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Leonard Marshall, remembered for his big hit on Joe Montana, wants to draw attention to player safety

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Former Giants defensive lineman Leonard Marshall is discussing the old NFL Films highlights, and he's talking about former Dolphins receiver Nat Moore. You probably know the clip, where Moore is hit as he jumps and spins in the air like a helicopter before landing.

Marshall is one of the veteran players who is speaking out about the effect of concussions, and he was included in "The United States of Football," a compelling documentary that debuted last month and discusses football safety and concussions. Marshall is talking about how Moore might be suffering from that hit that has been celebrated for years and years. He expresses that all of these highlight hits left someone suffering.

He says this without realizing the irony.

Marshall might have delivered one of the five most devastating hits in NFL history. When you saw his name at the top of the post, there's a chance that Marshall's sack against Joe Montana in the NFC title game at the end of the 1990 season is what you instantly thought of.

Montana suffered a bruised sternum, bruised stomach, cracked ribs and a broken hand. That information is on Marshall's web site. That hit happened on Jan. 20, 1991. Montana didn't play again until Dec. 28, 1992, more than 23 months later. That was the last game Montana played for the 49ers.

Now that Marshall has experienced the after effects of a NFL career, and is an advocate for player safety and getting the word out about old NFL veterans suffering through physical strife brought on by the game, that hit brings up mixed emotions.

"I feel horrible about it," Marshall said about the hit and injuring Montana. "But it's the way I was taught to play the game. My job was to seek and destroy."

Marshall doesn't have regrets about the play. If anything, he says if he would have aimed at Montana's lower back he might have injured him permanently, but he didn't play the game that way. He had to deliver that hit exactly how he did. That hit helped the Giants beat the 49ers, and New York advanced and beat the Bills in the Super Bowl.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

"I'm just sorry the guy got hurt," said Marshall, who added that he sees Montana once in a while at autograph signings or other events and always asks how he's doing.

It must be an emotional struggle to be part of a concussion lawsuit against the NFL, and getting the word out about how old players are suffering, when you also helped inflict some of that suffering just by doing your job the way it had to be done.

"I didn't play the game to hurt people," Marshall said. "The bottom line is the game of football is a violent sport. It always will be. The question is how do you teach kids to play the game a little more safely?"

Marshall points out the problems at the youth football level, something "The United States of Football" does a great job discussing. Marshall worries that players are using their headgear to maim other players, not as protection. He wonders about youth coaches who aren't qualified to teach kids how to tackle the correct way, and how those coaches might be living vicariously through the kids. He thinks teaching kids bad habits carries on to the higher levels.

He was 6-3, 290 pounds when he came in the league, and remembers the media asking Giants coach Bill Parcells about how massive he was. He would be average sized, at best, in today's game, and that's why Marshall feels the need to start teaching proper football when kids are just getting involved in the sport.

"If you don't do that, you're asking for trouble," Marshall said. "Players are only getting bigger, stronger and faster."

Marshall said he didn't understand about concussions when he played, what the "brown spots" he saw after big hits meant to his prolonged health. He doesn't want another generation of players not knowing what will happen down the road.

He fights for his fellow former players, who are often stuck with "exorbitant" insurance rates they'll have to pay for decades after their playing careers end. Those players are often deemed risky by insurance companies since their bodies are in such bad shape. He calls the NFL's $765 million settlement of the concussion lawsuits a "band-aid" and wishes for long-term benefits for former players. He also wonders if the NFL could do more to get former players jobs when they're done with their careers. The league has many corporate partners that could employ these players, he points out.

Marshall will always be known for that crushing hit on one of the game's all-time greats, but he wants to make sure he can do something to help, too.

"I just want to make things better for the guys who played, and make the game better," Marshall said.

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