During his 20-year NFL career, Jim Marshall played in a then-record 282 consecutive games, starting 270 straight at defensive end for the Vikings. He was an iron man from 1960 to ’79.
But it took a toll. The former Vikings standout estimates he was knocked out one or two times per season. “If you were able to tell how many fingers they put up in front of you, or take some smelling salts and get it back together, you were back in the game,” Marshall said. “It was just part of the culture then. I don’t know how that affected me. But I can still talk.”
Marshall, 75, is waiting to see how Thursday’s news will affect him, too. The NFL has reached a preliminary settlement with thousands of former players who sued the league over brain injuries sustained while playing. The $765 million will go to provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired players and fund research.
But how will that trickle down to the players involved?
That was the question among former players Thursday. The news is out; the overall number is very large. But what will that mean?
“My reaction is wait and see,” said Paul Krause, 71, the Hall of Fame former Vikings safety. “We don’t know how they’re going to decide who gets what. Hopefully the older guys, who played in the league a long time back, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, will get their due. That’s my main concern. The league, they’re not going to come right out and say, ‘It was our fault.’ But, with this settlement, they’re saying they have some fault in it. But, personally, I don’t think they settled for enough.’’
The lawsuit had around 5,800 plaintiffs, about 4,800 of whom were former players, including Marshall and Krause. But the agreement would cover all former players, not just plaintiffs in the suit.
Like many former players, Krause, who said he sustained some severe concussions, has good days and bad. “My head bothers me,” he said. “I can tell sometimes when I’m not going to feel real well. … Some days my head hurts so bad I don’t know what to do. I try to do a good job of faking it.’’
Marshall has taken a few calls from former teammates asking for updates. “I told them exactly what I told you,’’ he said. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Marshall is still paying the price for his extensive career. He has had both hips and both knees replaced. Six weeks ago he had his second spinal fusion operation — it was his sixth total surgery on his spine — and will be going to the Mayo Clinic on Friday for a post-operative checkup.
Another former Viking who was among the plaintiffs, Bob Lurtsema, was a defensive lineman in the NFL for 11 seasons, five with the Vikings. Though he has his own issues, his main concern is that the players who need the most get help. Lurtsema said he is in relatively good shape, though he is part of an experimental program being administered by neuroscientist and brain-imaging expert Dr. Daniel G. Amen. The program includes lifestyle changes and the use of several nutritional supplements.
Lurtsema said the most important thing is to get help to the ex-players who most need it.
“We want to direct the money to those who are in dire need,” he said.
Still, with at least three concussions as a pro, Lurtsema, 71, has worked hard in the area of brain injury. He and current Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway went to North and South Dakota to push for legislation on youth sports concussions. Like everyone else, Lurtsema is waiting to find out what this settlement will mean for former players.
“There are a lot of tragic results of concussions,” he said.