October 25, 2009

1964: Jim Marshall Runs the Wrong Way

Defensive End Jim Marshall had a long and outstanding career. After his rookie season with Cleveland in 1960, he joined the expansion Minnesota Vikings and was a defensive mainstay for the next 19 years, going to the Pro Bowl twice and receiving 2nd team All-NFL recognition on three occasions. At the time of his retirement following the 1979 season, he was pro football’s all-time iron man, having played in 282 consecutive games (a record since broken by a punter, Jeff Feagles). But for one play in one game, he became the pro football equivalent of college’s Roy Riegels, the University of California center who recovered a fumble in the 1929 Rose Bowl and proceeded to run 60 yards in the wrong direction.

The Vikings were playing the 49ers at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium on October 25, 1964. In the fourth quarter, the Niners had the ball with Minnesota leading by a score of 27-17. Quarterback George Mira fired a pass to Billy Kilmer, normally a QB but playing halfback in this instance. Hit hard, Kilmer fumbled and Marshall alertly scooped up the ball and took off toward the goal line, 66 yards away. Unfortunately for him, he had gotten turned around and lost his sense of direction.

San Francisco center Bruce Bosley trailed the play, thinking at first that Marshall might try and loop back in the right direction. He was the first player to greet Marshall after he crossed the goal line and tossed the ball away, assuring a two-point safety for the 49ers. “Thanks a lot, we can use more like that”, said Bosley to the stunned defensive end.

Fortunately for Marshall, his miscue didn’t lose the game for the Vikings. In fact, he accounted for a sack and forced fumble that helped seal the win. San Francisco managed only a 47-yard Tommy Davis field goal in the remaining time and the final score was 27-22.

Minnesota went on to an 8-5-1 record for the first winning season in the franchise’s history. Jim Marshall went on to have many better days. But his wrong-way run, resulting in a 66-yard safety, remains a significant footnote to pro football history.

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