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Football: The Four Norsemen

4 minute read

Jim Marshall is a man of considerable enterprise. He skydives and sells portable telephones; he used to peddle wigs and manage a rock group called Danny’s Reasons. He also has a less frivolous job. Every Sunday afternoon he and the other three behemoths who make up the Minnesota Viking defensive line terrorize National Football League quarterbacks. “Our job,” says Marshall, “is to meet at the quarterback.” He and his fellow Vikings do just that—as violently and efficiently as any frontline foursome in the game. They are the chief reason why the Vikings moved into a first-place tie last week in the N.F.L.’s rugged Central Division.

When Bart Starr, the cool, competent Green Bay quarterback, led his rejuvenated Packers against Minnesota last week, he absorbed as pitiless a beating as any he has received in 14 years of N.F.L. play. The Packers never really got off the ground. Time after time Marshall and his fellow marauders—Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Carl Eller—blasted through the Green Bay line to dump Starr or force him to throw hurried, errant passes. Starr’s longest completion of the day went for only 13 yds., and he was leveled eight times by the Viking line for a total loss of 63 yds. The Viking line also forced two fumbles and a pass interception that led to the only Minnesota touchdown of the afternoon. Final score: Minnesota 19 (including four field goals), Green Bay 7.

The previous week the Vikings treated Baltimore’s ancient wizard, Johnny Unitas, no better. Under constant pressure, Johnny U. completed only eight of 22 passes. Meanwhile Joe Kapp, Minnesota’s quarterback, fired seven touchdown passes to tie the pro record, as the Vikings humiliated the favored Colts 52-14. Afterward, a bemused Unitas, who has had to stand up to the “Fearsome Foursome” of the Los Angeles Rams on numerous occasions, stated unequivocally that the Viking rush was the toughest he has ever seen.

The Viking front four have even reached the sobriquet stage: the Four Norsemen (something of a misnomer, since three of the men are Negroes, and only Larsen is of Danish extraction). The key to their success is their cohesive style of play. “They are a highly disciplined group,” says Line Coach Bob Hollway. “They don’t go crashing all over, each one trying to do the whole job himself. They have a great respect for each other’s abilities, and they complement one another perfectly.”

Incredible Streak. The strongman of the line is Larsen (6 ft. 5 in., 255 lbs.); his forte is an explosive initial charge that sends offensive blockers reeling. That opens the way for Page (6 ft. 4 in., 250 Ibs.) and Eller (6 ft. 6 in., 255 Ibs.). Both are extremely quick and boast exceptional agility. Eller, who supplanted Green Bay’s Willie Davis as All-Pro end last year, is one of the fastest men in the game for his size. Against the Packers, he caught Running Back Donny Anderson from behind on a power sweep to the opposite side of the field. Anderson was in the clear and might have gone all the way. But the startled back fumbled when Eller belted him, and another Viking defender recovered the loose ball.

The iron man who makes it all work is Marshall (6 ft. 5 in., 250 Ibs.), a ten-year veteran who has run up an incredible streak of 159 consecutive games. “What Jim Marshall gets paid for,” says Hollway, “is to rush the passer, and that is what he does best. He has a quality of balance as great as any man I’ve ever seen.”

In a game dominated by passers who throw with pinpoint accuracy, and receivers who can cover 100 yds. in well under ten seconds, a fast and aggressive defensive line has become an absolute prerequisite to victory. If Marshall and his fellow ersatz Norsemen can sustain their brutal brand of trench warfare, the Vikings may have a crack at the N.F.L. title that has so far eluded them.

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