MULE’: Marshall a Great Player, Better Man
Former LSU star Leonard Marshall inducted to La. Sports Hall of Fame
“I’m honored. I’m blessed. I’m privileged.”
That was Leonard Marshall, the former fearsome defensive lineman of the LSU Tigers and New York Giants, putting into words his emotions while returning to his home state last weekend – and upon his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.
It was easy to look at this hulk of a man and think back on Marshall’s playing days shedding offensive players like rag dolls and racking up quarterback sacks like pinball points. His memorable All-Pro NFL career included 79.5 sacks, the fifth highest in pro history. Marshall’s 1990 sack of San Francisco’s Joe Montana in the NFC championship game – which caused the quarterback a concussion, a bruised sternum and fractured ribs – was ranked by Fox Sports as the third most “devastating hit” in modern NFL history.
That turned out to be the last game Montana ever started for the 49ers.
And Marshall looks like he could still dispense such punishment.
But in some ways, on this weekend he was very much like the man-child who grew up one of seven kids born to a shipyard foreman in the Cajun Country town of Franklin, La. He’s a walking repository of the values his father ingrained in him and for what Pete Jenkins, the Tiger coach who in the 1980s molded him into a defensive terror, taught him.
Speaking about his dad and Jenkins, now an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles and sitting a few feet away, Marshall momentarily lost his composure while reflecting on the man who became “like a second father.”
“This man here taught me what it was like to be a man,” he said through a sudden burst of sobs, “and how to grow up and be responsible … and how to learn a lot about life from the game of football.”
Because of those men – his dad and Jenkins – Marshall is not one of those athletes who thinks he is the living end of the game. He gives credit to those who came before him, and he gives back to help those coming up.
Marshall, twice the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and twice a major part of Super Bowl championship teams, left football for a career as a financier. He then went on to a professorship of sports management at Seton Hall University, and to, as important as any of the others, benevolent endeavors such as NFL Cares (to help retired players who have medical, financial or psychological problems) and the Leonard Marshall Football Academy for youngsters between the ages of 8 and 18. He’s also involved with a literacy camp that helps youngsters with reading and writing difficulties.
“Yeah, I’d say this is a young man who derived the right values from his upbringing,” said Jenkins, proud of his protégé and friend. “Leonard is quite a man.”
Here was a man among boys in 1982 when he anchored an LSU line that finished the season in the Orange Bowl and broke a frustrating Tiger skein against the Man in the Houndstooth Hat, who tried to recruit Marshall.
LSU went 12 years without coming out on top against Alabama’s Bear Bryant. Marshall had a lot to do with a 20-10 Tiger victory in the last game Bryant would ever coach against LSU. The Tigers held Bama to 119 total yards, a quarter as much as the Crimson Tide had been averaging.
At halftime, Bryant said, “We’ve got to do something about that No. 97, slow him down.” Then, as if the thought just struck him, added, “If we had him we might be ahead in this thing.”
Of course, No. 97 was Marshall, a major cause for the havoc wrecking of the Crimson Tide despite relatively modest statistics: four tackles and one sack. But another dozen times he either hurried the quarterback or disrupted the play.
Put Marshall in a crimson jersey and … who knows?
“I think that’s the best beating we’ve had since the ’60s,” Bryant said afterward. “LSU had the superior team, and I know they had the best coach. Their defensive line ate up our offense. I didn’t think anybody could do that.”
It was a moment LSU partisans won’t forget.
“Leonard was just a magnificent football player,” Jenkins said. “But you know what? He’s an even better man.”
Marty Mule’ can be reached at email@example.com.