Vikings fans have long been frustrated at the perceived injustices when in comes to Hall of Fame voting. One of those wrongs will presumably be righted on Saturday as Mick Tingelhoff hopefully gets his due, leaving one glaring omission from the Purple People Eaters.
Back in August, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Selection Committee nominated Tingelhoff as their only finalist for consideration to join the class of 2015. The former Vikings center needs to garner 80 percent of the vote when the selection meeting is held on Saturday. The new inductees will be announced that night on the eve of the Super Bowl, and I fully expect Tingelhoff to finally get his place in Canton.
I explained Tingelhoff’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame back in August. In the comments section of said article, the name of the other prominent Vikings great not in the Hall of Fame naturally came up: Jim Marshall.
At the time I said I didn’t think Marshall had a strong case for the Hall. I called him a “borderline Hall of Famer.” That opinion aligned me with Hall of Fame voters -- who have yet to cast enough votes for Marshall to get him a bust in Canton -- and likely ticked off a few Vikings fans.
Believe me, I’d love to see Marshall make the Hall of Fame. I was a fan of his when he played, I recognize how important he was to the Vikings teams of the 1960s and 70s and he seems like a great guy by all accounts. I had the honor of meeting him once, many years ago, and I will never ever forget shaking his hand. It was like he was wearing a baseball mit. My hand disappeared up to the elbow inside his hand I think. At least that’s how I recall it. He’s a bigger than life man, great leader and was a great player.
I try to be objective about Hall of Fame matters, though. Marshall hasn’t played a game in more than 35 years and he isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the Hall just once in that span (back in 2004). It’s difficult to spin that as a positive outlook for his Hall of Fame momentum.
The problem Marshall faces is that there aren’t a lot of counting stats to use when making his case. The two things defensive ends should be best known for are sacks and tackles. That’s their primary function. Unfortunately, sacks didn’t become recognized as an official NFL stat until 1982, which is three years after Marshall played his final game. And tackles still aren’t an official stat.
Without gaudy numbers to make his case, voters are left to look at other criteria such as Pro Bowl and All Pro selections and postseason success. That’s where the bigger problems arise. For all his greatness, Marshall made the Pro Bowl only twice and was never selected All-Pro. It’s tough to make a case that someone was among the greatest of all time when he was never deemed the best at his position in any season in which he played. And Marshall played 20 seasons.
As if that’s not enough to overcome, his teams lost four Super Bowls and the Vikings’ famed Purple People Eaters didn’t fare well in any of the three.
Throw in one of the most notorious gaffes in sports history back in 1964 -- his infamous “Wrong Way Run” in which he scored a safety for the 49ers, thinking he had run in a fumble recovery for a touchdown -- and you have quite a argument against his enshrinement, with a little embarrassing gravy on top.
I have always rested my case after considering all those obstacles.
Like any football fan or observer or media member, however, I’m allowed to change my opinion -- to let it evolve over time.
To that end, there’s a solid case that can be made in favor of Marshall being a Hall of Famer when you consider some more facts.
He was, without question, one of the most durable players of all time in any sport. He set NFL records with 282 consecutive games played and 270 consecutive starts. Both are still records for defensive ends. Marshall never missed a game. He also holds the NFL record for opponents’ fumbles recovered with 29.
While his sack total is not official, Marshall is credited with 127 sacks while with the Vikings, which is the second most in team history behind Hall of Famer Carl Eller. Consider this: in the 33 years since sacks started being counted as an official stat, only 13 players have recorded more than 127 sacks. Eight of those 13 players are in the Hall of Fame, and the other five (Kevin Greene, Jason Taylor, John Abraham, Jared Allen and Leslie O’Neal) have solid to slam dunk Hall credentials.
In light of his impressive, though unofficial, sack total, his record number of fumble recoveries and unmatched toughness, a solid Hall of Fame case can be made.
But what about the lack of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors?
That’s always going to hurt his case, but it’s worth noting that he had Hall of Fame contemporaries such as teammate Carl Eller plus Elvin Bethea, Jack Youngblood, Willie Davis and of course Deacon Jones. There’s not a lot of elbow room at the All-Pro table when your career overlaps with those guys.
Only six Minnesota Vikings have ever had their number retired. The late Korey Stringer is one. Three others are in the Hall of Fame (Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Cris Carter) and a fourth (Tingelhoff) could join them on Saturday.
The only other Viking to have his number retired is Marshall -- the Vikings’ captain for 17 years.
John Randle and Randall McDaniel haven’t had their numbers retired. Neither have Ron Yary, Gary Zimmerman, Chris Doleman or Paul Krause. They’re all in the Hall of Fame, though. As is the man who coached most of those guys, Bud Grant.
Coach Grant was quoted extensively in the press release that accompanied the announcement of Marshall’s number being retired back on Nov. 28, 1999.
“Many times people ask coaches who their greatest player was,” Grant said. “It’s normally very hard to choose, but I don’t hesitate to say Jim Marshall.”
Who am I to disagree with Bud?
Maybe Marshall isn’t an “inner ring” Hall of Famer, but such a thing doesn’t actually exist; and if it did, there wouldn’t be many included anyway. The more I’m able to put his accomplishments into perspective, however, the harder it is for me to deny that Jim Marshall worthy of being enshrined.
Maybe Tingelhoff will save him a seat at the table for next year.
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Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell