How would you like it if your entire career was judged by your worst day at the office?
In a way, that happened to NFL great Jim Marshall, who 55 years ago this week ran into the wrong end zone in what has been called one of the NFL's biggest blunders of all time.
On Oct. 25, 1964, Minnesota Viking Jim Marshall recovered a fumble from San Francisco 49ers running back Billy Kilmer. But instead of running into the opposing end zone for a touchdown, he ran the other way, resulting in a two-point safety for the 49ers.
Marshall didn't realize his mistake until San Francisco tackle Bruce Bosely patted him on the back after the play and said, "Thanks, buddy."
Marshall, now 81, has said, "It was tough when it happened," but he says it helped that the notoriously tough Minnesota coach Norm Van Brocklin told him to "just forget about it." Marshall says Vikings fans lived up to the reputation of Minnesota nice — most telling him something along the lines of "everyone makes mistakes." Of course, the reaction might have been very different had Minnesota ended up losing the game.
Instead, the Vikings beat the 49ers that day 27-22. Marshall went on to have an illustrious career as one of the Purple People Eaters of the 1960s and '70s. He says he tires of talking about it (wouldn't you?), but remains a pretty good sport. He even had a nice conversation with Kilmer (who ended up switching from 49ers running back to Washington Redskins quarterback later in his career) when the two men were playing in the same charity golf tournament.
Apparently, Marshall was also in touch with another famous "wrong way" player. In the 1929 Rose Bowl, Roy Riegels, who played for California, picked up a Georgia Tech fumble and ran the wrong way until his teammates stopped him at the 1-yard line.
Even after stopping him, California lost to Georgia Tech that day. Riegels was given the nickname "Wrong Way" and ended up sending Marshall a note in '64 that simply said, "Welcome to the club."
And apparently "wrong way" syndrome isn't going anywhere. Just last week, a high school player was tackled on the 10-yard line by his own teammate when he ran the wrong way after an interception.
Some fans speculate Marshall's blunder might be one of the reasons Marshall isn't in the Hall of Fame, despite lobbying to get him there. After all, he is one of the all-time Vikings sack leaders and played in an incredible 270 consecutive games, second all-time behind Brett Favre.
It just might prove that human nature, or at least football fans, are more likely to remember the wrong than the right.