When former linebacker Wilber Marshall was told his name failed to appear on the 2017 Hall-of-Fame preliminary list, a compilation of 94 former players and coaches eligible for Canton, he wasn’t surprised. He was astounded.
“I just don’t get it,” he said when the Talk of Fame Network caught up to him.
Well, then, get in line.
Wilber Marshall not only was a star linebacker; he was a complete one, too, able to make plays anywhere on the field. He could play inside, outside or both sides. In fact, he did. He could rush the passer, force fumbles, drop into coverage.
In short, he was a complete linebacker.
And he was a complete linebacker on one of the greatest defenses in pro football history — the Chicago Bears’ “46” unit that propelled the Bears to a lopsided Super Bowl XX victory. Marshall wasn’t just part of that defense; he was an indispensable part of a group that included three Hall of Famers, defensive tackle Dan Hampton, linebacker Mike Singletary and defensive end Richard Dent.
He went to three Pro Bowls. He was a first-team All-Pro weakside linebacker with the Bears and a two-time All-Pro years later as a strongside backer with Washington. He was an NFC Defensive Player of the Year and NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year. He played on two Super Bowl champions and nine top-10 defenses in his 12-year career — including one unit (Houston) that ranked first vs. the run and another (the Jets) that was first against the pass.
Anyone who watched Marshall knows how accomplished he was. Yet he somehow was overlooked by the Hall-of-Fame’s 2017 preliminary committee, and Marshall is right. That isn’t just surprising; it’s astounding.
“It’s really hard when you see some of the guys who are on there,” he said when the Talk of Fame Network contacted him last fall. “Carl Banks. We came out at the same time. Tedy Bruschi. None of those guys made Linebacker of the Week or even Linebacker of the Month, let alone Linebacker of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year. It’s like: ‘What did I do?’ ”
What Wilber Marshall did was everything. He had 45 sacks, 23 interceptions and 24 forced fumbles, recovering 16. And he played everywhere. Inside. Outside. Strongside. Weakside. You name it.
“I’m probably the only linebacker in history — that I know of — that played inside and outside linebacker on (the same Super Bowl defense),” Marshall said of the 1985 Bears. “They had Mike (Singletary) sitting on the sidelines when I’m playing middle linebacker on third down. So, I wasn’t just a rush guy, like the guys on the end that you see go 90 percent of the time … I never walked off that field. I played both ways.”
No, he played always.
Wilber Marshall deserves serious consideration by Canton, but first things first: The Hall must … absolutely must … include him on its 2018 preliminary list. Once that’s done, maybe we can have a serious conversation of his Hall-of-Fame credentials.
Because he deserves nothing less.