State Your Case: Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings


(Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

It’s not often one play marks the career of a Hall-of-Fame worthy individual, but that’s what happened with defensive end Jim Marshall. And while it may not have sabotaged his chances to reach Canton; it almost certainly damaged them.

I’m talking, of course, of an afternoon on Oct. 25, 1964, when Marshall, playing for the Minnesota Vikings, scooped up a fumble by San Francisco’s Billy Kilmer, ran 66 yards for a score and celebrated by hurling the ball toward the stands.

One problem: He’d run the wrong way.

Result: What Marshall thought was a Minnesota touchdown was, instead, a 49ers’ safety — and one of the NFL’s most indelible … and embarrassing … moments in history.

It’s a play that hitched a ride to the rest of Marshall’s career, with Marshall’s name forever linked to Roy Riegels, who ran the wrong way for a touchdown in the 1929 Rose Bowl. Worse, it guaranteed Marshall a place in the Pro Football Hall of Infamy.

And that’s unfortunate. Because the guy deserves to be considered for something more … something like the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s because Jim Marshall was someone who did more, much more, than struggle with directions. He was one of the best players on one of the best defensive lines in NFL history – Minnesota’s feared “Purple People Eaters.”

There were two Hall of Famers on that front four, Carl Eller and Alan Page. Then there was tackle Gary Larsen … and Marshall. Larsen you may have forgotten. But you could never forget Jim Marshall … and not because he ran the wrong way. Nope, he set an NFL record with 29 fumble recoveries. He never missed a game, suiting up an NFL-record 282 consecutive contests at defensive end. He was one of 11 players to participate in all four of Minnesota’s Super Bowl appearances. And while sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982, he is credited by the Vikings with 127 during his career – or more than Hall-of-Famers Andre Tippett, Charles Haley and Derrick Thomas.

But that’s not all. Only six Vikings had their numbers retired. The late Korey Stringer is one. The others are Page, wide receiver Cris Carter, quarterback Fran Tarkenton, center Mick Tingelhoff … and Jim Marshall.

Page, Carter, Tarkenton and Tingelhoff are in the Hall of Fame. Jim Marshall is not.

Look, I get it. It’s not just that wrong-way run that some people can’t get over. It’s that he was named to just two Pro Bowls, played on the same line with two Hall of Famers and never won a Super Bowl. But Marshall at least belongs in the conversation, and voters must agree because in 2004 they made him a Hall-of-Fame finalist.

But that’s where his run stopped. And that’s where it has stayed.

And that’s a shame. Because Jim Marshall’s career is about so much more than a U-turn vs. the 49ers or a failure to make it to more Pro Bowls or win championships. His career was defined by consistency, longevity and success. Yeah, I know he was 0-for-4 in Super Bowls, but so were Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith, and we put them in the Hall of Fame.

I’m not saying Jim Marshall belongs. What I am saying is that I’d like his case to be revisited by the Hall’s senior committee. Like L.C. Greenwood of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marshall was an upper-tier defensive end who gets lost in the galaxy of stars around him – in this case, Eller, Page and safety Paul Krause. But the guy made so many big plays for the Vikings that when Bud Grant was asked to name the “greatest player” he coached he didn’t waver.

“It’s normally very hard to choose,” he said. “But I don’t hesitate to say Jim Marshall.”

That should carry some weight. So should a 20-year career defined by consistency and durability. If Jim Marshall never makes it to Canton … and, at this point, that’s more than likely … I can understand. But let’s give the guy one more audition before we bury his resume.

Because while I’m not sure he belongs; I am sure he deserves more than one year of discussion.



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  1. Rob
    February 16, 2016

    Jim Marshall or LC Greenwood Clark?

    • February 17, 2016

      Good question. Close call but have to say Greenwood.

  2. February 16, 2016

    It’s a good piece, and fair. The positives are he was a “high-motor” player before that term came in to vogue. He was a wild man. He was awesome in his off-the-field ventures. From 1961-71 he had 97-1/2 sacks and was a 2nd-team All-Pro once and 2 Pro Bowls.

    The issue to me, is his productivity in his last 8 years, only 29-1/2 sacks and 14 of those came in 1973 (7) and 1975 (7). He had years with very low totals: 1 in 1972, 2 in 1977 (both in same game) 1-1/2 in 1979, and so on. So, while he was amassing his streak of games, opposing left tackles were pitching a lot of shutouts.

    It’s easy to like a guy like him, tough, talented, relentless . . . but for those last years he really only had warning track power in terms of his #1 job of getting to the QB.

    Nonetheless, excellent piece.

    • Rick Gosselin
      February 16, 2016

      That’s all we try to do with this section, John. State the Case. It’s up to the readers and, hopefully one day,the voters to decide whether a player is worthy or not.

    • February 17, 2016

      John, you’re right … as usual. But, as Rick said, we’re just trying to present the evidence and let the reader make up his mind. Always, ALWAYS, good to hear from you. Appreciate any and all feedback from you.

  3. Jimmy
    February 16, 2016

    I am surprised to learn he isn’t long ago in the hall of fame.

  4. Bobby
    February 17, 2016

    Hall of Famer

  5. Sam Goldenberg
    February 17, 2016

    Thanks Clark for presenting such an interesting case. Jim Marshall certainly has consistency and longevity. There is also no doubt he was a productive player with his sacks and fumble recoveries. His lack of Pro Bowls (2) hurts his case. I always thought Marshall was an outstanding player, but playing the same line with Eller and Page also hurts his chances. One could argue Eller and Page had the focus of the blocking schemes and Marshall should have been more dominant. Also it is hard to consider Marshall when Jerry Kramer is still out there. Kramer’s accomplishments dwarf Marshall’s. It is too bad that more than one (or two) Senior candidates can’t be considered annually.

    • February 17, 2016

      Agree, Sam. Really don’t understand the Kramer thing. Should have been in years ago. But just trying to present cases of other HOF worthy candidates, and Marshall among them. Thanks for writing.

      • Sam Goldenberg
        February 18, 2016

        Clark, there seems to be a lot of great Senior Candidates like Kramer and Marshall. Do you foresee the process changing and allowing for more Senior Candidates annually than the current 1 or 2?

        • February 20, 2016

          Dont forsee it changing from two. Will go one next year and 2019, with the Hall revisiting the contributor idea. Really wish they hadn’t taken away one senior every other year for a second contributor. Way more seniors than contributors waiting to get in.

  6. bachslunch
    March 3, 2016

    I don’t see that Marshall’s wrong way run is keeping him out of the HoF. Anybody can make a mistake. Unfortunately for Marshall, he was the third best player on his own d-line most of his career — and the second best, Carl Eller, took 13 tries to get in. Marshall was never once a 1st team all pro and went to only two pro bowls in his 20 year career; if he were elected, he would have the worst such numbers of any non-skill position HoFer from the pro bowl era by a solid margin. And if a consecutive game streak by itself were HoF worthy, we’d need to induct Jeff Feagles into the PFHoF and Everett Scott into the MLB HoF. Note also that Marshall no longer has the record for defensive fumble recoveries — Rod Woodson does, according to the pro football reference website. Vikings fans who want to back a deserving snub might want to consider Joey Browner (who is almost certain to fall into the Senior pool next year) or Gary Anderson (who will likely go nowhere, which is unfortunate given that he’s one of the most accurate FG kickers adjusted for era, along with Morton Andersen, Lou Groza, Jan Stenerud, and Nick Lowery).

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