Sometimes, even a talented professional football player can make a boneheaded mistake.
Case in point, during an October 1964 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall scooped up a fumble.
He then proceeded to rumble 66 yards to the house.
The only problem was that Marshall had run the wrong way and scored for the Niners.
Thankfully, the mistake only cost his team two points, but the play was memorable nonetheless.
Although Marshall is remembered for his gaffe, he was much more than a wrong-way runner.
Here's some REAL football weather. That's Jim Marshall … I think. pic.twitter.com/FJN07u8QSI
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) October 11, 2015
He played 19 years for the Vikings and was the inaugural member of the franchise’s vaunted “Purple People Eaters” defense.
Along the way, Marshall set NFL records for consecutive games started, games played, and fumble recoveries.
This is the impressive story of Jim Marshall, one of pro football’s true “iron men.”
Football and Hubcaps
James Lawrence Marshall was born on December 30, 1937, in Wilsonville, Kentucky.
— Ken Crippen (@KenCrippen) December 30, 2015
Not long after his birth, the Marshall family moved to Columbus, Ohio.
He attended East High School and was a beast for the football team.
While playing for the Tigers, Marshall was part of two undefeated teams, and he accumulated a host of awards including All-State, All-City, and High School All-American.
Additionally, Marshall was selected to play in a postseason all-star game after his senior year.
As well as he played on the gridiron, Marshall did not always live up to expectations off the field.
“Half the guys I grew up with are in the Ohio Penitentiary,” said Marshall.
To those who knew him best, Marshall was a purveyor of hubcaps—other people’s hubcaps.
Anyone who wanted to make a little money—and could get their hands on some stolen hubcaps—knew to bring them to Marshall, who would sell them for cash.
Despite his penchant for illegal shenanigans, Marshall was a heavily recruited high school player.
Jim Marshall during his senior year at Columbus East. He would go on to play for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/YjjJEBL1aL
— Jim Marshall to the HOF (@JimMarshallFan) October 9, 2020
He matriculated to Ohio State and played for head coach Woody Hayes.
In his second season on campus, the 1957 Buckeyes went 9-1 and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
The victory was OSU’s third national title.
During his junior year in 1958, the Buckeyes were hosting Purdue, and Marshall nearly won the game single-handedly.
Playing as a defensive end, Marshall snagged a pass attempt and ran 25 yards for a touchdown.
Sometime later, he corralled a blocked punt and took it 22 yards for another score.
Displaying a rare talent for someone of his size and position, Marshall kicked the extra points after both his scores.
— Tom Adelsberg (@ShhhTAdelsberg) May 20, 2021
Unfortunately, the Ohio State defense couldn’t keep the Boilermakers from getting two touchdowns of their own, and the contest ended 14-14.
When he wasn’t playing football, Marshall was a shotput and discus thrower for the Buckeyes’ track team.
While at OSU, Marshall was an All-American and eventually became a member of the OSU Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.
Marshall Leaves for the Pros
Marshall had one more year of college eligibility in 1959.
However, he decided to leave school and become a pro football player for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I didn’t know where Saskatchewan was,” Marshall said in 2020. “I heard a lot about, ‘Go to Canada and get some money.’ I went to Canada and, with the exchange rate, I think the Canadian dollar was about 75 percent of the American dollar. It shows how dumb I was then.”
After a year playing in Canada, Marshall was traded to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for quarterback/defensive back Bob Ptacek.
Cleveland head coach Paul Brown started Marshall at defensive end, but the two soon found themselves in regular disagreements.
Whoa, wait a minute, why is Jim Marshall so chummy with Browns HOF RB Jim Brown? No worries, they were teammates in 1960 in Jim's first season in the NFL with Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/beah7sf48x
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) July 16, 2021
Their heated discussions put Marshall on the sidelines for long stretches.
He started seven games for the Browns in 1960 and had 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
(The NFL did not keep track of tackles or sacks at the time. Marshall’s sack totals have been accounted for in recent years.)
FINALLY: @pfref has tallied NFL sacks from 1960-82, and SIX Minnesota Vikings are among the top 25 all-time in sacks! 💜🙏🏈
(Chris Doleman, Alan Page, John Randle, Jared Allen, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall.) pic.twitter.com/NFrekd4Lmg
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) July 13, 2021
When the season ended, Brown intended to move Marshall to the offensive line.
Thankfully, fate would have something else in store for Marshall.
Trade to the Vikings
In 1960, the NFL awarded a franchise to Minnesota where the new Vikings were to begin playing in 1961.
Meanwhile, Marshall was getting ready to play his second season in Cleveland when he was diagnosed with encephalitis.
The condition led Marshall to lose weight, and Brown began to lose patience.
He didn’t get along with Marshall, and the player’s health only made their relationship worse.
Brown, acting as Cleveland’s general manager, packaged Marshall with a number of other players and traded them to the Vikings in exchange for two Minnesota draft picks in 1962.
Marshall then joined the Vikings and their head coach, Norm Van Brocklin, for the team’s first season.
December 14, 1961: Minnesota Vikings' Ray Hayes and Jim Marshall play in the snow during a workout at Midway stadium. (John Croft/@StarTribune)@Vikings @StribSports @NFL #NFL pic.twitter.com/C0KzBqYHT0
— Vintage Minnesota (@VintageMinn) December 14, 2018
The ’61 Vikings weren’t a great team, ending the year 3-11, but they did have good, young players such as Marshall and quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
Minnesota wasn’t much better in 1962 or 1963, winning just seven total games.
Marshall Runs the Wrong Way
By 1964, the Vikings were beginning to see the fruits of their labor.
The year before, Marshall had 10.5 sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown.
He had 11.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in 1964, leading to a second-team All-Pro nod.
Also, with the sixth overall pick in the 1964 NFL Draft, the Vikings took University of Minnesota defensive end, Carl Eller.
Marshall and Eller proved to be great bookends for the Vikings and they frequently made life miserable for opponents.
In Week 7 of the ’64 season, Minnesota was 3-3 and facing the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco.
Early in the game, the Niners coughed up a fumble that Marshall recovered, ending a scoring threat.
When San Fran had the ball later in the contest, Marshall had a full head of steam and was bearing down on Niners quarterback, George Mira.
Before Marshall could get to him, Mira threw a pass to Billy Kilmer.
Kilmer fumbled the ball, and Marshall was there to grab the pigskin and keep running.
He continued 66 yards until he reached the end zone, then threw the ball into the air in celebration.
Jim Marshall's Wrong Way Run | This Day In NFL History (10/25/65) pic.twitter.com/SjmYVyGBRg
— edoardo calcagno (@foggy65) May 27, 2020
When he turned around, San Francisco player Bruce Bosley ran up to Marshall and hugged him.
It was at that moment that Marshall realized he had made a huge mistake.
“I was so intent on picking the ball up and doing something with it that I wasn’t even aware of what I had done until the ball had been whistled dead,” Marshall recalls. “It was the perfect example of a young player using energy without thinking.”
Marshall had gotten himself turned around on the play and ran toward the end zone his team was defending.
Because he threw the ball into the air, the play was ruled a safety.
As he was returning to the sideline, Van Brocklin was shaking his head and laughing.
“Jim, you did the most interesting thing in this game today,” said Van Brocklin.
In the fourth quarter, Marshall redeemed himself when he sacked Mira and forced a fumble that Eller picked up and ran for a touchdown.
Those proved to be the winning points, and Minnesota escaped with a 27-22 victory.
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) September 15, 2015
Marshall’s teammates couldn’t help but tease him on the way home, however.
“They kept telling me to get up in the cockpit and fly the plane,” Marshall said. “That way, we’d end up in Hawaii instead of Minnesota.”
Bud Grant Leads the Vikings
By the end of the 1966 season, Minnesota was still mired in mediocrity.
Ever since an 8-5-1 record in 1964, the team had mustered only 11 wins total between 1965 and 1966.
They should have been better, especially after defensive tackle Gary Larsen arrived from the Rams in 1965.
That wasn’t the case and Minnesota fired van Brocklin and hired former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Bud Grant before the 1967 season.
— Vikings on PFS (@spot_vikings) July 1, 2017
In the draft that year, the Vikings took Notre Dame defensive tackle Alan Page.
Minnesota went 3-8-3 in Grant’s first year but won eight games in 1968 and the Vikings lost in their first-ever playoff game, 24-14 to the Baltimore Colts.
That same season, Marshall had 10 sacks and a safety on his way to a Pro Bowl and another second-team All-Pro selection.
The Purple People Eaters and a Super Bowl Run
In their ninth season as an NFL franchise, the Minnesota Vikings nearly ran the table in 1969.
The team lost its first game of the year to the New York Giants then reeled off 12 straight wins before losing to Atlanta in the final game to end the season 12-2.
Minnesota had the best of both worlds that year, boasting the league’s best offense and defense.
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) June 15, 2021
The Vikings’ defensive line—consisting of Marshall, Eller, Page, and Larsen—became known as the “Purple People Eaters” for their ability to sack quarterbacks and make big plays.
“At our peak,” said Marshall in 1979, “we changed the game. Rules were passed to help teams adjust to us. The new holding rules, the outlawing of the head slap—that was because of the things we did. We were like a SWAT team, a strike task force—quick and agile. Apart, we were entirely different, but put us together and we clicked. It got to the point where I knew what the others were going to do the moment they started it. It was just understood.”
In the playoffs, Minnesota snuck past the Rams then beat Cleveland for the NFL Championship.
That win pitted the Vikings against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.
Before the contest, Minnesota was a favorite to win the game by almost two touchdowns.
Super Bowl Frozen Memories – The Purple People Eater Defensive Line of Jim Marshall, Alan Page, Gary Larsen and Carl Eller in the days preceding Super Bowl IV. #vikings @ACPage_77 pic.twitter.com/pkjPYiHS3d
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) January 28, 2019
That didn’t happen as Marshall and his defensive mates couldn’t stop the Chiefs and lost 23-7.
After the season ended, Marshall went to his second Pro Bowl and was voted a second-team All-Pro for the third time based on his 14 sacks, one interception, and two fumble recoveries.
A Snowmobile Trip Gone Terribly Wrong
Minnesota remained competitive the next two years but was bounced in the first round of the playoffs in 1970 and 1971.
By that point, Marshall had not missed a game or a start during his time in Minnesota.
Not even pneumonia or accidentally shooting himself in the side while cleaning a shotgun could force Marshall to miss a game.
However, one incident nearly cost him not only a start but his life as well.
In the winter of 1971, Marshall and a group of friends went for a snowmobile ride in the mountains of Wyoming.
At one point, the group found themselves in the backcountry when a blizzard struck.
One by one, every snowmobile died, and the men were stuck in deep snow with no way out.
Thinking fast, Marshall dug into his pockets and pulled out money, checks, candy wrappers, and anything else he could use to start a fire.
@jzulgad Can't believe you never heard of Klobuchar's snowmobile trip. Jim Marshall and Paul Dickson were the Vikings. They were burning money to start a fire. Also, Klobuchar's 1st book was "True Hearts and Purple Heads."
— George Deer (@georgecdeer) May 3, 2021
Although one of the men would die of hypothermia, Marshall and the others survived thanks to the fire he started and huddling together for warmth.
“… the toughest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life,” Marshall remarked.
Eventually, Marshall and his friends were rescued and brought back to civilization.
More Super Bowls
Beginning in 1973, Minnesota went to three Super Bowls in four years.
In 1973, the team went 12-2, beat Washington and Dallas in the playoffs, and lost to the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, 24-7.
The Vikings returned in 1974 after a 10-4 record and victories in the first two playoff rounds.
Once again, the team saw their championship dreams dashed when they were dispatched by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX, 16-6.
After a loss to the Cowboys in the 1975 Divisional round, Minnesota went 11-2-1 in 1976 and advanced to Super Bowl XI against the Oakland Raiders.
Art Shell thoroughly dominated one of the greatest defensive ends of his era in Super Bowl XI, holding Jim Marshall completely STATLESS. pic.twitter.com/e0CAmv2L7O
— Coach Robert Ortiz (@CoachOrtizOL) May 26, 2017
For the fourth time in as many chances, the Vikings lost again, 32-14.
During those four years, the Vikings’ defense was ranked among the top three each year but couldn’t come up big during the NFL’s biggest game.
Marshall continued to start every game and collected 21 total sacks between 1973 and 1976.
“Jim would say it’s the vitamins he takes or transcendental meditation or something else, but it’s not true,” says Fred Zamberletti, the Vikings’ trainer. “I’ve seen all that stuff come and go with him. He’s just one of those people who has been blessed with a great body.” Grant agrees, calling Marshall “a physiological impossibility. He just doesn’t rip, bust or tear.”
Near the end of the 1977 season, Marshall turned 40 years old but continued to play with the fire of a man half his age.
Minnesota won nine games that year before losing in the Conference Championship.
In 1978, Marshall had four sacks and two fumble recoveries as the Vikings lost in the Divisional round to the Rams.
Marshall’s better days were clearly behind him in 1979, but he continued to play.
“Why can’t I play football until I’m 42? Only because someone my age isn’t supposed to be able to,” said Marshall. “That’s the mind’s negative programming. The human body is the only thing we have that we can control to some degree, and the mental controls the physical. There are things we are physically capable of doing but push away from because our minds tell us to.”
During the final home game of the ’79 season against the Buffalo Bills, Marshall was involved in two sacks.
He also played offensive tackle during the Vikings’ last offensive series.
When the contest ended with a 10-3 Minnesota win, teammates lifted Marshall into the air and carried him off the field.
Why is Jim Marshall not in the football HOF? That’s the bigger question. The guy was a wrecking machine. Don’t give me any shit about running the wrong way either. The guy was a beast. pic.twitter.com/IbT5qeBsnf
— John Boutet (@JohnBoutet) November 16, 2019
The defensive end held the game ball and couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
With that, Marshall retired after the season.
“I always said I would play as long as I could contribute and the team needed me, and I still feel like I could play another year or two, but it’s time for a change,” he said. “I’m a talented individual, and now I have to let those talents take me elsewhere.”
His stellar 20-year career included a then-NFL record 277 consecutive starts and 282 games played.
Both records still stand for a defensive player.
Happy 84th Birthday to Jim Marshall!
🏈 Games played = 282
🏈 Games started = 277
🏈 Fumbles recovered = 30
🏆 NFL champion (1969)
⭐ 2× Pro Bowl (1968, 1969)
— JVAN (@VanderlansJim) December 30, 2021
Marshall also owns the NFL record for most career fumble recoveries (30), complete seasons by a defensive player (20), and most yardage lost on a fumble recovery (his 66-yard, wrong-way run).
Although the stats are unofficial, it is estimated that Marshall made over 1,000 tackles in his career as well as 130.5 sacks.
His total of 127 career sacks as a Viking is second only to former teammate Eller.
Marshall was a two-time Pro Bowler, three-time second-team All-Pro, and played in four Super Bowls.
When he retired in 1979, Marshall had played in every single Vikings game in team history to that point.
After his impressive career ended, Marshall was named one of the 50 Greatest Vikings, added to the Vikings’ Ring of Honor, selected for Minnesota’s 25th and 40th Anniversary Teams, and had his number 70 retired by the organization.
During and after his career, Marshall was involved in several charities and volunteered in the Minneapolis community.
His passion was working with kids, especially inner-city youth, and helping them navigate through their early years.
Marshall also stayed busy in the business sector with licenses to sell real estate, life insurance, and stocks and securities. He even owned a limousine service.
#Vikings great Jim Marshall is among 25 semifinalists as Senior inductee to Pro Football Hall of Fame. As many as 3 Seniors to be selected for the class of '23.
— VikingNations (@VikingNations) July 7, 2022
Although he has not been selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marshall, now 84 years young, looks back on his career with great pride.
“I had a great career and I am proud of it,” Marshall reflected in 2020. “I’ve had more fun than anybody should be allowed to have.”