Work in Sports
'My life will continue'
Ex-'Purple People Eater' Marshall has cancer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jim Marshall, the leader of the Minnesota Vikings' famed "Purple People Eater" defense, says he'll fight cancer with the same dogged determination that guided him to greatness on the football field.
"You know, I fight a good fight. So, this is just another fight ... and I plan on surviving this," Marshall told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
Marshall, 62, told WCCO-TV on Tuesday it was prostate cancer, and said it was serious and "it seems to have spread to the bone."
Marshall, who anchored the Vikings' renowned defensive front that included Carl Eller, Alan Page and Gary Larsen under head coach Bud Grant in the 1970s, said he will go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to consider treatment options.
"My money's on Jim," Eller said. "Partly because that's the way I would want it to go."
Tuesday's published story was the first public revelation of Marshall's cancer, though he told the newspaper it was diagnosed nine months ago.
After starring in track and football at Ohio State, Marshall played a year in the Canadian Football League before joining the Cleveland Browns in 1960. He was traded to Minnesota the next season, becoming one of the original Vikings.
He played in 270 consecutive games with the Vikings from 1961-79, and appeared in four Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls. He holds the NFL's record for consecutive games played, with 282.
He also holds a league record for recovering 29 opponents' fumbles, including one that resulted in a play for which he may be best remembered: In 1964 at San Francisco, he returned a 49ers' fumble 66 yards -- the wrong way. The play resulted in a safety, but the Vikings won 27-22.
Eller said Marshall told him of his illness during the weekend.
"It's tragic news. The prognosis is not very good," Eller said. "Jim's a great guy and this is a tragedy, but I'm just optimistic and doing whatever I can to support him and to be his friend as he's been a friend of mine all these years."
Page, now a state Supreme Court justice, learned of Marshall's illness when an Associated Press reporter called his chambers.
"I guess I'm a little lost for words. I wasn't aware of this," Page said. "Well, Jim has a way of focusing on a problem, both on the football field and off, and understanding the odds and working even when it seems impossible to overcome."
"Jim means so much to everyone," head coach Dennis Green said at the Vikings' training camp in Mankato. "His family, the [charity] group that he works with, and Minnesota Vikings fans. So our prayers and hopes and wishes are with him."
Fred Zamberletti, the Vikings' medical services director and part of the organization since its inception in 1961, said Marshall's work ethic was unmatched.
"Marshall knew only one speed: all-out," Zamberletti said.
Paul Wiggin, the Vikings' personnel director, called Marshall the prototype defensive lineman.
"I thought Marshall was the most complete player in the sense that he did it all," Wiggin said. "He was a topnotch pass rusher, a topnotch run defender, an all-out player. He didn't pick his spots. He played hard all the time. He had all the things you love in a player."
"I've always thought Jim Marshall was kind of overlooked because it was Alan Page who really dominated that defense and got most of the attention," Packers general manager Ron Wolf said. "But I think his length of service, and his consecutive-game streak, was a testament to his ability and desire to play the game.
"You hear this from so many people, and I may not be qualified to say this, but to me Jim Marshall should be Canton, Ohio, in the Hall of Fame."
Page said Marshall has never lamented his wrong-way notoriety.
"It's never been an issue for him as far as I could tell," Page said. "To define somebody's career by one play is pretty silly, though."
Marshall has spent much of his post-playing days helping inner-city youth and working for charities, including Life's Missing Link, a non-profit fund-raising support group for troubled youth.
"It's so little known the good things that Jim does and how much he does for the community," Eller said. "He is an amazingly giving person, and he was always that way. I don't think that's going to change, even though he's going to be the one needing the support now."
Marshall told the Pioneer Press he didn't want the public's pity.
"I'm doing all right," he said. "I'm optimistic, and my life will continue."
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks contributed to this report