You’re standing in the Vikings Museum. Alan Page, the greatest Viking of all, knows you’re one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He asks if he can make a case against the unjust treatment of an old friend named Jim Marshall.
Your first instinct as a child of the ’70s is to look over your shoulder because there’s no way in heck that Alan 1971-NFL-MVP Page — distinguished winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and former Minnesota Supreme Court justice for over two decades — is actually asking your permission to begin opening statements.
Instead, you attempt a scholarly nod and say, “You may proceed, Mr. Page.”
“Jim was the absolute heartbeat of our entire team for 19 seasons,” Page said Tuesday before speaking to local high school students as part of a discussion panel honoring Black History Month.
“Nineteen years, Jim was the leader of our team.”
A team that went to four Super Bowls in eight seasons from 1969 to ’76. A team whose defense posted one of the most dominant three-year stretches in league history, giving up 9.5, 10.2 and 9.9 points per game with seven shutouts from 1969-71. A team that sent defensive tackle Page, defensive end Carl Eller, center Mick Tingelhoff, quarterback Fran Tarkenton, offensive tackle Ron Yary, safety Paul Krause, coach Bud Grant and General Manager Jim Finks to the Hall of Fame.
A team that won’t rest as long as Marshall, their co-captain and extroverted leader, remains outside the walls of the shrine in Canton, Ohio.
When Marshall retired in 1979 after 20 NFL seasons, he had played in every game, every week, for one-third of the league’s 60-year existence. Marshall’s record 270 consecutive starts stood until Brett Favre broke it 30 years later while playing for the Vikings.
As the NFL turns toward its second century, Marshall’s 282 consecutive games played ranks third behind punter Jeff Feagles (352) and Favre (299).
“Jim not only had the excellence deserving of the Hall of Fame, he also had longevity that’s never been seen by anyone else in 100 years,” Page said. “No offense to kickers and quarterbacks, but Jim hit someone or was hit by someone on every play for 20 years.
“You can’t do that without, A, being available every single day; B, being good enough; and, C, playing at such a high level that a team would want to keep you around that long.”
Although sacks didn’t become an official statistic until three years after Marshall retired, the Vikings rank Marshall second in career sacks with 127, just three behind Eller. Marshall also had 29 opponent fumble recoveries, an NFL record he shares with Hall of Famer Jason Taylor.
Marshall went to only two Pro Bowls and never made first-team All-Pro or an All-Decade team. And, unfortunately for his case, those are the key reasons he was overlooked for 25 years as a modern-era candidate and then buried in the backlog of senior committee candidates since 2004.
There was hope when the Hall announced plans for a 20-member Centennial class for 2020. But Marshall wasn’t among the 10 senior candidates chosen by the Hall’s one-time “Blue Ribbon” committee.
Marshall is 82. He’ll stay in the queue of senior candidates with a long shot of one day becoming a senior nominee.
“It’s the biggest shame,” Page said.
Later, Page shared a story that illustrated Marshall’s well-rounded game as leader the Purple People Eaters, that famous front four that terrorized quarterbacks.
“We’re on the goal line,” Page said. “It was during our lighter days. I was maybe 212 pounds. Jim was, I think, 210.
“The ball is snapped. Jim stands the big tackle up, bends him over backward and tackles the running back short of the goal line. That’s strength, leverage, understanding the game.
“No matter what happens, nothing changes. Jim Marshall had a great career that never will be forgotten.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: email@example.com