By: Dan Apple, UF Communications
On September 11, 1982, a capacity crowd of 73,238 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium witnessed perhaps the greatest defensive performance by a single player in the history of the University of Florida football program. The highly-touted Southern Cal Trojans came to Gainesville and were upset by the hometown Gators, 17-9, in what could be called a program-defining win. Just three years prior, in 1979, the Gators went 0-10-1. Following the upset win, the Gators compiled a 34-8-3 mark over the next four seasons.
The star of that game? Linebacker Wilber Marshall, who flew around the field to collect 14 tackles and sack USC quarterback Sean Salisbury four times. His performance earned him national recognition when he was named the Defensive Player of the Week by both Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press.
One year prior to that game, Marshall was a converted tight end about to have a breakout season that would re-write the Florida record books. During the 1981 season, teams had trouble keeping Marshall out of the backfield, as he set school records for sacks in a season (11) and total tackles for loss in a season (27) as a sophomore. His play earned him honorable mention All-American status.
Following the upset win over Southern Cal, Marshall enjoyed another outstanding year and was named a consensus first-team All-American as a junior. As an encore in 1983, he repeated as a first-team All-American, was a finalist for the Lombardi Award and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year by ABC Television. He was also a member of the first Gator senior class to play in four bowl games and was only the third player in school history to be named a three-time first-team All-SEC pick.
In May of 2008, Archie Manning, chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, announced that Marshall would have his name etched in college football history as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2008.
Marshall, who played for the Gators from 1980-83, was one of 13 players and two coaches who were selected to the prestigious class. The group will be honored at the NFF Awards Dinner on Dec. 9 in New York and then formally inducted at the College Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival, July 18-19, 2009, in South Bend, Ind.
Marshall will become the fifth Florida player to be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame, joining end Dale Van Sickel (1927-29), quarterback Steve Spurrier (1964-66), defensive end Jack Youngblood (1968-70) and running back Emmitt Smith (1987-89). Three Florida head coaches are members of the Hall of Fame, including Charles Bachman (1928-32), Ray Graves (1960-69) and Doug Dickey (1970-78).
Marshall will become the third Florida player and/or coach to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in the past six years. UF is tied for second in the nation in the number of Hall of Fame inductees since 2003.
Marshall finished his career at Florida as the record holder in four categories. Along with the two single-season records in 1981, his 23 career sacks and 58 career tackles for loss established new school standards. He has since been passed in career sacks (Alex Brown, 33 between 1998-01) and single-season sacks (Brown, 13 in 1999). In 1999, the Gainesville Sun named him the Defensive Player of the Century and prior to last year’s Florida-Auburn game in September he was the fifth person to be inducted into the prestigious Ring of Honor.
Following his collegiate career, Marshall took his hard-hitting play to the NFL. Selected in the first round (11th overall) of the 1984 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, Marshall played for five teams in 12 seasons on the professional level. He was named first-team All-Pro twice (1986, ’92) and played in the Pro Bowl three times (1986, ’87, ’92).
Marshall was a member of the vaunted Chicago Bears’ defense of 1985 that allowed the fewest yards, rushing yards and points per game in the NFL. They also had two shutouts in the playoffs on their way to a win in Super Bowl XX.
He won another championship ring with the Redskins in the 1991 season, when they handled the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. In the NFC Championship Game that season, he sacked Detroit Lions' quarterback Erik Kramer three times in the Redskins' 41-10 victory.
During his dozen NFL seasons, Marshall recorded 45 sacks and intercepted 23 passes, which he returned for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He also recovered 16 fumbles, returning them for 70 yards and one touchdown. Marshall is among the few players who have recorded 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in their career.