CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall keeps an open mind and itinerary. He takes memorable offseason trips. He experienced an unforgettable March excursion to South Africa, telling his story exclusively to Denver7.
Marshall visited orphanages, donated money and items and survived an expletive-filled encounter with an elephant.
Along with six NFL Players, including former Broncos defensive backs Tony Carter, Omar Bolden, Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams, Marshall arrived in Cape Town with gifts. Carter put the trip together, as the players sought a rewarding, unique experience. When the players visited the orphanages in Cape Town and Khayelitsha, the kids realized the players were different. But they were not sure why. After all, they did not play soccer or rugby.
"They didn't really know anything about football. It's funny, we brought them pictures with all of our faces (shown above with the Steelers' William Gay and the Saints' P.J. Williams) on it to explain who we were and what it is we do. It was big to them that we were professional athletes. It was like 'Oh wow! You are American.' They showered us with love," Marshall said. "It was crazy to see how they live, their conditions. It was just a very humbling experience."
Marshall grew up with adversity in Las Vegas. He clung tightly to his dream of playing in the NFL, and was always steered straight by a strong mother, loyal brother and a grandfather he idolized. In South Africa, Marshall witnessed abject poverty, that "was worse than any I have experienced in America." He met kids whose parents abandoned them. However, the children surprised and inspired him with their relentless hope.
"There's no comparison to the living conditions. It was tough to see them in shacks. ... Everything was, man .... But they seem so happy, so pure. We were playing soccer with them in the streets and they were so excited," Marshall said. "And we got them a football, and started throwing it (overhand), and they began (under-handing it) and doing the rugby toss."
The purpose of the trip was multi-layered. it represented a chance for the players to help, while allowing for self-discovery. The players went on a safari at Kruger National Park. The video (which airs on Denver7 at 6 p.m. Thursday and again this weekend) proved entertaining, if not a bit unsettling. Fair to say the Detroit Lions have nothing on South African Lions. And the Chicago Bears offer no match for wild elephants. In two separate encounters, a lion turned toward the players' vehicle with a warning glare -- "Those eyes man, you wonder what they are thinking," Marshall said -- causing pause and trepidation. The elephant boasted the surprise element, leaving expletives in his wake.
"When I first got on the truck I realized there were no barricades, it was an open truck. We would be right up on these animals. I thought this is crazy. I got scared," Marshall told Denver7. "Before we left our guide told us not to make any sudden movements. That if we see an elephant, hippo, rhino, leopard, lion, zebra, buffalo, don't make any loud noises. As soon as we pull up on the elephant, he said, 'OK, everybody be quiet.' But the elephant heard the truck. And he turned and started charging us for about four steps. It was loud, and it was scary. The guide said it was the peak of mating season, so the elephant had to challenge us, he was on 10 right now. After that everybody was on edge about the animals we encountered."
Marshall wandered from camp one day, losing his wallet. He somehow found it, and laughed, "Why would I take it with me into to the jungle?" Later in the adventure, the players ensconced themselves in a shark tank. This one felt less safe than the one run by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on ABC. At one point the shark jumped above the cage, revealing frightening sets of teeth. Plural.
Marshall reveled in the experience. The trip provided adrenaline and perspective. Marshall and friends have yet to plan their next adventure. Perhaps the players will go to Europe, he said. Maybe something relaxing, and charitable. Regardless, it's likely to focus more on children than wild animals.
"The kids' happiness made me reflect on my own life, and the perceived issues I might have. You realize that somebody always has it worse," Marshall said. "They had so much hope and innocence. It's something I will never forget."