Jim Marshall, Not Jeff Feagles, Is The NFL Ironman

Go ahead and say it, dismissively and with contempt: Jeff Feagles.

New York Giants punter, Jeff Feagles, will, in all likelihood, break outstanding former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall‘s ironman record of 282 consecutive games played by playing in his 283rd game today against Seattle.

If any sports record deserves an asterisk, this one does. The only impressive thing about Feagle’s streak is the odds-defying fact that he has yet to suit up for a game in which his team did not need to punt.

The fact that a punter will break Jim Marshall’s consecutive games streak is particularly insulting to me because I grew up watching Marshall play as a member of the famed Purple People Eaters Vikings defense of the 1970s. I saw how tough he was week in and week out.

I was at his last home game at the old Met Stadium on December 9, 1979, against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings won, 10-3; a game in which Marshall sacked Bills Quarterback Joe Ferguson twice and played offensive tackle during the Vikings final series.

While Feagles sustained his consecutive games streak solely by punting the football, Marshall started every game he played in, for twenty years–and that’s not counting 1959, when he left Ohio State a year early to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1960 and then being traded to the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961. For all but one of those seasons, NFL teams played 14-game seasons; in 1979, the league expanded to the current 16-game schedule.

In all, Jim Marshall played in 409 pre-, post-, regular-season and Pro Bowl games and accumlated 1050 tackles, 133 sacks, 29 fumble recoveries (an NFL record), one of which he returned the wrong way to score a safety for the other team. (The aforementioned tackles and sacks statistics do not include his year in Cleveland, for which no individual records were compiled.)

Marshall played in an era before the emergence of such situational niche players as the "pass rush specialist" or the "run stuffer" or rotational defensive line schemes designed to keep players "fresh."

And despite his incredible career, Jim Marshall has yet to be inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame.

Marshall is graceful about the imminent demise of his amazing record. "Records are meant to be broken, and I’ll congratulate [Feagles] when he does it," Marshall told the Star Tribune recently.

But I can’t muster up much grace.

If you watched the Vikings beat the New York Giants two weeks ago, you’ll know what I’m talking about. On Mewelde Moore‘s third quarter punt return for a touchdown, Jeff Feagles had a chance to make a play on Moore and perhaps prevent a touchdown. I half hoped that Moore would plow into Feagles but Moore must’ve taken pity on the pathetic punter because it was obvious that Feagles wanted no part of Moore. He stepped aside and let the Vikings have the touchdown. The twerp.

How else to explain Feagles’ feebleness but that he was eager to preserve his consecutive games streak and did not want to risk injury? You’d never see Jim Marshall do such a thing.