Editor’s Note: Former LSU football star Leonard Marshall will join seven other star athletes including basketball star Karl Malone, football all-pro Aeneas Williams, longtime major leaguer Darryl Hamilton, Olympic weightlifting coach Gayle Hatch, LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry, longtime Jena girls basketball coach Jelly Piggott and amateur golfer Barbara Fay White in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday in Natchitoches. Here is a feature on Marshall showcasing his success during his college and pro career and his success outside the game after he retired.
By Marty Mule’
Leonard Marshall was in a reflective mood. “If nobody had helped him, showed Little Leonard how and why, then what would have happened to that little kid from Franklin,’’ Marshall asked softly while speaking of himself in the third person.
On the sound theory that we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, the chances are very good that Little Leonard might not be where he is today – which is on top of the game of life.
“People – little league coaches, teachers, older players – all helped me along the way, and I believe I should help those coming up behind me,’’ Marshall, one of seven children born to a shipyard foreman in the Cajun Country town of Franklin, said. “I just hope I can leave a mark like the ones my mentors left for me.’’
Leaving indelible marks, on the playing field and in life, is a longtime Marshall trait.
He left deep impressions every step of his athletic career: at LSU; with Alabama’s Bear Bryant; in the NFL in general and to Joe Montana in particular. He’s still leaving a mark now, with young people and old.
Marshall, twice the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, and twice a major part of Super Bowl champion teams with the New York Giants, went from his All-Pro career to a successful one as a financier; to a professorship of Sports Management at Seton Hall University; and to, as important as any of the others, benevolent endeavors such as the NFL Cares (to help retired players who have medical, financial and psychological problems), and the Leonard Marshall Football Academy which he sponsors for youngsters between the ages of 8 to 18. He’s also involved with a literacy camp which helps with youngsters with reading and writing difficulties.
“The bottom line is,’’ Marshall says, “is somebody cared for Leonard, and what they gave me also eventually provided a platform I can use to help others, both in sports and in life.’’
What those unselfish people did when Marshall was in his formative years was give him priorities, a clear perspective – and a place among the finest athletes ever produced in the Pelican State. Marshall will be inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame at Natchitoches June 21.
“What an honor,’’ Marshall sighed. “To think I’ll be in the company of all those guys whose careers I grew up following, Terry Bradshaw, Billy Joe Dupree, Archie Manning, Frank Lewis . . . all those guys I tried to emulate, as a player and as a man. It’s overwhelming.’’
It’s hard not to wonder how much history might have changed when Marshall signed with LSU, passing up the opportunity to play for the legendary Bryant. Four years later, in 1982, when the Tigers beat ’Bama for the first time in 12 years, holding the Tide to 119 total yards, a quarter as much as Alabama had been averaging.
At halftime of that 20-10 victory, Bryant said, “We’ve got to do something about that No. 97, slow him down.’’ Then, as if the thought just struck him, Bryant added, “If we had him we might be ahead in this thing.’’
Of course, the No. 97 being referred to 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 Tide 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.’’
In his postgame comments, Bryant talked about how it might be time for someone else to coach the Crimson Tide. The Bear, of course, over the years had perfected the art of poor-mouthing and blame-taking for any deficiencies of his team.
But this time he was serious. Weeks later Bryant retired from the Alabama sidelines. Two months later he was dead.
Marshall, who was twice voted by his teammates as MVP of his own team, went on to his notable NFL career with the Giants, the New York Jets and Washington Redskins. He made his presence felt across the NFL with 79.5 career sacks, the fifth-highest total in league history. That’s where Montana got to know Marshall up close and personal. In the 1990 NFC championship game, won by the Giants 15-13, Marshall hit Montana from the blind side, giving the San Francisco 49ers quarterback a concussion, a bruised sternum, fractured ribs, and a broken hand. Fox Sports ranked that play as the third most “devastating hit’’ in modern NFL history.
That turned out to be the last game Montana ever started for the 49ers.
“In many ways my career was like a dream come true,’’ Marshall said. “Who could have thought all this could have happened to that little kid in Franklin. I owe those who helped me. I know this, without them I wouldn’t going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. I’ll always be grateful. They showed me the way.”