Bobby Marshall Nominated For Pro Football Hall of Fame
Mark Craig, sportswriter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has nominated Bobby Marshall for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In 2022, a selection committee regarding players who have been out of pro football for more than 25 years will vote on Bobby Marshall's possible admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The admission nomination had to be done by a sportswriter. Mark Craig, sportswriter for the Minneapols Star-Tribune made the nomination for Bobby.
The rationale for Bobby's nomination that Terry McConnell submitted to Mark Craig is below.
Dear Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee
I have asked Mark Craig, sportswriter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to nominate Bobby Marshall for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have written a book on Bobby Marshall, Breaking Through the Line: Bobby Marshall, the N.F.L.’s First African American Player. This book, published by Nodin Press will be available during late summer, 2021. To get the full picture of Marshall’s candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, please read my book. I am offering a summation of Bobby’s pro football career here.
Bobby Marshall (Robert Wells Marshall) was born on March 12, 1880 and died on August 27, 1958. His pro football playing weight was 205 pounds and he stood six feet one inch tall. He lived almost all of his life in Minneapolis Minnesota. The positions he played in pro football were end, quarterback, running back, and tackle.
Marshall was the first African American to play a game for an N.F.L. team. Bobby made his debut in the new league that would become the N.F.L. on September 26, 1920 with the Rock Island Independents. Fritz Pollard, another African American, made his debut in this new league a week later on October 3 with the Akron Pros.1 Both Marshall and Pollard were selected to the All-Pro Team in the N.F.L.’s first season.2 In 1919 Bobby was selected for the All-American Professional Team.3 In 1920 he played end on both offense and defense.
Marshall’s time in pro football spanned from 1907 to 1934. He only played in the N.F.L. for two years, 1920, with the Rock Island Independents and in 1925 with the Duluth Kelleys. In Bobby’s era, N.F.L. teams often played non-N.F.L. teams. Bobby often played against N.F.L. teams throughout his pro football career.
Bobby’s athletic achievements, sportsmanship, and integrity paved the way for the inclusion of African Americans in pro football. His influence on pro football is much like the influence of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Page in pro baseball. In this presentation I will document his many achievements on the field and his fine character off and on the field.
Bobby played his college football at the University of Minnesota. After being selected to the college All-American team in 1905 and 1906, Bobby joined the Minneapolis Deans pro football team in 1907. He became the coach, captain and quarterback of this team. Marshall was a phenomenal offensive presence for this team, running, passing and kicking with great effectiveness. He passed the football “for greater distance and with better precision than any man in Minnesota in that era.”4
Marshall was also an excellent pro football coach for the Deans. Minneapolis Star-Tribune sportswriter Frank E. Force describes Bobby Marshall as a coach, writing, “That the Dean team is well coached by Bobby Marshall has been evident to those who have seen the former Minnesota men in the games already played. Marshall has a fine idea of the value of open plays and the pass will be a prominent feature of the Dean repertoire.”5 Bobby embraced the forward pass while most coaches of that era were afraid to incorporate much passing in their offensive schemes. Bobby Marshall broke the color barrier as coach and quarterback for the Deans and was very successful and innovative in both positions.
Marshall was also captain of the Deans. When another team refused to play the Deans because of Bobby’s skin color, the Deans said we either play with Bobby or we don’t play.6 Bobby Marshall was respected by his teammates.
After leaving the Deans, Bobby played for a Minneapolis All-Star team in 1912. On November 28, Thanksgiving Day of that year, an almost capacity crowd of nearly 7,000 filled Nicollet Park to watch the Minneapolis Beavers play the Minneapolis All-Stars. In the second half, the Beavers had just scored a touchdown and the All-Stars next drive stalled around midfield. Pickering of the All-Stars stood back in the backfield, ready to punt the ball. As the ball was hiked, Bobby, from the left end position, raced down the field. Pickering, instead of punting, threw a perfect pass 40-yard pass to Bobby who pulled the ball in while running at full speed. Bobby scored easily for the All-Stars. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune in the sub headline called it the “Most Sensational Forward Pass of the Year.” The All-Stars won that day, 34-7.7
Bobby joined the Minneapolis Marines pro football team, playing with them from 1913 to 1917. Football historian Jim Quirk describes Marshall as “a big, tough end who was almost indestructible.”8 In a game in 1915, “While the crowd held its breath,” Bobby drop-kicked the football 40 yards with three minutes left to give the Marines a victory over the St. Paul Laurels, late in the 1915 football season. This victory gave the Marines the Twin City championship. In that game Bobby had also sacked the quarterback to force a fumble deep in the other team’s territory. Then he intercepted a pass that would have been a touchdown for the Laurels and ran the ball back 27 yards. The Marines went 15-0-1 during 1916 and 1917. This team was considered one of the top pro football teams in America at that time.9
In 1918 the football season was cancelled due to a Spanish Flu epidemic. In 1919 Bobby joined the Rock Island, Illinois Independents. A sportswriter for the Rock Island Argus wrote, “Marshall playing his first game for Rock Island at end, did stellar duty in staving off defeat until the last. It is difficult to estimate the defensive strength he added to the Independents. The big Negro smashed well planned end runs time and again.”10 The Independents went 9-1-1 that year.11
In the 1919 season Bobby Marshall broke the color line, as he had with the Minneapolis Deans and Minneapolis Marines. What kind of example did he set to show African Americans should not be discriminated against in sports? The following account from the Rock Island Argus helps answer this question. The Independents prevailed over Davenport, Iowa 33-0 on October 19, 1919. The Argus sportswriter wrote, “Young Bobby Marshall was just like a father to both teams. He never missed a chance to help a prostate player to his feet. But how he did break up many passes as defensive fullback. He snagged a pass over the line for a touchdown…”12
In 1920 the Rock Island Independents joined the American Professional Football Association that would later become the N.F.L. Sportswriter Bruce Copeland of the Rock Island Argus gives a vivid account of Marshall’s play in the first game of the 1920 season against the St. Paul Ideals. “Kuehl’s 82-yard run through a brokenfield for a touchdown in the third quarter was as flashy a spring as was ever witnessed on the grounds. Waddy (Kuehl) picked his way with unerring accuracy through a huge gap opened up by Buland and Marshall, shook off four secondary defenders and headed for the northwest corner of the field with all the speed of a greyhound.” In the third quarter, “Wyland kicked off to Mikesh, who was thrown for no gain by Fitzgerald and Marshall …the fans howled their pleasure over the splendid playing of Mansfield, Novak, Chicken, Buland, Fitzgerald, Wyland, Marshall, Smith, Lyle, Cook and Ursella.,” as Independents beat the St. Paul Ideals 48-0.13
Then on October 3 the Independents played the Muncie Flyers. Copeland wrote that in the first quarter, “Huffine got a yard through left tackle, a great tackle by Marshall pinning him to earth.” In the second quarter “Berns, Muncie left tackle, had run back to make what threatened to be a sure tackle, but was picked off by Marshall, leaving Wyman a clear field for the fourth touchdown on an 86-yard run. It was the most spectacular dash ever witnessed a (sic) Douglas park. Ursella kicked the goal.” Still in the second quarter “Marshall intercepted Huffine’s forward pass on the 35-yard line and was downed for no gain by Helvie.” In the third quarter “M. Hole kicked off, the ball going out of bounds at the 17-yard line. Marshall speared the second boot at the 12-yard line and was chased out of bounds at the 40-yard line after clearing 28 yards.” Still in the third quarter, “Nichols shot right end for the remaining five and fifth touchdown. Marshall kicked the goal (extra-point).” In the fourth quarter, “Kuehl broke through left tackle on the next play and staggered across the line for the sixth and last touchdown…Marshall kicked the goal.” Bobby Marshall was spectacular, with an effective block, tackle, interception, kick-off return and extra-point kicks as the Independents won, 45-0.14
After leaving the Rock Island Independents in 1920, Bobby played for many non-N.F.L. pro football teams for the rest of his football career, teams such as various Minnesota All-Star teams, the Minneapolis Liberties, the Duluth Kaysees, Ironwood Michigan, and the Hibbing Miners, and Hibbing All-Stars. N.F.L. players would sometimes join these teams.15 Sometimes non-N.FL. teams Bobby played on battled against N.F.L. teams.
Bobby played left end for the Hibbing All Stars for the 1923 season, weighing in at 205 pounds, more than any other starter for Hibbing. At the beginning of the season the Hibbing Daily News called Marshall, “…undoubtedly the greatest colored player of alI times… On Sunday, September 23, the All Stars played the Green Bay Packers. “Bobby Marshall and Underwood, ends, were into every play and caused no little trouble for the Packers…” Halfback for the Packers, Earl “Curly” Lambeau, kicked a field goal in the first quarter to make the score Green Bay 3, Hibbing 0. The Packers scored again in the second quarter with Lambeau kicking the extra point to make the final score 10-0.16
At times, racism raised its ugly head against Marshall in a game. On October 7, 1923 Bobby was playing for the Hibbing All-Stars against the Ironwood Legion at Ironwood Ball Park. “When the game started and Hibbing took the ball straight down the field for a touchdown stock in the Gogebic (Ironwood, Michigan) club went down to less than nothing and the sideline crowds were peeved. They were insulting to the Hibbing players and it was not long until two of the Ironwood men attacked Bobby Marshall, formerly the idol of Northern Michigan when he played with Ironwood but now an outcast, in their eyes, because he failed to sign an Ironwood contract for this year. Bobby was just a little better than the two Michiganders though and he more than held his own with them until the assailants were sent from the field. Novak, halfback and one of those who attacked Bobby, looked so bad on the field that it is possible he welcomed a chance to retire. Hibbing took their victory gracefully and left the field like gentlemen, amid jeers from the crowds.”17
Bill Marshall, Bobby’s grandson, explains how Bobby Marshall dealt with the racism he faced. “My grandfather dealt with racism but his feeling until the day he died (in 1958) was to stress education first. He took the general attitude about race and racism that these were by and large ignorant people. His feeling was people would have to respect you if you were educated.” Regarding Bobby’s view of racism, Bill said, “He (Bobby) said you have to look past racism, you can’t let the past drag you down. Bobby didn’t get mad at racists. He felt sorry for them.” Bill says Bobby said, “Sports was the great equalizer.” Bobby never received bad treatment from his teammates, but the fans watching him play were often not hospitable. Bobby heard inappropriate remarks from fans in the stands but the racism went much deeper. Bobby could not eat in a lot of Minneapolis restaurants and could not stay in a University of Minnesota dorm or a Minneapolis hotel.18
In 1925 Bobby played on the Duluth Kelleys, an N.F.L. team. On October 11th he faced his old N.F.L. team, the Rock Island Independents. “Notably, Duke Slater (of the Independents) faced African American star end Bobby Marshall in this game. Every single player on Duluth’s roster was in their twenties except for the reliable Marshall who was an astonishing 45 years old. Following the Rock Island touchdown, Slater kicked off to Marshall who returned the ball 12 yards.” (One source says it was a 12-yard gain. The other source says it was a 20-yard gain.)19
Bobby Marshall’s team of choice on Sunday October 24, 1926 was the All Stars of Minneapolis. That day, this team played the Eau Claire, Wisconsin team in Eau Claire before 5,000. Fans. The All Stars, in a hard-fought battle, won in the fourth quarter on a long pass, 7-0. “Bobby Marshall, at right end for the All Stars, had one of his best days” in that game.20 In the same week Bobby Marshall, along with Elnar Cleve, became coaches of the All-Stars of Minneapolis.21 This marked the second time Bobby was the coach of a pro football team. This first time was with the Minneapolis Deans from 1907 to 1909.
Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost, from the University of Illinois came to Nicollet Park in Minneapolis to play the Minneapolis Marines on Sunday, September 25, 1927 before several thousand fans. During 1927 Grange played for the New York Yankees N.F.L. team. The Marines were not in the N.F.L. during the 1927 season. It was drizzling and the field was muddy, preventing Grange from getting his footing and making spectacular runs. The wet weather also caused a lot of fumbles and made the game a defensive battle. Bo Molenda of the University of Michigan scored the game’s only touchdown on a three-yard run to give the Yankees the win. Bobby Marshall played left tackle that day for the Marines. “The veteran Bobby Marshall and Herb Swanbeck played the strongest game for the Marines on the line.”22
Marshall played pro football in 1928, when he “starred at tackle as a member of Ernie Nevers’ Duluth Eskimos.”23 The Duluth team was not in the N.F.L. at that time and Marshall was then 48-years-old. Dick Cullum, a Minneapolis sports writer said, Bobby was still “one of the most respected ends” in pro football in his late forties.24
On Sunday October 28, 1934 at the age of 54, Bobby was set to play in a football game against the Ironwood Panthers. The day before the game the following article appeared in the Ironwood Daily Globe. “Welcome home, Bobby Marshall. We’re glad to see you back on the Gogebic Range. No player has ever performed here who was more popular. You have always been a clean sportsman, and that’s why we have sort of adopted you here as our own.” The game between the Minnesota All Stars and the Ironwood (Gogebic) Panthers took place as scheduled before 5,000 Ironwood fans. The fans did not have a lot to cheer about because the All Stars won, 41-0. “Pleasing to old time fans was the appearance of Bobby Marshall who went in for tackle. Bobby looked the same as when he left here.”25 This was Bobby Marshall’s last pro football game.
Praise for Bobby Marshall the Pro Football Star
Ossie Solem, University of Minnesota end and tackle and then football coach at Syracuse, Iowa, and Springfield College said the following, “First of all, the greatest football player I ever saw, anywhere, was Bobby Marshall. Bobby could not only tackle a man with his arms but, if he missed could tackle him with his legs.”26
“Those who watched him work will never forget the way in which he used to leave his feet and sail through the air as though gravity had never been invented. When he made one of his flights into the opposing team, the interference crumbled like a card house and usually the runner went down with the rest of them, but even if the runner escaped his grasp, the interference was shattered and Bobby skidded along on his chest with his heels still in the air as gracefully as an airplane coming to earth…He played with a rare combination of strength and craftiness, depending on leverage and experience to handle his opponents across the line.”27
“Michigan profootballer Vic Turosky, who competed against Marshall in the 1920’s, recalled a play where… (Marshall) picked him up by an ankle, flung him into the air, and slammed him on his head. Turosky marveled, ‘That’s when I knew what real power was.’”28
Minneapolis Star-Tribune sportswriter, George Barton, said, Bobby Marshall “was one of the greatest ends that ever donned a cleated shoe.”29
Ed Shave, a sportswriter who officiated at many of Marshall’s games, described these games as “rugged physical battles.” Marshall “had to take a great deal of physical punishment” and gave back twice as much. The fact that he was a skilled boxer may have given opposing players pause about attacking him. In this rugged environment Shave says, “Never once in any of those games did he ever protest, never complained, never retaliated… (He was) one of the great gentleman athletes of all time.”30
Praise for Bobby Marshall, the Man
Bobby Marshall was the first African American to graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School. He maintained a 3.5 average on a 4-point scale for his college courses and became a trained lawyer.31
In September 1911 to supplement his income Bobby accepted a position as crew chief grain inspector, a civil service position, for the Minnesota State Grain Inspection Department. Marshall departed the (Twin Cities Colored) Gophers for “the hum drum of business.” In an era when most African Americans worked jobs like railway porter, barber or janitor, this was an excellent position. Bobby would travel around Minnesota to check the grain elevators where the farmers brought their crops to be sure the companies were not cheating the farmers. Marshall would come into a granary on a surprise visit to check the scales to be sure the farmers were being paid their fair share for their crops. He would not hesitate to write up a citation for unacceptable business activities. The Minnesota grain corporations would often short-weigh the grain, a form of cheating. Grain corporation employees probably shuddered when he entered a granary. If a granary executive in a Minnesota prairie town came up to Bobby with a wad of bills, in payment for not noticing that the scale to weigh the grain was rigged, Bobby Marshall would not accept the bribe. Bobby would also check for mold in the grain. Marshall was well-respected for his honesty and diligence in protecting the rights of the farmers. This was not a job for a “yes man” and Bobby was no “yes man.” Bill Marshall, Bobby’s grandson, says of Bobby’s work for the Grain Commission, “It was more than a vocation. It was a calling.”32
“Bobby Marshall put other people first.”33
“He (Bobby) was a serious person but yet had a humorous side that was facetious at times. He always tried to look to the high side of things in life and I cannot recall him ever raising his voice, using bad language, or in any way being anything other than a gentleman.” 34
Walter Robb, a teammate from Central High School, said that Bobby was “really (like) one of my older brothers.” Bobby’s high school and college teammate, Sig Harris, considered Bobby “a true friend… James S. Griffin, Deputy Police Chief of St. Paul considered Bobby Marshall to be “‘the outstanding man of the Minneapolis African American community.” Harry Davis considered Marshall to be the “image, the mentor, and the star” of the same community. Sportswriter Bill Hengen said that Marshall was “a great man because he spent so much of his time sharing his knowledge with younger people.” Coaching young people in football and boxing, at the Phyliss Wheatley House in Minneapolis, working in Golden Gloves boxing and officiating youth football were some of Marshall’s efforts in the 1930s.35
Marshall as a retired man, spent his time- (1) doing church activities, (2) working with Minneapolis youth, especially in sports, (3) going to sporting events (Bobby had a lifetime pass to Nicollet Park where the Minneapolis Millers played minor league baseball. Bobby also attended University of Minnesota athletic events regularly.), (4) motivational speaking. Bobby spoke to high school teams, the VFW, Boy Scouts, church groups, University of Minnesota events, anything to inspire young men to lead a better life.36
- “1920 Akron Pros Schedule and Game Results,” Pro .Football Reference, last modified 2017, http://www.pro-footballreference.com/teams/akr/1920 _games.htm; “1920 Rock Island Independents Schedule and Game Results,” Pro Football Reference, last modified 2017, http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/rii/1920_games.htm.
- Bruce Copeland, “All Star Professional Team,” Rock Island Argus, 2 December 1920, 17.
- Steven Hoffbeck, "Bobby Marshall Pioneering African American Athlete." Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004/2005): 169, www.jstor.org/stable/20188454.
- Ibid., 167, 168.
- Frank E. Force, “Sporting Gossip of the Day,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, (26 November 1908): 5, https://www.newspapers.com/image/180343499/?terms=%22Bobby%2BMarshall%22.
- “League Football,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, (4 November 1907): 3, https://www.newspapers.com/image/179040382; “Our Seals Defeated By the Deans,” New Prague Times, 7 November 1907, 1, 4.
- Frank E. Force, “Ex-Collegiate Stars Squelch Beavers in Wonderful Game,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 29 November 1912, 10, https://www.newspapers.com/image/180820113/.
- Jim Quirk, “The Minneapolis Marines: Minnesota’s Forgotten NFL Team,” The Cofffin Corner: Vol. 20, No. 1, last modified 1998, www.profootball/researchers.
- Todd Peterson, Early Black Baseball in Minnesota: The St. Paul Gophers, Minneapolis Keystones and other Barnstorming Teams of the Deadball Era (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 214, 215.
- “Independents Fall Before Hammonds, 12-7,” Rock Island Argus, 13 October 1919, 14.
- Simon Herrera, “Rock Islands Independents,” last updated December 5, 2016, http://www.rockislandindependents.com.
- “Independents Batter Davenport to Tune of 33-0,” Rock Island Argus, 20 October 1919,
- Bruce Copeland, “Speed and Brawn Win for Islanders; score, 48-0,” Rock Island Argus, 27 September 1920, 12.
- Bruce Copeland, “Championship Punch Crushes Muncie Flyers, 45-0” Rock Island Argus, 4 October 1920, 11.
- “20 Years Ago Nov. 12, 1921,” Ironwood Times, (12 November 1941): 6, https://www.newspapers.com/image/2988663/?terms=%22Bobby%2BMarshall%22.
- “Shifts in All-Stars Lineup Are Announced- Buland To Remain Out of Early Game,” Hibbing Daily News, 30 September 1923, 4; “All-Stars Will Have Whole Team Together Tomorrow for Last Time Before Sunday,” Hibbing Daily News, 14 September 1923, 4; “Blocked Punt, Lucky Catch and Breaks of Game Spell Defeat for Hibbing Eleven,” Hibbing Daily News, 25 September 1923, 4.
- “Hibbing Outplays Gogebic Rangers and Win Game By 10 To 0 Count- ‘Tough’ Gang,” Hibbing Daily News, 9 October 1923, 4.
- Bill Marshall, grandson of Bobby Marshall, interviewed by the author, April 17, 20
- Cubby Campbell, “Rock Island Trounces Duluth With Brilliant Air Attack,” Duluth News Tribune, 12 October 1925, 8; Neal Rozendaal, Duke Slater: Pioneering Black NFL Player and Judge (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2012), 96.
- “All Stars Down Eau Claire, 7-0,” Minneapolis Star Tribune,” (25 October 1926): 9, https://www.newspapers.com/image/182047694/?terms=%22Bobby%2BMarshall%2.
- “All Stars to Meet Duluth Team Sunday,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, (26 October 1926): 44, https://www.newspapers.com/image/182044056/?terms=%22Bobby% 2BMarshall%22.
- “Red Grange’s Yankees Defeat Marines, 7-0,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, (26 September 1927): 7, https://www.newspapers.com/image/182476059/?terms=%22Bobby% 2BMarshall%22.
- Robert W. (Bobby) Marshall, “My Greatest Thrill IN FOOTBALL …., ”Minneapolis Star Tribune, (1 November 1932): 17https://www.newspapers.com/image/182447694/? terms=%22Duluth%2BEskimos%22%2B%22Bobby%2BMarshall%22
- Steven Hoffbeck, "Bobby Marshall Pioneering African American Athlete. "Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004/2005): 169, www.jstor.org/stable/20188454.25. Sonny, “Its – All – In – The - Slant,” Ironwood Daily Globe, (27 October 1934): 5, https://www.newspapers.com/image/54635852/?terms=%22Bobby%2BMarshall%22;
- Sonny, “Gogebic Panthers Tamed by Minnesota All Stars,” Ironwood Daily Globe, (29 October 1934): 8,9, https://www.newspapers.com/image/54635871.
- Dick Cullum, “Cullum’s Column, Minneapolis Star Tribune, (12 February 1960): 18, https://www.newspapers.com/image/183506933/?terms=%22Minneapolis%2BMarines%22%2B%22Jim%2BThorpe%22.
- “Bob Marshall Is Perennial Star of the Gridiron; Plays at Age of 42,” Minneapolis Journal, 19 December 19 1920, 3 Sports Section; Steven Hoffbeck, "Bobby Marshall Pioneering African American Athlete." Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004/2005): 169, www.jstor.org/stable/20188454.
- Todd Peterson, Early Black Baseball in Minnesota: The St. Paul Gophers, Minneapolis Keystones and other Barnstorming Teams of the Deadball Era( Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 100.
- George A. Barton, “Watching the Sports Show Through the Referee’s Eyes," Minneapolis Star Tribune, (13 December 1925): 13, https://www.newspapers.com/image/181888615/?terms=%22Bobby%2BMarshall%22.
- Steven Hoffbeck, "Bobby Marshall Pioneering African American Athlete." Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004/2005): 169, www.jstor.org/stable/20188454.
- Bill Marshall, grandson of Bobby Marshall, interviewed by the author, April 17, 2018.
- Steven Hoffbeck, "Bobby Marshall Pioneering African American Athlete." Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004/2005): 171, www.jstor.org/stable/20188454.
- Bill Marshall, grandson of Bobby Marshall, interviewed by the author, April 17, 2018.
Posted: to General News on Fri, Jul 2, 2021
Updated: Fri, Jul 2, 2021