State Your Case: Jim Marshall

Minnesota's Jim Marshall is best known for his wrong-way run. But his career wasn't defined by one embarrassing moment. It was defined by consistency, durability and reliability.

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(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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