I. . .AM. . .IRON MAN!!
I'd like to start this out by giving a hat tip to Pacifist Viking for pointing out an absolutely absurd article on Yahoo Sports that discusses whether a certain, irrelevant quarterback's consecutive games started streak is more impressive than that of the great Baltimore Orioles' shortstop, Cal Ripken, Jr. Well, here's your answer.
No. No, it's not. Seriously, it's not.
But if we're going to compare "Iron Man" streaks at all, why not compare Cal Ripken, Jr. to the NFL's true Iron Man? To the one person that still, to this day, is the standard bearer for any and all consecutive game streaks in the history of the NFL (with some very limited apologies to Jeff Feagles). That man, ladies and gentlemen, is someone that should be sitting in a spot in that big building in Canton, Ohio. That man was one of the anchors of one of the greatest defensive lines in the history of the National Football League.
Yes, fellow football fans, I speak of the man that's #70 in your programs and #1 in your hearts. . .the NFL's true Iron Man, Jim Marshall.
Jim Marshall played his college ball at Ohio State University. He left after his junior year to go and play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League for one season, after which he was selected in the 4th round of the 1960 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He then joined the Beloved Purple prior to their inaugural season in 1961, and when he retired in 1979, he was the last player from that original Vikings team to leave the NFL. His first game was as a member of the Browns on 25 September 1960. He went on to play for 20 full NFL seasons and never missed a single game. Not one.
Marshall played in 282 consecutive National Football League regular season games. If you count the post-season appearances he made as a member of the Vikings, that number jumps to 302. . .and to 304 if you want to include his two Pro Bowl appearances (in 1968 and 1969). He started 270 consecutive games, which still stands as the NFL record. In his last home game as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, he collected two quarterback sacks of the Buffalo Bills' Joe Ferguson. . .and he even played right offensive tackle on Minnesota's final series of the game. For that, he was given the first ever game ball that legendary coach Bud Grant handed out.
He's tied with Jackie Slater for the third-most seasons played in NFL history with 20, and is second to Slater in most years spent with one team with 19 (Slater spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams).
Grant often used to call Marshall a physiological marvel. Part of this had to do with the fact that Marshall played at the level he played at while weighing in at a "mere" 235 pounds. . .and that was at his heaviest. He weighed about 220 when he first came into the National Football League. Could you even begin to imagine a 235 pound defensive end in today's NFL? Just as a reference point, Tarvaris Jackson. . .who is the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback. . .also weighs approximately 235 pounds (NFL.com lists him at 232). Another reason would probably have to be the things that Marshall overcame to keep his streak going. Twice he continued his streak after walking out of a hospital suffering pneumonia and/or ulcers. He even managed to play in a game shortly after accidentally shooting himself in the side while cleaning a shotgun (Marshall was, and still is, an avid outdoorsman).
Sadly, the thing that many people remember Jim Marshall for. . .and really, this is pathetic. . .is a game against the San Francisco 49ers back in 1964 where he recovered a fumble and managed to run it 66 yards the wrong way. He thought he was scoring a Minnesota touchdown, but he really produced a safety for the 49ers instead. What people forget is that he helped the Vikings win that day by forcing and recovering a fumble after he made his mistake.
But what Vikings fans remember when they see Jim Marshall is true, unbridled greatness. And they also remember the fact that Jim Marshall was on the field for every single game in the history of the Minnesota Vikings during the first 19 seasons of their existence. He, and he alone, is the greatest Iron Man in the history of the National Football League. Will his record be broken? I suppose there's a chance of it happening. But it won't happen any time soon.
Here's to you, #70. Thanks for the memories, and for a legacy that still lives on today.