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Wilbur Marshall, What Happen?


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Read this article after voting last week on all time Fav LBs in Skins History, and it was my first account of what had happen to Wilbur in the years since leaving us. Sad.

MIAMI — Wilber Marshall won't enjoy this year's Super Bowl, even though he has two championship rings on his dresser, played a dozen seasons in the NFL and stays in touch with some of his old punishing friends from that lights-out Chicago Bears defense two decades ago. He won't even watch America's ultimate game.

Now 44, on permanent disability and still fighting the NFL and the players' union in appeals court over retroactive payments, the former outside linebacker doesn't have much use for pro football anymore. While some ex-Bears will convene in South Beach for a weekend of partying and furthering business contacts, Marshall is content to remain at his home base in Virginia with his two teenage daughters.

"Anybody who knows me knows I won't watch," he said. "I put my heart and soul into the game. When I left, I'm not one of those guys who needs to hang around. I gave it all I could; now my body is broken."

Besides, today's game is not what he remembers:

"They've put the skirt on the quarterback, big time."

Marshall was so exceptionally gifted, you had to wonder if he put on his pants like the rest of us. He blended a compact but powerful 6-1½, 228-pound body with speed and athleticism, framed with the surliness of old-school linebackers. After Marshall left Chicago for Washington as a free agent in 1987, the late Walter Payton autographed a photo, signing it, "To Wilber — the best outside linebacker in the game."

Lawrence Taylor is recognized as the greatest at that position. But not even LT had the responsibilities Marshall did in Buddy Ryan's exotic defense. While Marshall also could rush off the edge, his responsibilities included pass coverage. He was matched with running backs, linebackers — even wide receivers.

"Determined, nasty, hard-hitting, smart, knowledgeable — a pit bull," said fellow Bears linebacker Otis Wilson. "That's why we called him 'Pit Bull.' "

Marshall left quarterbacks writhing — if they could move at all. Like the season when he drilled Detroit quarterback Joe Ferguson, leaving him limp. "I can still see it my mind in slow motion," said Bears teammate Dan Hampton. "I was thinking, 'This can't be good.' "

Some of his most hellacious hits, where he launched his body to detonate a quarterback, led to rules changes. "Understand what I'm going to tell you," Hampton said. "Wilber wasn't a dirty player — he was a vicious player. He played the game with an inner rage. He'd knock the living (stuff) out of you every chance he got. That creates an intimidation and fear that players don't want to talk about or acknowledge."

When Keith Van Horne thinks of his former Monsters of the Midway teammate, this comes to mind:

"Mass times acceleration equals force."

These days, it is Marshall, who walks gingerly, who pays an exorbitant price for those numbing collisions.

"This game will kill you," he said. "I've got to have my knees replaced and both shoulders. I can't raise my arms over my shoulders. I've got no cartilage because they've been dislocated so often. I've had four knee surgeries — it's bone on bone. I fractured both ankles. I've got nerve impairment in my wrists and hands. My spine is compressed and I've got bulging discs. The pain runs all the way down my leg."

He is resisting surgery, in part, because "if you get it fixed, you're off disability and it might make it worse."

He also refuses to campaign for a bronze bust in Canton. Because he ended up an injured vagabond playing for five teams, his reputation was diminished.

"Wilber Marshall should be on his way to the Hall of Fame," said former Bears safety Shaun Gayle. "He was a defensive coordinator's dream. Usually, you can't find a guy who can rush the passer, cover a running back in the slot, drop back in coverage and plug the hole. Now they substitute three guys. If you look at the way linebackers are judged, they either do one or two things very well. But when you find a player so versatile, sometimes they don't get all the accolades and recognition — except from the players they played against."

He was voted to three Pro Bowls, recorded 45 sacks and 39 turnovers, returning four for scores. (While statistics don't tell the whole story, Marshall's combined 84 sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries outranks Hall of Fame outside linebackers Jack Ham 78.5 and Ted Hendricks, 51). Marshall won Super Bowls with two franchises and played on eight playoff teams.

"Back in the day, my thing (was to be like) Dick Butkus and Bobby Bell," he said. "I wanted to be tough and nasty." He was. And he was a lot more.


E-mail Jon Saraceno at jons@usatoday.com

Damn I hope Upshaw and the League some day get around to spreading the wealth to the players who made this league, and did it the right way. Theres really no excuse. PLus the fact that Wilbur should be mentioned for the HOF. :2cents: :(

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If the '07 Patriots were the greatest offense I ever saw, the '85 Bears were the best defense. Too bad for Wilbur b/c I know he loved to play golf and it doesn't sound like he's able to play anymore. I used to see him playing alone all the time when I drove the beer cart at River Bend CC.

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Article doesnt suggest how bad off he is...he isnt homeless right?

No, he's still living in Great Falls in the same house he bought right after signing his huge FA contract which was actually in 1988.

At the time, the Hogs were pissed b/c Mark May left for the big time FA contract in SD that he wasn't offered here, while Wilbur gat paid to come here.

Wilbur's contract was far greater than what the JKC admin was paying any of the homegrown Hogs who'd been to three SBs in six years.

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Very sad what has happened. I am surprised that the NFL doesn't implement some sort of universal health care coverage to players and retirees and self insure it somehow. It would make sense. And if they didn't want to insure all the players that usually don't make it onto teams, they could structure something similar to a medical pension where they have to play for 5 years. Obviously, detailed arrangements would be needed, but a basic model as this sport severely impacts players post-playing lives much more than any other sport.

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The story on Mike Webster the great Pro Bowler center from the Steelers is saddest thing I ever read. That story was a true testament on how the League would just like to forget who these men were and there contributions to the game. Greed is a terrible thing , no wonder Ditka would just as soon spit on Upshaw as look at him.

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Man what a beast....and our greatest fa signing of all time. Such a shame his skins career ended in a dispute and was eventually traded to Houston (I beleive ) for a late round draft pick.

He needs to be in our Ring of Stars or whatever its called.

I believe its the Ring of Honor, and yes, I agree.

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I doubt he's financially broke because anyone with a grip of finances in the last couple of decades that made millions should have the common sense to invest most of it. At least have a financial advisor to help you. I can understand the bitterness if it's aimed at his injuries and his body breaking down at a young age. I also agree that the NFL should have some long term health car coverage for players that log in sevral years in the league. At least a loose policy. Doesn't have to be full coverage. Just something to help with huge bills for treatment on game related injuries.

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Ed McMahon had a multi-million dollar house and he obviously wasn't making the cash to cover it. Who knows. He may have also been one of those people that got an adjuste rate loan to get a nice rate from the beginning thinking his rate wouldn't skyrocket.

If you make one million $$$ you shouldn't live on that. Especially if that million per year will only be around for a few years. Taxes get you for about $400k. A person can surely live on half of that take home. Live on 300k, invest in the other 300k. The game is only 5-10 years long for even the best players. Then you have to somehow earn an income for another 30-40 years. Some of these cases like Mike Tyson that had a net worth of 20-20 million and pissed it away did it because of their own habits.

This probably isn't the case with Marshall if he's still in the same home he bought when he got a nice contract. He's obviously donewell for himself. His health hasn't worked out that way though. Once again the NFL and NFLPA need to work to give retirees some long term health plan.

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I have a lot of respect for the $6,000,000 man. He cost us two #1's, but the genius behind the contract (which hamstrung Chicago) was that he would be the highest paid LB on the team.

Here's to you WM - :cheers: May you find health and ease.

:helmet: The Rook

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I dont feel sorry for anyone that made that kind of money and did not plan for retirement.Sorry guys he screwed up big time by not having His own retirement plan.The injuries are part of the game and he knew that.Still Pro Football need to care for its own.

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