has impressed his mother the most.
“He’s always had a good work ethic, but he’s really pushed himself further than I ever thought he could,” Barbara said. “He’s dedicated to studying and absorbing himself in his homework, talking to other players, and getting as much knowledge as he can.”
Marshall’s football odyssey is far from over. In his mind, it’s only begun.
“I feel like I’ve handled all the adversity I’ve faced well and I feel like my success rate is going to skyrocket as the years go by,” he said. “I know I’ll play a lot more years in this league. I’ve learned a lot and never gave up.”
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.