Every so often writing this blog lets me do something that I think is really, really cool. Today is one of those days.
Thanks to the folks at Next Level Sports Marketing, who put me in touch with him, I have a lengthy Q&A for you with ex-Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall, one of the greatest players to ever suit up for Big Blue.
Marshall played 12 seasons in the NFL, 10 with the Giants lined up next to Lawrence Taylor. He played on two Super Bowl champions and recorded 83.5 career sacks.
He took the time to answer questions about his playing days, about the current Giants and about what he is up to these days. Thanks, Leonard!
Anyway, here is the Q&A. Enjoy!
Big Blue View: You played on two Super Bowl championship teams with the Giants. Can you compare the team that just won the Super Bowl to the championship teams you played on?
Leonard Marshall: The 1990 Giants and this year past championship team had a lot in common. It was a team of destiny. Both teams dealt with a lot of pre-season adversity pretty much around the same time. Michael Strahan and a few others held out of training camp in 2007 just like the time Lawrence Taylor and I held out of camp seeking more compensation in 1990. We all returned to play for the team around the same time and dealt with matters pretty much the same way. We returned to work with no animosity, banded the team together as leaders, and willfully motivated our team's strengths and assisted with overcoming our personal weakness in the process. In 1990 the team to beat was the glamorous 49ers and in 2007 the team to beat was the glamorous Pats. We both lost to these teams in that particular season while beating them to become Champions. This is what history does from time to time. It repeats itself.
BBV: When Giants' fans think of Leonard Marshall, the first play that comes to mind is the crushing hit on Joe Montana in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. I can still see it. What do you remember about the play?
Marshall: Let's replay it again thru my vision. When the call came in from the sideline from Bill Belichick I knew I'd be in position on the weak side of cover 2 man to make a play. This was my favorite defense to play because I had a tremendous amount of confidence in Mark Collins and Perry Williams' ability to cover in man-to-man situations. These two guys had blazing speed and knew their surroundings well. As the play began I made a move on Bubba Parrish and slipped. I was then blocked and cut by running back Tom Rathman. I crawled and began running in the area of Joe. While watching Joe pat the ball telling Jerry Rice to run I noticed he had no idea of his environment. I continued my pursuit and as I did I noticed LT make him pull up and Mark Collins remained in coverage. I dove and left my feet with the intent to strip the ball and have Collins or Taylor run it in the end zone similar to a play LT made in the 1988 playoff game in New York when Jim Burt knocked Joe out of that game. As we both collapsed Montana whinced and I knew it was the end of an era for them. I knew he was hurt bad and that it was likely he wouldn't return. It was probably the greatest football play made in an impact game. Probably the greatest play I ever made in my lifetime as a football player.
BBV: When historians look back on the era you were with the Giants they think of the 49ers and Bears as the great teams of that time. You guys won two championships. Why do you think the Giants are often an after-thought in that conversation?
Marshall: Because folks around the sporting world think that New York teams/players get hype due to being in the media capital of the world. Nine professional sports franchises, thirteen newspapers, and I do not have any idea of how many television stations. Tons of coverage is given to professional sports because college sports take a back seat in the Northeast except for basketball.
It's unfair to use this against these athletes who work so hard to broaden their careers in sports and become immortalized as some of America's greatest sports professionals. We were probably the greatest Giants team to win decisively in 1986. We had a hard-hitting defense which was a vanilla college 3-4 with great coaching, technicians, and leadership. It wasn't like we played a trick and game scheme defense or have a cast of convicts as players. We had hard-working young men who grew up quickly in New York and adopted the behavior and mindset of New Yorkers.
BBV: You spent most of your career with Lawrence Taylor lined up behind you. Tell us a little about playing with LT. Could you ever feel fear coming from the guys on the other side of the line?
Marshall: Please allow me the ability to correct this statement I played directly next to LT. Together we instilled fear in a ton of apposing offenses throughout our conference and the league at large. I think when I first joined the team we grew fairly quickly. Lawrence respected my ability and knew together we'd make each other better. It's that type of love great athletes share and those bonds help win championships. There's one other guy who goes along in that equation just like LT. Harry Carson was a man on a mission before I joined the Giants. After realizing the type of impact players he had around him it created opportunities for his career to further. Look back at (the) season before I joined the team and Harry's production versus the last five years of his career. The fact that he elevated his production tremendously and made Pro Bowls when any other 3-4 Middle Linebacker would have been finished. This is what great players who collectively work together can accomplish.
BBV: I understand you have been running the Leonard Marshall Football Academy for several years. Can you tell us a little about the academy and why it is important to you?
Marshall: I ran the Leonard Marshall football academy as a way to give back to a few kids with hopes of changing their lives like Wallace Francis did for me as a kid. I recall often when football became a big interest to me. I was 9 years old and Mr. Francis (who grew up in my home town) brought several of his Atlanta Falcons friends to visit tiny Franklin, La. to see a bunch of kids. Who likely would never meet, touch,or obtain an autograph from the likes of someone like them. These men threw the ball and discussed with the kids how much the game changed their lives. I never forgot this. I carried this for all my years as my motivation to make it out. I love sharing my story which is how the camp came to fruition.
BBV: You are currently a professor at Seton Hall University. How did that come about?
Marshall: My dear friend Deborah Gabry asked me would I be interested in having a dinner auctioned off as part of a raffle to help raise money for this University located in the Oranges in New Jersey. Once the auction was complete she contacted me to have diner with the winner. The winners happen to have been the Dean of Seton Hall's Stillman School of Business. Karen Boroff and I hit it off so well she asked me to become part of the new leadership of Seton Hall. I guess she loved the fact that now out of football I was able to "connect the dots" a phrase I often use when I talked to night young people attempting to further their respective causes of action with their lives. It has been an incredible partnership and marriage both for SHU and Leonard Marshall. It's also very sound business for the metro area to see one of its successful gladiators of the past remains grounded and humble while continuing to share his success with the general population. I love people and when I can I tend to give what I get!
BBV: I asked about the hit on Montana. Not counting that, do you have a favorite play or favorite memory from your playing career?
Marshall: My favorite memory was the year we won our first NFC Title in 1986 and the fans gave us a ticker tape parade in the stadium as the game finished. They announced during the game that the Mets had just won the World Series in Baseball. New York was just buzzing. Of course wining Super Bowls and the moments from those games will never fade. I often in my head see George Martin sacking John Elway just before the half while LT, Eric Howard, and I celebrate in the end zone ... What a moment in sports.
BBV: Was there one guy you had to line up against throughout your career who you absolutely hated to play against? A guy that just gave you fits? Or, on the flip side, a guy you just loved to torment?
Marshall: I loved playing against Luis Sharpe. Carl Banks would just get my ass going every week we had to play them. I think Bill Parcells was more nervous than I was during those days because Sharpe was regarded as this "monster type" player. He might have been that guy against others but when he played against me I owned him. When I look back on those games or when I come across pictures of past games tons of them are of me sacking the quarterback of the Cards :-). I also have to give kudos to my friend and former teammate Jim Lachey who worked his butt off dealing with LT and I. Lachey was probably the best technical player I worked against.
BBV: You played for 12 years. Michael Strahan has played for 15 and Giants' fans are hoping he makes that 16. Having played the position, are you surprised Strahan can still perform at such a high level?
Marshall: I'm not surprised of Michael Strahan's success nor his ability to play as long as he has.
I think in his case what helps the most is that he plays in a 4-3 defense which is by far different than the 3-4 I worked on. The athletes now are different than the athletes when I played. We had two distinctive players who had the success Michael has. Plus given the fact that free agency plays a major role in a teams ability to achieve instant success in terms of building a stronger and more competitive environment for guys to work in and achieve success. This wasn't as common when Lawrence and I worked for the Giants. Case and point look at the New Giants versus the Old Giants when Tiki Barber was on the team. They achieved success with a platoon backfield due to free agency and the production of new players versus the old days of playing the game with the hand you were dealt in pre season. I'm extremely proud of Michael Strahans success. I have spoken to him several times about his success and happy to see him join this elite fraternal club as Championship New York Giants!
BBV: Charitable work and giving back to the community seem to be a big part of your life now. Can you tell us a little about some of the things you do, or have done, in that area and why that work is important to you?
Marshall: I have always been the type to want to give back. I did this as I turned professional and I haven't stopped. I've jumped in vats of jello to raise money for the Leukemia Society of America. I've donated cash for quarterback sacks to the tune of thousands of dollars. I have worked in as many capacities to assist many in need. Now my direct focus through my work at Seeman Holtz is to assist former NFL Players in "Dire Need". I'm presently working with Harold Henderson (of the NFL Labor Relations Department) and benefits coordinator Valerie Cross to make things happen for my fraternal brothers. It's a shame that once a player falls from grace we tend to dehumanize him. This is wrong as he is just as super human as anyone else who goes to work daily and supports his family while risking his body in the process.
There are so many former NFL players who gave from their hearts to folks in need when they played. I want to help bridge the gap for them. Many need health insurance, dental help for their kids, funds to pay for college for their kids, medical assistance for their families, and psychological care. Not to mention the true elders who need nursing home care due to having life altering illnesses. I hope that one day should I need such help someone is here to pick me up if needed. My foundation is called the "Game Plan" which is a direct partner with the NFL Player Care Fund.