As part of his “Memory Lane Series”, Editor George Carmi will highlight Redskin legends whose legacies may have been forgotten or neglected over the years. These player spotlights are not necessarily limited to Super Bowl champions, but rather focuses on player contributions who will forever live in Redskin lore. Hopefully you enjoy the series.
Only a handful of linebackers can bring the nostalgia of the glory days of the Redskins. And outside linebacker Wilber Marshall is one of them. Ol’ number 58 was an absolute terror for the “Burgundy and Gold” and left his legacy as one of the greatest linebackers in franchise history.
It’s surprising that he only had a short stint on the team. In fact he only played five years in Washington, but his impact was paramount. I suppose it was the years in which he played that left the lasting impact. As you may recall, he was the starting strong-side linebacker for the 91-92 Championship team, arguably the best Redskins team of all-time.
Today we are going to dive into Wilber Marshall, a Redskins legend who is near and dear to my heart. Growing up as a kid, I was proud to pick up the number 58 jersey, to “Be Like Wilber” as I dressed for the St. Jude’s youth football league. He was a legend, and I enjoyed writing this article. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Path to the NFL
Wilber Marshall was an absolute monster in college. And he was touted to be a legend from the start. Coming from Titusville, Florida, Marshall was a Parade High School All-American and a standout for Astronaut High School. Acclaimed as one of the better defenders in the state, Marshall displayed his unique athleticism and head-hunting prowess on a stacked team which featured future NFL Star and Media Personality Cris Collinsworth at quarterback. The team dominated at the local ranks and allowed for Wilber to be viewed as one of the best prospects in the country.
In fact, his high school career was so impressive, that in 2007 Marshall was selected to the Florida High School Athletic Association (FSHAA) “All-Century Team.” Meaning, he was one of 33 players to represent the state of Florida in the 20th century. An impressive feat considering the hotbed of talent there.
When college selection came around, he elected to stay in-state and join the Florida Gators in Gainesville, where his legend and football accomplishments began to grow.
At Florida he was named All-SEC three times as he accumulated 343 tackles, fifty-eight tackles for loss, and twenty-three quarterback sacks.
In 1983, the Gators finished the season 9-2-1 and 6th in the final AP Poll. They also had the eighth best defense in all the land, only allowing 13.0 PPG. Due to these stellar accomplishments, Marshall was named the “National Defensive Player of the Year” by ABC Sports and later selected for the Ring of Honor at UF. In 2007, he was identified as “Gator Great” and his name will forever be posted within their football stadium.
This outstanding collegiate career led to Marshall being selected 11th overall in the 1984 Draft by the Chicago Bears.
As a rookie in 1984, Marshall played in 15 games, but only started one as he joined a Chicago team that was laden with veterans. He ended the season with 19 tackles. But that’s when things drastically turned upward.
In 1985, Marshall became a key component to one of the most vaunted NFL defenses of all-time, “The ’85 Bears” who essentially kicked ass and took names. Marshall was the starting weak-side linebacker for a team that essentially rode their defense to a championship. He manned the second-tier of that defense with NFL Legend Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson, one of the best line-backing corps of all time. A young Ron Rivera was part of that team as well.
That year, Marshall had six sacks and four interceptions, while adding over a hundred tackles. Yet, his most famous play can be seen below, where he scoops and scores a touchdown in the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams to close the game. The snow just began to fall, the ball comes loose and Marshall takes the ball all the way for the touchdown. Notice, the over-sized William “Refrigerator” Perry escorting him along the way.
In Chicago, Marshall began to build himself as a ferocious hitter and a regulator in the middle of the field. As seen here, one of his most famous plays as a Bear is when he put Joe Ferguson to sleep on a QB Hit. No Flags called. Different Era.
Joining the Redskins
After the 1988 season, Marshall became an NFL Free Agent. However, this was a different era and players rarely left their teams.
Marshall traded alliances by signing with the Washington Redskins. This was controversial at the time, since the ‘Skins had largely been a thorn in Chicago’s side. The Bears were sent home from the playoffs after the ’86 and ’87 seasons. Both seasons at the hands of Washington.
Marshall joined the Redskins on a 5-year, 6 million dollar contract, and they had to send two first-round picks to the Bears as compensation.
This acquisition paid dividends. Wilber came to the team and immediately contributed as a strong-side linebacker, flipping positions from his time in Chicago.
Over the next five years, Marshall played in 79 of 80 games, and never dipped below 100 tackles.
He shined on the largest stages too. In Super Bowl XXVI, Marshall had 8 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack of Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. The “National Defense” suffocated the Bills to the tune of 37-24 in Minneapolis, winning the team’s third Super Bowl. But for those who watched that game live, the game wasn’t even that close.
In fact, Bills running back Thurman Thomas, who came into the game third in the NFL in rushing yards (1407) was limited to 10 carries, 13 yards and one touchdown.
Marshall said in an interview in the Washington Post, “He’s the best,” Marshall said of Thomas. “At least he said he was the best. You can’t say that when you’ve got a bunch of rowdy guys on the other side of the line. We took Thomas out of the game. Totally.”
Marshall was named second team All-Pro after the 1991 season, and became a first team All-Pro a season after. In 1993 his contract expired, and he elected to join the Houston Oilers.
Where is Marshall Now?
When Marshall retired he was showered with accomplishments. He was voted as one of the “100 Greatest Bears of All Time” as well as one of the “80 Greatest Redskins.” However, surprisingly he is not featured in the Redskins “Ring of Fame” at Fed Ex Field.
Unfortunately, due to his physical style of play, football has taken a toll on his body. He has suffered debilitating injuries that have left Marshall almost crippled. He has refused to receive surgery on his spine, shoulder and knees.
Currently he is permanently disabled, and has spent much of his post-professional career battling with the NFLPA for disability coverage and benefits. He had a settlement in 2008, receiving benefits from the NFL, but still has had personal financial issues.
He currently lives in his hometown of Titusville, Florida.
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