Friday September 4th, 2009

They are all out there.

Matt Bouza. Ernest Givins. Terance Mathis. Antonio Freeman. Carl Pickens.

They are all alive.

Anthony Carter. David Boston. Eddie Brown. Eric Martin. Ricky Sanders.

They were all star wide receivers; big names making big bucks for big teams in the big spotlights on the biggest stages.

Jerry Butler. Alvin Harper. Webster Slaughter.

If they knocked on your front door today, would you recognize them? Even if they held signs reading I PLAYED WIDE RECEIVER IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE? Even if they were donning their own uniforms? With their last names scrawled across their backs? In neon writing? In English, Egyptian and Japanese?

Wesley Walker. John Jefferson. Freddie Scott.

That's the thing way too many professional athletes seem to forget -- how this Sunday's glory is next Sunday's fish wrap. Yes, America loves its jocks. We will grant them free meals and first-class upgrades and tickets to the finest shows in town. We will click on their websites and purchase their clothing lines and select them first in our fantasy drafts. We will beg and cry and scream as they pass by. "Please, Mr. Carson, can I have your autograph?"

This last example dates back to 1987, when Kansas City's Carlos Carson ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,044 receiving yards. Today, Carson owns two McDonald's franchises in Independence, Mo. -- a fact I am able to share solely because of the existence of Wikipedia. (For all you know, good people of Independence, those same hands scooping your fries once caught footballs thrown by Bill Kenney!)

I bring this up only because in Brandon Marshall, a 25-year-old Denver Broncos receiver, I see an idiot.

An idiot in need of perspective.

Alfred Jenkins. Kevin House. Lionel Manuel.

In the aftermath of last season, during which he ranked third in the NFL with 104 catches and seventh with 1,265 yards, Marshall decided he deserved a new contract. It was a fair enough take -- he has one year remaining on a deal that will pay him $2.2 million (not exactly big bucks among the league's elite pass catchers). When the Broncos refused to renegotiate, however, Marshall faced a difficult dilemma. He could:

A. Man up, play his tail off (with the obvious risk of injury) and break the bank in free agency (the market for 26-year-old superstud receivers -- very, very, very good).

B. Hold out, negotiate behind the scenes and either come to an agreement or skip the season.

C. Go Stephon Marbury on us.

Marshall (sigh) picked C.

In what will inevitably be chronicled in the Best Way to Screw Up Your Reputation dictionary, Marshall demanded a trade, had the demand denied, then reported to training camp and mimicked the behavior of my 2 1/2-year-old son, sans a nap. He whined. He pouted. He moped. He was held out of a preseason game after admitting he didn't know the playbook, then behaved petulantly during a practice open to the news media.

With mouths agape, Marshall walked as his teammates jogged, swatted a pass thrown his way and punted a ball that was supposed to be handed to a ball boy. After the video of his boorish behavior surfaced (hardly a shocker, considering cameras were rolling), Marshall apologized ("I think everybody knows there's a lot of stuff built up there, and me handling it that way wasn't good," he told ESPN), but it was too late -- the team suspended him for insubordination.

Ken Burrough. Ray Jarvis. Daryl Turner.

Predictably, there is talk the Broncos will wash their hands of Marshall; that, come day's end, the pampered player will win out. Maybe he'll go to the New York Jets, with their run-oriented offense and rookie quarterback. Or to the Chicago Bears, reunited with Jay Cutler, another emancipated Denver whiner.

Whatever happens, Marshall needs to remember that 1,000-yard wide receivers do grow on trees. For every Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin, men whose legacies lasted and whose fame is unfading, there are 100 other once-upon-a-time "big game players" now grasping onto that last lick of glory by working the card show circuit and attaching their uniform numbers to the end of their e-mail addresses.

They are out there. They certainly are.

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