While offensive players may grab most of the headlines, defenses usually win championships. Although the Minnesota Vikings couldn’t lift a Lombardi Trophy, their ‘Purple People Eaters’ still terrified opposing quarterbacks and earned a place in NFL history. Jim Marshall might not have been the best member of that famous defensive front, but probably had a more colorful life than any of his teammates.
In addition to his on-field exploits, Marshall almost died on a doomed snowmobiling trip in January 1971. The defensive lineman, however, managed to survive thanks to the cash in his wallet.
Jim Marshall’s famous football career
Professional sports are full of players who were very good but fell just short of all-time greatness. Unfortunately, Jim Marshall is one of those men.
While stats aren’t readily available from Marshall’s early playing career, the defensive end attended Ohio State. After making a name for himself as a pass rusher, he spent a season in the Canadian Football League before returning to the United States and entering the 1960 NFL draft. The Cleveland Browns then selected Marshall with the 44th overall pick.
The defensive lineman didn’t last long in Cleveland, though. After his first NFL campaign, Marshall joined the Minnesota Vikings; while there are different versions of what actually happened—as explained by Bleacher Report, Marshall was either traded or released as part of a gentleman’s agreement—that move helped set the stage for NFL history.
With the Vikings, Marshall teamed up with Alan Page, Carl Eller, and Gary Larsen to form the Purple People Eaters. The unit helped Minnesota turn into a dominant power; although they weren’t able to lift the Lombardi Trophy, the club claimed 10 divisional titles, one NFL crown—they lost to the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in the big game— and appeared in four Super Bowls. On an individual level, Marshall proved to be incredibly durable, making 270 consecutive starts during his 19 seasons in Minnesota.
Surviving a near-fatal snowmobiling trip
While Jim Marshall posted quite the Iron Man streak during his time with the Vikings, everything could have changed in 1971. A doomed snowmobiling expedition could have ended the lineman’s life and career.
As explained by the Los Angeles Times, Marshall and 15 others planned to embark on a snowmobile trip across Montana and Wyoming. During the first leg of the journey, however, a blizzard separated the group. One by one, their vehicles began to fail in the storm.
Faced with the prospect of spending a freezing night in the woods, the groups huddled together for warmth. Those with Jim Marshall, however, had an extra advantage. The NFL star had a wallet full of cash and his checkbook with him; those materials, combined with some candy wrappers and pieces of bark, allowed them to start a fire.
While one member of the expedition, a federal bank aid named Hugh D. Galusha Jr., died Marshall and the others managed to survive until they were rescued. The Vikings lineman went on to play nine more seasons in the NFL.
That wasn’t the only bizarre episode of Jim Marshall’s career
While spending 20 years in the NFL and surviving a deadly blizzard is more than enough action for one lifetime, that wasn’t all Jim Marshall did. His career was filled with plenty of bizarre moments.
The most famous of those episodes came in 1964, when the defensive end recovered a fumble. Marshall scooped up the ball and ran toward the end zone; in reality, though, he was going in the wrong direction. Rather than scoring a touchdown, he gifted the San Francisco 49ers a safety and made himself a fixture on NFL blooper reels.
Beyond that, Marshall also showed some serious toughness to keep his Iron Man streak alive. As documented by Anthony Cotton in an old Sports Illustrated piece, the defensive end checked himself out of the hospital on at least two occasions to take the field on Sunday; he also suited up for a game after accidentally shooting himself in the side with a shotgun.
Although he didn’t quite make it to Canton, Ohio, Jim Marshall had quite the football career. His personal life, however, may have been even more interesting than his time on the gridiron.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference