The most important moment in the Broncos season may have come when Brandon Marshall barreled into coach Josh McDaniels for a man-hug after Marshall’s 51-yard, game winning touchdown over the Cowboys with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter.
It was one of those wins that could not have come in a more perfect way, with a play whose significance reaches beyond the field.
It was a big play on the field, too.
Kyle Orton came up with another fourth-quarter, kind-of strike that got the job done. Thrown to his back shoulder, Marshall out-jumped a smaller Terence Newman for the catch, then zigzagged the rest of the field, beating ultimately six Cowboy defenders into the end zone. (Very impressive play, if, somehow, you still haven’t seen it watch a replay here.)
The catch brought me to my feet, the run got me jumping and pumping my fist, and the Marshall-McDaniels hug got me all goose-bumped and (almost) teary-eyed.
For a Broncos fan, watching Marshall grow since joining the team as a fourth-round draft pick in 2006 has had its rewards and its frustrations. In his rookie year Marshall showed flashes of the elite, game breaking, YAC Beast that he would become, including a 71-yard touchdown catch and run in Jay Cutler’s first career start against Seattle in Week 13. The night that season ended, Marshall was out with Darrent Williams the night Williams was shot and killed (and it has been reported that one of Marshall’s cousins instigated the altercation that led to the shooting).
In 2007, Marshall’s second season, he started all 16 games and finished with 102 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.
Before the 2008 season Marshall needed surgery on his right arm after falling and cutting himself on a television set while wrestling with family members. The NFL then suspended him for the season-opener against the Raiders (the suspension was reduced from three games) for repeated off-the-field legal issues involving several domestic disputes. Marshall returned in Week 2 against the Chargers for an astonishing 18 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, two catches short of the record set by Terrell Owens in 2000. He finished the season with his second 100-catch season: 104 catches for 1,265 yards and six touchdowns.
Marshall, along with Cutler, went to his first pro-bowl that season, where he proposed to his fiancée Michi Nogami-Campbell.
Then, in March, Marshall was arrested again for disorderly conduct involving an incident with Nogami-Campbell, though the charges were later dropped, as have all charges against Marshall.
That’s quite a biography for only a third-year player, and that just brings us to this season.
Marshall started this pre-season demanding a new contract or a trade, however, if there has ever been a legitimate argument for a contract dispute, Marshall have it. He will make $2.2 million this season, while other elite receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss and Andre Johnson, all of whom have put up comparable numbers to Marshall over the last two years, are all making over $7.5 million.
Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen and McDaniels refused to restructure his deal and it appeared as if another Broncos star would be forced from the herd. Then Marshall was peeved to learn that Broncos officials instructed his teammates not to congratulate him for getting his disorderly conduct charges dropped.
He begrudgingly stayed in Denver. Then halfway through the pre-season McDaniels suspended Marshall for repeated acts of childish rebellion.
He was reinstated in time for the regular season, though hardly as the Beast we were accustomed to. In Week 1 he had just 4 catches for 27 yards, and in Week 2 he caught three balls for 34 yards, and watched almost the entire second quarter from the sideline.
Then in Week 3 we got our first flashes of the Marshall of old: five catches, 67 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
He was getting more involved, but still, I was waiting for that one statement play, the “there he is” moment, and in the fourth quarter of Week 4, there he was; The YAC Beast reemerged.
After the touchdown Marshall paraded around the field being greeted by teammates with chest bumps and helmet taps. Orton pranced up and down the sideline celebrating with other teammates. They met on the sideline for a short scream-into-each-others’-faces macho moment, and Marshall walked forward, his face bearing the same mix of emotions: the intensity and passion of a warrior, and the overwhelming relief of a man in triumph over adversity.
That hug with Josh McDaniels was bigger than a game-winning touchdown; it was the moment when Brandon Marshall gave himself to a system, and the system embraced him.
It’s a system that’s been perfect for the Broncos so far (4-0), but next Sunday, Daddy’s comin’ to town, New England at Denver.