Hall Talk Prompts Jim Marshall Stories
To hear Bob Lurtsema tell it, Jim Marshall belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of consistency and teamwork.
The Vikings are making a push to get Marshall, who played his last season in 1979, enshrined in Canton, Ohio. It might happen but if this were easy lobbying, the former member of the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line would already be a Hall of Famer.
Two “People Eaters” are enshrined in the Hall, tackle Alan Page and end Carl Eller. In 1971 Page became the first defensive lineman in NFL history to be chosen the league’s MVP. He was a four-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year and also played in nine Pro Bowls. Eller was named All-Pro five times and was selected for six Pro Bowls.
Marshall can’t match the national honors accumulated by his two linemates, but he was an important contributor in taking the Vikings to four Super Bowls in the 1970s. He was chosen for two Pro Bowls but was never All-Pro. He held the NFL record for consecutive games started for many years until Brett Favre broke it.
Lurtsema was a reserve defensive lineman on Vikings teams in the 1970s. His admiration for Marshall continues until this day.
“He instigated the consistency for the ‘Purple People Eaters,’” Lurtsema told Sports Headliners. “He is a lot of the reason that Page and Eller are in the Hall of Fame.”
Marshall was a superb athlete and he excelled in sacking quarterbacks, but Lurtsema extolled the former Ohio State star’s willingness to play within the team concept. “You gotta realize how good he was,” Lurtsema said. “I couldn’t beat him out of his job. What he did the best was consistency.”
Marshall played at a reported 6-4, 248-pounds. He joined the Vikings in 1961, after one season with the Browns. He played 19 seasons for Minnesota and that service included those Super Bowls and 10 division titles for the Vikings. With a unit consisting of Marshall, Eller, Page and either Gary Larsen or Doug Sutherland, the “Purple People Eaters” ‘ defensive line was legendary for its dominance and it was the heart of Minnesota’s great teams.
Marshall was a team captain, and while greatly respected, he was also a character. He was one of the Vikings who built toy rockets and tried to launch them at training camp in Mankato. Lurtsema recalled the time Marshall added a “passenger” to his three-stage rocket.
The players placed bets on whether during the rocket’s third phase a frog would disengage while wearing a parachute. “Freddie the Frog never survived, I guess,” Lurtsema said. “We looked for him.”
Coach Bud Grant didn’t like to have his players arrive too early for games—believing that was a waste of time and energy. The policy was adhered to when the Vikings had exhibition games and drove their cars from Mankato to Met Stadium. Marshall kept a handgun during training camp and Grant saw a way to make a positive out of his leader having a firearm.
Grant told Marshall that no players were to leave for Met Stadium before 4 p.m., so on exhibition game days players gathered in a circle in Mankato awaiting the countdown. “He pulls that gun out and shoots that gun off, and off we go,” Lurtsema said.
There is no doubt Marshall ranks with the all-time Vikings characters. He is 79 now and has lived a fearless life on and off the field. His mental toughness enabled him to start and play in 282 consecutive NFL games, including 270 with the Vikings. At training camp he once accidentally shot himself, and he could have died after a 1971 snowmobile accident in Wyoming where cash was burned to keep bodies warm. He is also a cancer survivor.
Marshall’s infamous moment on the field was his wrong-way run with a fumble in a 1964 game against the 49ers. He ran 66 yards and into the wrong end zone, and scored a safety for the 49ers. Maybe the only saving grace was the game was played in San Francisco, not at Met Stadium.
Over the years Marshall has made Minnesota home. “Jim did all the charity work, always out there,” Lurtsema said. “Signed autographs, did everything.”
Marshall was inducted into the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor in 1999, joining a group that comprises the franchise’s best players since 1961. Now the Vikings ownership, management and alumni are hoping for an even higher honor. “There should be a place in the Hall (at Canton) for him,” Lurtsema said.
Former Gophers assistant coach Mike Sherels, who was seriously ill last year, will receive the Courage Award at the Minnesota Football Honors event Sunday, May 7 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The 10th annual gathering is hosted by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. Numerous other awards will be presented including the Sid Hartman Media Award to Minnesota native and CBS sportscaster Brad Nessler, and the John Gagliardi Legacy Award to former Totino-Grace High School coach Dave Nigon.
Eight high school scholar-athlete award winners will be recognized: Jacob Brown, Hastings; Noah Carlson, Rushford-Peterson; Brad Davison, Maple Grove; Kellen Erpenbach, Norwood-Young America Central; Noah Gindorff, Crosby-Ironton; Timothy Johnson, Hinckley-Finlayson; Joe Russell, Totino-Grace; and Eric Wilson, Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Houa Thao from St. Paul Harding is the Stacy Robinson Leadership Award winner.
College football players being recognized are Carter Hanson from St. John’s with the Stein-Fallon Scholar-Athlete Award, and Peter Bateman of UMD with the Bobby Bell College Impact Player of the Year Award. Others being honored are Terry Carlyle for the Fred Zamberletti Award; Morrie Lanning with the Bud Grant Distinguished Minnesotan; and Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta Community for the “In The Game Award.” More information on the May 7 event, including tickets, is available at www.nffmn.org.
Congratulations to the Fitzgerald family for raising close to $2 million to benefit organizations locally and nationally that assist in HIV prevention, breast cancer awareness and urban education. Minneapolis sports journalist Larry Fitzgerald Sr. lost his wife Carol to breast cancer in 2003, and he and sons Larry Jr. and Marcus have honored her memory with the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund Benefit.
The 13th annual CFMFB Gala will be tomorrow night at the Minneapolis Event Center and will raise proceeds for the cause. The sports-themed gala features NFL star Larry Jr. and headline entertainer Mike Phillips, who has played with Michael Jackson, Prince and Stevie Wonder. Call 612-770-4575 for more information.
The Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund Community Celebration will be held from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Martin Luther King Center in Minneapolis. Activities will include Larry Jr. signing autographs and also a silent auction. For tickets call 612-619-0102.