‘Polar Bear’ Cassius Marsh hopes he’s found a home with 49ers
You’d think a guy whose nickname is “polar bear” would be happiest with one of the NFL’s northernmost teams.
Not so for defensive end Cassius Marsh, who spent most of the 2017 regular season with the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots before being released Nov. 21.
“It’s a different place. I’ll just say that. It’s a different place,” Marsh said of the team that traded two draft picks to acquire him from Seattle in September, then waived him 80 days later. “It didn’t fit for me.”
Marsh quickly was snapped up by the 49ers and the connection was instantaneous. Most newcomers in NFL locker rooms wait weeks to play as they adjust to teammates and learn a new playbook. Marsh was claimed by San Francisco and was in uniform four days later. He appeared in every contest from that point forth, often playing ahead of defensive ends who had been on the roster all year.
Over the last six games, Marsh added badly needed pressure from the edge and also was a stalwart on specials teams. From Week 12 onward, only Dekoda Watson played more special teams than Marsh, 131 snaps to 117. Marsh, however, also was on the field for 189 defensive snaps in that span versus two for Watson.
All of which suggests Marsh, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 14, has a good shot at returning. He certainly hopes so.
“From the moment I got here I felt at home,” he said last month. “And I was coming from something that, for the first time, really felt like I was away from home and turned the game I love into true work.”
Stories about Marsh, 25, invariably describe him as colorful, and perhaps there’s no better adjective.
A tangle of tattoos – stars, moons, a king crab, lotus blooms – begin at his wrists and riot like tropical vines over his chest and across his back. He began getting them as an 18-year-old at UCLA and admits that some of his first – “I didn’t have any money back then,” he said – are a bit rough.
With more change in his pocket in recent years, he’s found a top-end artist, Boise, Idaho-based Tony Adamson, who’s been sharpening Marsh’s oldest tattoos, creating new ones and otherwise making the defensive end’s torso his canvas.
His favorite is a big one on the center of his back – a polar bear wearing a Native American headdress. It refers to the nickname Marsh’s father, former NFL receiver Curtis Marsh, gave him as a child.
Most Americans would categorize Curtis Marsh as black. In fact, he has a mixed background, including a Caucasian father. Cassius’ mother, meanwhile, is Creole with Native American, European and black heritage.
The result is that Cassius – fair haired and light skinned – at first blush appears white, but doesn’t identify as solely white.
“When I came out he just called me ‘polar bear,’ ” Cassius said of his father. “And the reason is that polar bears have white fur – clearly, obviously. But their skin is actually black.”
His older brother, former NFL cornerback Curtis Marsh Jr., explained further: “He’s part black, but no one really could tell just by looking at his face. So the analogy is that polar bears, if you shave off their white fur, they’re brown bears. Their skin is brown just like the other bears. So my dad would always tell Cassius that he’s like a polar bear – black on the inside, white on the outside.”