Do Marshall, Eller Have A Shot?

At the end of this month, Jim Marshall and Carl Eller will learn if this is their year to get into the Hall of Fame. With the competition for this year's Hall of Fame class, it could be some long odds on that happening.

With Wednesday's release of the Hall of Fame finalists, the names of Jim Marshall and Carl Eller were once again forwarded for consideration. The two were among the greats of the glory years of the Vikings, but the question persists as to whether either will earn induction into the Canton, Ohio, Hall of Fame.

Both can make a strong case. Marshall, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland in the franchise's first year, holds perhaps the greatest single record in the history of football – consecutive games played. The only players in the history of the NFL who have played more seasons were kickers or quarterbacks who spent several years as aging backups – George Blanda, Gary Anderson, Morten Andersen and Earl Morrall. Marshall was a defensive end who played 20 years and never missed a game – making him the consummate ironman.

Whether coincidence or not, the first category listed in the NFL record book is service. In three of the first four categories, Marshall is at or near the top of the list. His 282 consecutive games played not only still stands, but the only person with a chance to catch him is punter Jeff Feagles, who will still need to play two more years to catch him. Marshall is also in the record books for making the most fumble recoveries with 29 – but most people only remember his infamous wrong way run.

While Marshall's indelible stamp on the league is that he played longer and through pain to never miss a game in his 20-year career, Eller's is more on the lines of the disruption he caused. In an age where teams developed classic front fours like the Fearsome Foursome and the Steel Curtain, the Purple People Eaters were right up there with them. Marshall, Eller and Hall of Famer Alan Page each made his contribution to the success of the Vikings defense, but it was Eller who was acknowledged as the pre-eminent sackmaster of the unit.

His pass rushing ability and vicious head slap became trademarks that helped lead the NFL to make the practice illegal after players like Eller and Deacon Jones were consistently manhandling offensive tackles. His presence as a dominant defensive end remains, but does his Hall of Fame credentials translate this many years later?

Many of the critics of the policy point out that players who never really established Hall of Fame credentials outside of Super Bowl wins have been inducted because of team success. For example, Lynn Swann never had a 1,000-yard receiving year in his career and he's in the Hall of Fame. So is Steelers teammate John Stallworth – the No. 2 receiver on the team. He played 14 years and will have his career totals for receptions, yards and touchdowns surpassed by Randy Moss in his seventh year. The Super Bowl losses for the Vikings delayed enshrinement for players like Ron Yary and Paul Krause and could preclude players like Marshall and Eller from reaching the Hall. There are many who believe if the Vikings had one a single Super Bowl, Eller, Marshall and center Mick Tingelhoff would already be in the Hall of Fame.

Another problem they face is the constant infusion of new candidates who can steal their thunder. This year, John Elway and Barry Sanders come up for induction. Don't think for a minute that they won't both go in on the first ballot. While four to seven players can get voted in each year, 32 of the 39 voters must put down a name for that player to get inducted. It hasn't happened yet for Eller or Marshall and some think some of the older voters feel those Vikings teams of the glory days have seen enough enshrinees with Page, Fran Tarkenton, Bud Grant, Yary and Krause.

It should come as no surprise that Marshall and Eller will have one thing in common that only Sanders shares among the 15 finalists – no Super Bowl wins. A glance at the other candidates and they represent the glory days of the Dolphins, Giants, Bears, Broncos, Cowboys and Redskins. Only Marshall, Eller and Sanders never won a Super Bowl ring and Sanders is already a lock for selection this year.

The decision on who makes it and who won't will be announced at the Super Bowl week festivities. Will Marshall or Eller hear their names called among the Class of 2004? We'll have to wait a couple of weeks for that, but, barring an appeal from voters like we saw for the Yary induction, it may be a long hill to climb.

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