Football Urban Legends Revealed #21

This is the twenty-first in a series of examinations of football-related legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn whether the Washington Redskins actually trace their history back to the legendary Duluth Eskimos. Plus, learn the harrowing tale of survival of NFL legend Jim Marshall as he survived a blizzard through burning his money and find out about the Florida Gators yearbook that featured…a crocodile!!

Click here to view an archive of all the previous football legends.

Let’s begin!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: Minnesota Viking football legend Jim Marshall once survived being trapped during a blizzard by burning his money.

STATUS: True

Quite often in the world of professional sports you will see references to a team that has “money to burn.” This is used to describe those teams that have a lot of excess money that they eagerly wish to spend on increasing the payroll of the team. Teams will often “burn their money” during the off season, signing free agents. Well, during the off season following the 1970-71 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings defensive legend Jim Marshall was literally burning money – only he was doing it to survive!

Read on to learn Marshall’s bizarre tale of survival on what was supposed to be a straightforward (albeit challenging) snowmobile outing in January 1971 that ended up being a fight for survival – a fight that not everyone in Marshall’s party would win!

James Marshall was born in 1937. He played his college ball at Ohio State University where he was an All-American and part of two national championship teams. He left school early and played Canadian Football for a year before declaring for the 1960 NFL Draft. He was taken in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns, for whom he played for one season. He then joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1961. Upon joining the team, the defensive end started every single Vikings game from 1961-1972, 270 games in total! When you count his year with the Browns, Marshall also played in 282 straight games (302 if you count playoff games, including all four of the Vikings’ Super Bowl appearances) from 1960-1979. Both the 282 games played in a row and the 270 games started in a row were NFL records for decades until Jeff Feagles broke the consecutive games played mark in 2005 and Brett Favre broke the consecutive games started mark in 2009. Marshall’s streak was particularly impressive when it is noted that he actually shot himself once in 1964, while cleaning his gun and still played football that week for the Vikings. Marshall later noted that he needed to carry a gun because he kept a lot of money on his person at all times (this will be important later).

Outside of being part of the famed “Purple People Eater” defensive line of the Vikings (and having his #70 retired by the Vikings and being part of the Ohio State and College Football Halls of Fame), Marshall is likely most remembered for something else that happened in 1964. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers in October of 1964, Marshall picked up a fumble by a Niner player and ran sixty-six yards to the end zone. The problem was that he ran to his own end zone by mistake! When he threw the ball down, thinking it was a touchdown, it went out of bounds and was thereby ruled a safety. The play remains the shortest play in NFL history (-66 yards). Luckily for Marshall, later in the game he helped force a game-winning turnover with a sack of the 49ers quarterback, thereby securing a Minnesota victory, so his gaffe did not lead to a loss, at least. Instead, it is just one of the most embarrassing NFL plays of all-time.

Marshall’s hard luck continued on that fateful trip in 1971, just after the end of the NFL season. A group of sixteen snowmobilers were organized for a trip along the snow-covered mountains of Montana and Wyoming (the trip would criss-cross them along the border of southern Montana and northern Wyoming). The idea would be that a semi-trailer would carry their snowmobiles to the first checkpoint- they would get out and ride their snowmobiles from one point to another, then meet back up with the trailer and load the snowmobiles and drive to another point where they would then get the snowmobiles out again and ride again. They were planning to do this about three times. However, during the very first thirty-five mile ride from Montana into Wyoming, they were caught in a blizzard!

The group contained a Minnesota reporter, two members of the Vikings (Marshall and his teammate, Paul Dickson), a Minneapolois insurance salesman and his teenage son, a Yellowstone Park Ranger, a director of a school for problem boys, a grocer, a bank president, two photographers, two snowmobile mechanics and a husband and wife guide from the nearest lodge.

The group encountered issues even before the blizzard became a major factor, as Marshall’s snowmobile rode off of the cliffs they were traveling on. Luckily, the cliffs were sloped and did not just go straight down, so Marshall was able to grab hold of rocks before he slid 800 feet to the bottom. He climbed back up and continued the journey.

The key problem in the journey is that the blizzard conditions ultimately split the sixteen people into four separate groups. This was a big mistake because it kept the mechanics apart from each other, so that when the awful weather eventually broke down most of the snowmobiles, the mechanics were unable to get to them to fix them. Now do note that this wasn’t a mistake of planning, but rather a freak weather situation that split the group up – so it was no one’s “fault,” but it eventually led to most of the groups ending up on foot and, when it got dark, being forced to make camp in the wilderness.

In one those camps, Hugh Galusha, the 51-year-old president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, ended up dying from exposure.

Marshall was in a group that was further ahead than most of the others. It was he, his teammate Paul Dickson, Bob Leiviska Jr (the son of the insurance salesman mentioned before) and Vern and Marilyn Waples, the aforementioned guides. The two gigantic football players had particularly difficult time walking in the snow, as while the teenager and the wife were able to walk on top of the snow, Marshall and Dickson sank into the snow every time they took a step.

Leivska found a patch of trees and they chose there to make their camp. The snow was about 10 to 15 feet deep in this area. Dickson had his lighter, so they began to make a fire starting with cash from Marshall’s wallet, candy wrappers plus Marshall’s checkbook and his billfold. The snow began to melt a bit, giving them a sort of cave-like environment. They kept the fire going with more cash and later with stripped bark and branches from nearby trees.

After spending Saturday night hunched together, Leivska and Marilyn Waples set out to get help (since they could traverse the snow easiest) on Sunday. After some time passed after their compatriots had left for help and with night growing closer, the men feared their chances of lasting another night, so they decided to try to set out on foot themselves. Luckily, after a mile or so of walking they discovered the rescue crews that had been sent out for them.

In an interview with Sid Hartman, discussing whether his football training helped him survive, Marshall responded:

It was more the lessons of determination and competition one learns in football that helped me the most. I never worked so hard in my life to stay alive. It reached a point where I thought it was virtually impossible to go on. Yet I was able to catch my second, third and fourth wind and go on another two or three miles when the going was the toughest. This is where football helped.

Pretty amazing story, huh?

Strangely enough, nearly thirty years later, Marshall was once again caught up in an unlucky situation, when the retired player was renting a lakefront property on Madeline Island (which is in Lake Superior). He was walking on the dock when a board in the dock broke, dumping the 62 year old Marshall into the water, injuring his knee and shoulder. For one of the most durable players in NFL history, Marshall sure gets his durability tested a lot!

Thanks to Minneapolis Star columnist Jim Klobuchar (the reporter on the snowmobile trip) for the information about the tragic snowmobile journey and thanks to Sid Hartman for the interview with Marshall that provided the quotes in the above piece.

FOOTBALL LEGEND: The Washington Redskins used to be the Duluth Eskimos.

STATUS: Close Call, but I’m Going With False

I wrote about the Duluth Eskimos a while back (you can check the legend out here), and how their owner, Ole Haugsrud, managed to work his connection with one of the earliest professional football star players, Ernie Nevers, into a deal that eventually landed him 10% of the Minnesota Vikings (it’s a really interesting story – just go read it). However, while his ownership of the Eskimos eventually led to Haugsrud owning a piece of the Vikings, Haugsrud always believed that his Eskimos (after he sold them) had an interesting life of themselves. He believed (as do many) that the Eskimos eventually evolved into the team that is now known as the Washington Redskins.

redskins

Is that true?

Let’s find out!

Again, as I mentioned before, it was Haugrud’s connection to Ernie Nevers that made him so valuable to the National Football League (NFL). Nevers had a personal contract to play for Haugsrud, not the Duluth Eskimos themselves. So when the Eskimos took the 1928 season off due to poor ticket sales, so, too, did Nevers take the season off. The NFL wanted Nevers back into the league, so they cut a deal with Haugsrud. They helped him sell the Eskimos (or perhaps even did the sale for him – it’s a bit unclear if the NFL bought the team from Haugsrud or just facilitated the sale) to Edwin Simandi, who moved the franchise to Orange, New Jersey. Before the deal, though, Haugsrud first sold most of the players to other teams, including sending Johnny Blood (who had played for Pottsdale in 1928) off to Green Bay, where he became one of the most famous Packers on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Haugsrud then took a job with the Chicago Cardinals, bringing Nevers along with him (who went right back to being a star player for the Cardinals). Eventually, the NFL ruled that personal services contracts were no longer allowed, so the Cardinals cut ties with Hausgrud.

Simandi named the team the Orange Tornadoes. They had an awful 1929 season. So awful that their head coach, Jack Depler, decided to leave and buy another football team. He bought the Dayton Triangles and moved them to Brooklyn and made them the Brooklyn Dodgers. He took most of the 1929 Tornadoes with him. So in 1930, Simandi moved the team to Newark with a new coach and mostly new players. Not so surprisingly, it also did not go so well for the team. They closed down shop after the 1930 season (the Great Depression left little room for error for professional sports teams).

Here’s where it gets tricky.

So, due to the depression, no new NFL teams were added for the 1931 season. 1932 saw the league allowing new franchises. It was here that George Preston Marshall, Vincent Bendix, Jay O’Brien
and M. Dorland Doyle were given a franchise that they initially named the Boston Braves. A year later they changed to the Boston Redskins. In 1937, they moved to Washington and have remained the Washington Redskins ever since. That much is not in dispute.

What is in dispute is exactly what franchise did these owners acquire?

In 1931, the NFL owners proposed to sell the dormant New Jersey franchise.

In 1932, the new ownership group purchased a franchise which the owners insist be in Boston (at a discounted fee, provided that they certify that the franchise would last at least two seasons in Boston).

These facts are agreed upon.

However, there is some considerable difference of agreement on whether the 1932 franchise was the Tornadoes, or another franchise, the Boston Bulldogs.

The Boston Bulldogs lasted one year in Boston, 1929, after moving from Pottsville the previous year (this is the team Johnny Blood played for). They played in Boston the same year that the Tornadoes were playing in Orange.

Okay, so they are out of business for 1930 and 1931. The Newark Tornadoes are out of business for 1931.

This new ownership group comes in an is awarded a franchise in Boston. There is no official record of which team that they were awarded, but here are a couple of notable facts…

1. The 1932 Boston Braves had no one in the organization from either the Bulldogs or the Tornadoes. For all intents and purposes, this was just a new franchise awarded the same place in the league as one of those teams. This is why the NFL recognizes the Redskins only as an original franchise, not as a continuation of another team.

2. There is no record of the NFL officially selling the Newark Tornadoes. It is discussed, but there is no record of it actually taking place.

Really, the key reason most people believe that the Tornadoes became the Redskins is because Ole Haugsrud said so back in 1970s, in an oral history on the subject. It is his 40-year-old recollection that has been the main support for the belief that the Eskimos became the Redskins. And if you look at his recollection, it’s false on the face of it, “George Preston Marshall of Boston bought the Orange franchise in 1931 and later took it to Washington, D.C. where his “Red Skins” have since become nationally famous.” That is clearly not correct.

But was the franchise Marshall and his group purchased the Tornadoes?

I lean towards no. I think that either it was just a brand-new franchise (again, there is no record of the Marshall group purchasing the Tornadoes or the Bulldogs) or, if it was considered to be taking the place of any franchise, it would be the Bulldogs, not the Tornadoes. Do note that Simandi’s Tornadoes played in the American Association in 1936. Simandi kept a skeletal organization behind when he moved the team from Orange to Newark, and the Orange Tornadoes started play in the American Association in 1936 (before eventually being sold to George Halas in 1938). Does that sound like the behavior of a guy who sold his franchise to the NFL?

I think that the two events (discussing selling the Tornadoes in 1931 and awarding a franchise in 1932) are two separate events, two separate events that have been joined together to form a logical belief, but not, I believe, an accurate one.

Thanks to Jon Charles Winter for his work on this subject! Winter notes that some reports have said that the Braves were to be awarded “the inactive Boston franchise,” which would even further bolster the “it was the Bulldogs they were given” claim, especially since the Bulldogs never played again. I don’t necessarily disagree with Winter there, I just haven’t found a reliable account that made that claim, so I didn’t factor it in – if that’s true, though, that’s even more evidence.

FOOTBALL LEGEND: The 2003 Florida Gators media guide featured a crocodile by mistake.

STATUS: True

In 2003, the Florida Gators put out their Media Guide.

gators2003

All well and good except, of course, that was a crocodile on the cover, not an alligator!

Flordia spokesperson Steve McClain spoke on the subject:

We asked for an alligator, we paid for an alligator and unfortunately we did not get an alligator. It’s unfortunate, it’s somewhat embarrassing obviously, but the bottom line is we thought we were getting an alligator.

Pretty darn hilarious!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

-Brian Cronin

4 Responses to “Football Urban Legends Revealed #21”

  1. Always great to see the Redskins/Eskimos myth take another lap with the same conclusion. Locally Chuck Frederick of Duluth News Tribune wrote a book supporting the myth a few years back. I’m still with you and also would leave the Bulldogs/Redskins connection as a very remote possibility. Looking at the body of evidence I think its more likely the Boston Braves/Redskins were a new franchise awarded to Marshall and Co. I previously did not know that the “Simandi’s Tornadoes played in the American Association in 1936″. That’s a very interesting addition to the information I’ve previously seen.

  2. Thanks, Jon.

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