The Vikings play most known for its ignominy and folly, rather than it's greatness or bitter sweetness, occurred on October 25, 1964, at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, CA during a contest with the 49ers. Vikings DE Jim Marshall, pursuing a scrambling 49ers QB from behind, recovered a fumble and ran with the it in the same direction he had been pursuing the play toward his own end zone. In other words, the WRONG way.
Marshall sprinted down the field alone, his teammates unable to get his attention over the course of 66 yards. When he reached the end zone, Marshall made like a softball pitcher and underhanded the ball well into the stands, to celebrate the touchdown he believed he had just scored. Marshall was bewildered when 49ers center Bruce Bosley arrived in the end zone and said "Thanks, Jim." Suddenly, Marshall bent over and held his head in his hands, realizing finally what he had just done.
Years later, in 1994, NFL Films made a video titled "NFL's 100 Greatest Follies" and listed Marshall's wrong-way run for a safety as number one. Marshall said in response at the time that he was surprised at the top ranking, but NFL Films director Steve Sabol said that it wasn't close. NFL Films had polled coaches, media members, and club officials, and said: "Marshall's run was a lopsided choice."
Marshall, known for his determination which is reflected in his ownership of the NFL's consecutive games played record, came back from the error to play a wonderful game, including forcing another fumble that was recovered by DE Carl Eller and returned for a TD. The Vikings won 27-22, but that was to be a footnote in history.
36 years later, Marshall has had a tough time sharing in the humor with which his gaffe has been recalled. "That is something I would rather forget, although it's not going to happen," Marshall said. "In the years I spent playing football, trying to play the best I could play, to have that all overshadowed by one play... it's not the ideal situation."
When asked what people ask him most about that play, Marshall said "The No. 1 question is, 'I've always wondered what you thought at that moment?' And I say, 'Think of the worst thing you've ever done the thing you're most ashamed of and it was seen by 80 million people. Then think of people coming up to you and reminding you of it for the rest of your life. That gives you a sense of what I've gone through."
Maybe the rest of the football world remembers Jim Marshall for the Wrong-Way Run, but we Vikings fans know better. We will always remember him for what he was. The best defensive end in Vikings history, and a major part of a great defense that came to be known as and is still called "The Purple People Eaters."
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