It is just over fifty years since the No.-1 gridiron folly of all time occurred, and every football fan worth his Gatorade knows what it is and is well aware of the legacy of “Wrong Way Marshall.”
The incident at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco was indelibly imprinted in the minds of 49ers fans by one of the most recognizable calls of Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons’ career…
Forty Niner Billy Kilmer caught a short pass and fighting for extra yardage he “loses the football! It’s picked up by Jim Marshall, who’s running the wrong way! Marshall is running the wrong way and he’s running it into the end zone the wrong way! He thinks he’s scored a touchdown! He’s scored a safety!”
Marshall, the great Hall of Fame-caliber defensive end and member of the fabled Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters,” who went on to play 20 years in the NFL and Kilmer both made it into the HOF for the wrong reason — for that one incredible moment.
To this day, Marshall doesn’t care to talk about the play, understandably, but admits he’s still trying to forget it. Bad enough that he’s remembered most for running 66 yards the wrong way and scoring two points for the 49ers with his mistake, but it would have been much worse had not the Vikings won the game, 27-22.
One huge reason why that play is so unique is that when someone drops the ball, as Kilmer did, things usually don’t work out so well for the fumbler.
How many times while watching a game and the football comes free have you mimicked the classic call of that old legendary college football television announcer Keith Jackson with his stylish “Fumblllllle!” — expecting the worst for the team that coughed it up?
The worst happened to one college football powerhouse and helped another Saturday, and the previous week the very, very worst happened at the University of Mississippi.
With 1:30 left to play, Mississippi wide receiver and star player Laquon Treadwell reached the goal line with what appeared to be a probable game-winning touchdown when he was brought down by an ankle-breaking tackle, causing a fumble recovered in the end zone by Auburn. The touchdown call was overturned by replay revue. Mississippi lost the TD, lost the game, lost their best player and lost their chances for a playoff berth in heart-stopping fashion all on one play.
Auburn, the 2010 national champion that was ranked No. 3 going into this past weekend, fumbled away its chances for another title in a 41-38 upset loss to Texas A&M. The Tigers, 7-2, twice were closing in toward go-ahead scores in the final minutes, but fumbled the ball away at the Aggies’ 2-yard line and again at their 28.
Oregon (9-1) moved ahead of Auburn in the playoff picture with a little unexpected assistance in its Pac 12 showdown with then No. 20 Utah (6-3), that played the role of the accommodating host. The Utes were inches away from taking a 14-0 lead as Kaelin Clay was coasting into the end zone when he prematurely dropped the ball before crossing the goal line, anticipating his celebratory moments. While the home team and crowd went crazy, Oregon’s Joe Walker picked up the ball and raced 100 yards the right way for a Ducks’ score. The stunned Utes never recovered in a 51-27 loss.
That one stirred up memories of others. DeSean Jackson, the former Cal star, while with the Philadelphia Eagles twice went into celebration-mode a little early — once performing a forward flip into the end zone only to have the ball touch the ground and come loose a little too soon, and again when nonchalantly releasing the ball slightly before crossing the goal line and going into his prima donna act.
Another that comes to mind is the Leon Lett knucklehead play in Super Bowl XXVI. The Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman recovered a fumble and was cruising along for a potential score late in a blowout victory over the Buffalo Bills when he decided to take a peak at himself on the Jumbotron scoreboard, allowing the Bills’ Don Bebee to catch him and knock the ball away. No Super Bowl touchdown for Leon. What a loser.
It wasn’t fumbles, but drops, that almost doomed the Forty Niners’ season Sunday in New Orleans. They managed to survive another sub-par offensive showing to pull out a 27-24 overtime victory to stay alive in the playoff hunt at 5-4.
The 49ers’ receivers had problems completing catches throughout the day, leading to mediocre passing statistics for quarterback Colin Kaepernick of 14 for 32, 210 yards. The usually sure-handed Anquan Boldin did have six catches for 95 yards, but would have had a much bigger day if not for a number of drops.