BOURBONNAIS — As far as verbal stiff-arms go, Brandon Marshall's was Heismanesque.
Marshall responded to an interview request from a writer for the team's website Wednesday by speeding away in a golf cart. Talk about creating separation.
But then something that never happens with pro athletes happened. Marshall reacted in a way that brought every armchair psychologist in Chicago waiting for him to snap one step closer to thinking the Bears' self-appointed leader really might have changed. Then Marshall's conscience overruled his ego, no easy task for an NFL wide receiver.
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Olivet Nazarene University, 1 University Avenue, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, USA
Halas Hall, Washington Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045, USA
Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
The 30-year-old who has altered the direction of his life since arriving at Halas Hall in 2012 turned the cart around before it reached his dormitory and pulled up in front of cameras and microphones.
He started by razzing the team employee, Larry Mayer. He teased a veteran photographer for allowing his cell phone to ring during the interview. He asked the college kid in the driver's seat if he was comfortable. In a fascinating 4 minutes, 32 seconds, Marshall exhibited charm that again illustrated how much he has come to understand the power of perception.
That's all it took. A cynic might see it as manipulation. An idealist might invoke the word maturity. Anybody in the communication business would call it mastery. Taking a hands-on approach spreading mental-health awareness with the Brandon Marshall Foundation in the city, which he checked on Tuesday during his day off, obviously taught Marshall to respect the importance of shaping the message.
Marshall's latest platform to push: Believe in Jay Cutler as the NFL's most valuable player in 2014.
"Absolutely,'' Marshall said. "This is a different person. I don't know this guy, Jay Cutler. Maybe his new name is like Joshua. Let's call him Joshua Cutler. That's what the J stands for.''
Marshall wasn't joshing about the MVP talk and desperately wants Chicago to see Cutler — Jay, not Joshua — the way he does, a quarterback as conscientious as he is capable.
"Totally different person and athlete,'' Marshall said. "He has a great balance in his life now.''
Offseason signs of growth in Cutler depict the man Marshall describes. But as good as Marshall's intentions were, casting Cutler the player as a preseason MVP candidate only establishes unrealistic expectations set unnecessarily high. Cutler needs to run the offense. Protect the football. Make smart throws and decisions. Every now and then, show off that $127 million arm and be the reason the Bears beat a team they shouldn't.
But win the MVP? Cutler could enjoy the most successful year ever and lead the Bears into the playoffs without finishing in the Top 10. Deep down, maybe Marshall knows this but attaching the letters M-V-P to Cutler's name was a shrewd way of getting visiting NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin to spread the word nationally. Irvin respects Marshall and how far he has come since Irvin was a mentor to him as a troubled young Bronco.
"I don't want to bring up old wounds but back when he was in Denver and seeing him now on this field and the leader he is …'' Irvin said. "I was watching this practice with a smile.''
A smiling Irvin recalled Marshall in the Broncos' 2009 training camp, his first without Cutler, intentionally knocking down passes thrown to him as a means of protest. Such immature outbursts and an arrest record longer than a fly pattern made it nearly impossible to project five years ago that Marshall would develop into the kind of player others would follow — which he has become with the Bears.
"I was there when we sat at night and he was just coming off of batting the ball down every time they threw it to him in practice and I was sitting in that seat going, 'Whoooo, we have a ways to go, buddy,''' Irvin said. "I'm just really proud of him. He has faced it as a man. He has put it out in the open that he wants to be a better man and continue to better himself.''
The two old friends drew more than a few stares working together after practice, even Bears coach Marc Trestman's. Trestman regretted not having snapped a picture with his IPhone of the two receivers who have a combined 1,462 receptions.
"I missed out,'' Trestman said.
The image Marshall crafted when they were finished was even more impressive. Irvin wanted a one-on-one interview but Marshall insisted on including fellow receivers Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson, as well as tight end Martellus Bennett.
"I just think that's the right formula,'' Marshall said. "It's not just about me, Matt (Forte) or Jay. It's about the group.''
The group appears to be in the good hands of a guy who has gotten a grip.